Stevens' lawyers may ask that wire tap evidence be barred

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 2, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Lawyers for Sen. Ted Stevens signaled Tuesday they'll try to keep jurors from hearing as many as 105 phone calls the FBI recorded as part of the investigation that led to the 84-year-old Alaska Republican's indictment on corruption charges.

The phone calls appear to be among thousands of hours of secretly recorded phone conversations and video surveillance that have helped prosecutors land seven convictions and guilty pleas in a sweeping multiyear probe of corruption in Alaska politics.

In documents filed Tuesday, Stevens' lawyers complained that prosecutors dumped more than 400 hours of video and audio evidence on them last month, but that little of it was related to Stevens. Only 105 of the 2,800 intercepted phone calls feature Stevens, his lawyers wrote.

Jury selection begins Sept. 22 and Stevens goes to trial two days later on seven counts of lying on his annual financial disclosure reports about gifts and home repairs he allegedly received from an oil services company and its CEO, Bill Allen. A judge granted an expedited trial so that Stevens could face a jury before the Nov. 4 election. Stevens, who won the Republican primary last week, faces Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat, in the general election.

His lawyers on Tuesday filed motions Tuesday that criticized prosecutors for a vaguely written indictment and for insinuating that Stevens took bribes. The government "obviously wishes to import the stench of a bribery prosecution into a case that is nothing of the sort," the lawyers wrote.

Stevens' lawyers also complained that the Justice Department didn't specifically name the senator as a "targeted interceptee" in the affidavits they submitted to a court seeking permission for wiretaps. As a result, they may to seek to keep a jury from hearing those recordings and asked that the government show that it made every effort to avoid recording non-criminal conversations and people who weren't named in orders authorizing the wiretaps.

Last week, Stevens' lawyers also accused prosecutors of attempting to unfairly try Stevens by introducing "irrelevant and prejudicial evidence" that has nothing to do with the disclosure violations he faces.

Prosecutors countered that it was necessary for Stevens to hide how close he was to Allen because disclosure "would have subjected himself to public scrutiny and criticism regarding his ongoing relationship with Veco Corp. and Bill Allen, and the fact that he was laboring under a conflict of interest."

His lawyers also continued to press their case for throwing out the indictment based on the speech-or-debate clause of the U.S. Constitution, which bars government prosecutors from using speeches and legislation introduced by members of Congress as evidence. Prosecutors said that evidence protected by legislative immunity granted by the Constitution was not shown to the grand jury that ultimately indicted Stevens.

But Stevens' lawyers said they believe the grand jurors did see protected material, and they've asked for permission to review transcripts of what prosecutors presented in the secret sessions.

That would mirror what government lawyers have done in the Rep. William Jefferson case, Stevens' lawyers said in their motions. Jefferson, a Louisiana Democrat, faces bribery charges. In Jefferson's case, his lawyers were given permission to review grand jury testimony of the congressman's legislative aides to determine whether there are speech or debate conflicts. A judge reviewed the remaining transcripts for conflicts.

U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan will hear all of the pre-trial motions next week. Sullivan has already ruled that the trial will stay in Washington D.C. instead of being moved to Alaska.

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