ANCHORAGE - U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens said Thursday he has no fear of a Democratic opponent in next year's election, and he blamed overzealous reporters for the continued interest in the federal investigation both he and his son have been caught up in.
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His comments about the investigation came toward the end of a wide-ranging interview in which Stevens touched on his concerns about access to health care in Alaska, mental health care for returning veterans and coastal erosion caused by global warming.
Stevens has said little about the investigation since the FBI and IRS raided his home in Girdwood in late July as part of a wider probe into corruption in Alaska politics.
So far, the corruption investigation has led to the conviction of three state lawmakers, two oil executives and a lobbyist. They include former VECO Corp. CEO Bill Allen, a major political fundraiser who has pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers and who has been a witness in the ongoing corruption trials. Allen oversaw the renovations to Stevens' home in 2000; Stevens has long maintained that he did nothing wrong and paid every remodeling bill he was given.
Stevens said Thursday that he intends to remain tight-lipped about the investigation, in part because he doesn't want to be accused of obstructing justice. As a former U.S. attorney, Stevens said, "I think I know the law and the consequences of making comments about this investigation better than any other senator does.
"I'm not about to get myself into a worse situation by commenting on something I don't think needs any comment," he added.
But Stevens also suggested that the scrutiny he has faced is politically motivated. He pointed to four other senators who went through investigations, and said that those colleagues failed to draw the same sort of attention. He did not identify which senators he was referring to.
"I don't see any reason why we should have had this massive press interest in what's going on," Stevens said. "It's just an investigation of a federal agency. They go on all the time. No one else talks about them the way they talk about the one involving me."
He also said that he was unconcerned about the efforts of the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which sees him as a vulnerable candidate and is actively recruiting candidates to run against him. Their top prospect, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, has flown to Washington to meet with top Senate Democrats, including the DSSC chairman, Sen. Charles Schumer of New York.
"Well that's because they seem to think that they've got some inside knowledge about the outcome of the investigation I can't talk about," Stevens said. "I'm not worried about this campaign. Not in the least."
"We're not in the rush to raise any money," he added. "We are raising money. We can raise money after this cloud goes away, which I hope will go away soon."
But Stevens grew testy when a reporter suggested that the level of interest in the state's senior senator was high because so many Alaska politicians and public figures had been caught in the wider corruption probe. Also, as the longest-serving GOP senator in history, and the former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Stevens has a higher profile than the average Washington politician.
In the interview, Stevens made vague threats to the people who have suggested that he and his son, former state Senate President Ben Stevens, might be guilty of some sort of wrongdoing. The younger Stevens hasn't been charged with a crime, but his name has come up repeatedly in court proceedings. Plea documents in Allen's own case say that payments of $243,250 the VECO CEO made to Ben Stevens were bribes in exchange for "giving advice, lobbying colleagues, and taking official acts in matters before the Legislature" when the younger Stevens was a state lawmaker.
"Your papers print (the names of) those people who have been convicted and my son's name and mine at the same time. As far as the public is concerned, it's all the same ball of wax," Stevens said. "I'm not going to comment on that ball of wax."
"But we've been included in a way that I hope people understand the laws that are doing it," he said. "Because when it's all over, some people are going to have to account for what they've said and what they've charged us with."
It was unclear whom Stevens was threatening. When asked if he meant libel or perjury, Stevens said: "No. I'm just saying there are ways to account for this in the future."
When asked if he meant political retribution, he remained vague:
"I think the people out there ought to worry about that the way I worry about the investigation. There are myriad things you can do. Just a myriad of things."
When pressed, he wouldn't elaborate further:
"I've said it," Stevens said.