By Paul Kane and Del Quentin Wilber
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
A day after he was convicted of seven felonies, Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) came under increasing pressure from top Republicans to resign, even as he planned to resume campaigning for his seat today.
The unfolding events led to speculation in political and legal circles about whether Stevens would face prison time and whether President Bush might pardon him or commute his sentence.
Sen. John McCain (Ariz.), the party's presidential nominee, and Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin, McCain's running mate, said Stevens must resign because of his conviction for concealing the receipt of more than $250,000 in gifts and renovations to his house in Girdwood, Alaska.
"It is clear that Senator Stevens has broken his trust with the people and that he should now step down," McCain said.
Palin left open the possibility that Stevens could stand for reelection Tuesday and then resign. "Alaskans are grateful for his decades of public service, but the time has come for him to step aside. Even if elected on Tuesday, Senator Stevens should step aside to allow a special election to give Alaskans a real choice of who will serve them in Congress," she said.
The Senate's Republican leader, Sen. Mitch McConnell (Ky.), told reporters that Stevens should resign or face expulsion from the Senate. "If he is reelected and the felony charge stands through the appeals process, there is zero chance that a senator with a felony conviction would not be expelled from the Senate," he told the Associated Press while campaigning in Kentucky.
But Stevens, 84, dug in for the final days of his difficult reelection contest, and the Alaska Republican Party began urging voters to back him while suggesting that he might not serve out the term.
Although the odds of a convicted felon winning reelection seem long, Stevens is considered a heroic figure in Alaska. Throughout the five-week trial, polls showed Stevens slowly catching up to Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D). The race had narrowed to a near-deadlock by the time Stevens was convicted Monday.
The Alaska GOP began a campaign yesterday to convince voters that a resolution to Stevens's future could come after the election, but that backing the beleaguered incumbent would be the only way to ensure that the seat stays in Republican hands.
"Many questions are still left unanswered, but one choice is extremely clear: If Mark Begich wins this election, the state of Alaska will be stuck with a liberal senator for six years," the party said in a statement. Should Stevens win Tuesday and then step down, a special election would be held within 90 days.
Stevens has given no hint of willingness to resign. "I remain a candidate for the United States Senate . . . and ask for your vote," he said in a statement Monday. Yesterday, his campaign announced the endorsement of a Native Alaskan whaling group and a retired Air Force general.
Stevens was convicted of lying on financial disclosure forms to hide gifts and renovations financed by Veco, an Anchorage oil services company purchased by a Denver-based conglomerate last year, and by its chief executive, a longtime friend of Stevens.
It could be many months before Stevens is sentenced. U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan has set a Feb. 25 hearing to consider motions that Stevens's attorneys are expected to file in an effort to overturn the conviction.
Stevens faces as much as five years in prison on each of the seven counts. Under federal sentencing guidelines, he could expect a recommended prison term of about two or three years, said Douglas Berman, a law professor at Ohio State University who specializes in sentencing policy.
Berman said that in determining Stevens's sentence under the guidelines, Sullivan may take into account that Stevens went to trial rather than pleading guilty and has blamed prosecutorial misconduct for his conviction. It also is clear that the jury did not believe Stevens's testimony that his family paid every bill he received and that he did not request many of the gifts or renovations.
"The jury came back and concluded beyond reasonable doubt that he was not telling the truth," Berman said. "That works against him."
Stevens could seek a pardon from Bush before he nears sentencing. Bush also can delay court proceedings, such as sentencing, and commute sentences, according to legal scholars.
Bush also could offer a conditional pardon, requiring, for example, that Stevens give up his Senate seat in exchange for clemency.
The White House said Monday that it would not comment because Stevens's case had not concluded.