Stevens charges don't violate Constitution, judge rules

McClatchy NewspapersSeptember 16, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Sen. Ted Stevens won't be able to argue that evidence in the federal corruption case against him violates the constitutional separations that keep members of Congress from being prosecuted for their legislative actions.

A federal judge turned down Stevens' lawyers' request to throw out the seven-count indictment against the senator and said Tuesday in a hearing that if evidence arises at trial that looks as though it violates what's known as the speech-or-debate clause of the Constitution, he will consider barring it.

But it was Stevens' lawyers' job to show that he's entitled to immunity under the speech-or-debate clause and they failed to do so, said U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan. Previously, the senator's lawyers had suggested that investigators could've overstepped their authority by interviewing Stevens' past and current legislative staffers.

Sullivan reviewed grand jury transcripts to determine whether witnesses were asked questions that would've violated the speech-or-debate clause, which limits what sort of evidence executive branch investigators can use when they probe acts by members of Congress. He said he saw a handful but that they were "in no way pervasive."

Stevens, in the midst of a re-election bid, didn't attend the court hearing Tuesday. However, he was in Washington at the Capitol. The 84-year-old Alaska Republican faces Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat, in the Nov. 4 election.

Stevens faces seven felony counts alleging that he knowingly took home repairs and gifts valued at more than $250,000 from the now-defunct oil-services company Veco Corp. and Bill Allen, its former chief executive. Prosecutors said that Allen, who pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers in Alaska, is expected to be one of the first witnesses in the case against Stevens.

Sullivan also said Tuesday that he'd allow evidence from prosecutors that details what Stevens did in his role as an officeholder to help Veco. They include evidence that he helped the company land federal contracts and grants, evidence he tried to influence the state in its efforts to build a natural-gas pipeline and communications between his office and the company.

Sullivan did tell prosecutors that they have until Wednesday to turn over redacted versions of what are known as form 302s, the documents that detail the information gleaned by FBI agents when they interview witnesses, including the time and place and what they unearthed from their questions.

Sullivan will take up the remaining issues Thursday, in the final pretrial hearing before the trial. Jury selection begins Monday, and the trial is set to begin two days later.

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