Stevens spars with prosecutor during trial

Senator will have final chance to explain gifts before case goes to jury

Posted: Sunday, October 19, 2008

WASHINGTON - Sen. Ted Stevens will get one final chance next week to explain the expensive gifts and thousands of dollars in free work on his Alaska chalet, as the Republican lawmaker's corruption trial comes to a close just days before he faces re-election.

Stevens angrily jousted with prosecutor Brenda Morris on Friday as she pressed him about the more than $250,000 in renovations and other gifts he received through millionaire businessman Bill Allen, who founded VECO Corp., an oil services company in Alaska.

Stevens is charged with trying to hide the gifts and free work by lying on Senate financial disclosure forms. Stevens insists that he and his wife paid all the renovation bills that were given to them.

"If it was a gift, why did I ask for a bill?" said Stevens in one exchange with Morris.

"To cover your butt," Morris said calmly.

"That wasn't fair, ma'am," Stevens replied.

The trial has jeopardized one of the Senate's storied careers. An imposing figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, Stevens is now fighting to hold onto a Senate seat he has held for generations. He's hoping for an acquittal before Election Day.

Morris will continue questioning Stevens - the last witness in the three-week-long trial - on Monday. Lawyers will then make closing arguments, with U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan saying he expects the jury to start deliberating early next week.

As Morris repeatedly needled him on his relationship with Allen, VECO and the new things at his home, Stevens would shoot back with: "You're not listening to me, I've answered it twice," "You're making a lot of assumptions that are unwarranted" and "That question is tautological."

Stevens insisted that the things he received from Allen, such as furniture, a backup generator and a toolbox, were from a drinking buddy who had keys to his Girdwood home, not material from VECO Corp.

"VECO is not Bill Allen to me," Stevens said. "Bill Allen is not VECO. You're the one bringing VECO in here. Bill Allen is my friend."

And Stevens told jurors that he didn't want what Allen brought over anyway and continually asked him for bills or to take things away. But Allen didn't.

"You were a lion of the Senate, but you didn't know how to stop this man from putting big-ticket items at your home?" said Morris, who asked the Republican icon why he didn't just ask for his keys back.

The renovations are at the heart of Stevens' corruption trial. The Alaska Republican appeared as his own star witness, trying to convince jurors that he paid every bill he received for his 2000 home renovation project and didn't know he received any freebies.

"I pay my bills wherever I am," Stevens said. "I don't let people buy my lunch or buy my dinner."

Stevens said he and his wife, Catherine, intended to treat the renovation project the same way. He said they relied on friends to oversee it and arranged a loan to pay for it. He described making it clear that he intended to pay for everything.

Allen testified earlier in the trial that Stevens knew he wasn't getting billed for all the work being done and that he wanted invoices only to protect himself.

"That's just an absolute lie," said Stevens.

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