Prosecutor grills Stevens over renovations

McClatchy NewspapersOctober 17, 2008 

WASHINGTON — Throughout his four-week corruption trial, Sen. Ted Stevens has sat quietly, listening to testimony from tradesmen about free home repairs and gifts, silent as the star witness told jurors that the Alaska Republican was merely "covering his ass" when he asked for bills.

But by late Friday afternoon, jurors had gotten a taste of the cranky 84-year-old senator who once called himself "the meanest man in town."

"Aren't these e-mails really what you're doing, you're covering your bottom?" asked Brenda Morris, the lead Justice Department prosecutor, asking Stevens about how he handled a 2004 press inquiry into who paid for his renovations.

"My bottom wasn't bare," Stevens snapped back.

Stevens spent a grueling day on the witness stand, beginning with his lawyer guiding him through nearly four hours of testimony in the morning and early afternoon. In the final hours of the day, Morris spent more than an hour cross-examining the senator.

The senator stuck with the two prevailing themes of his defense: that he wanted none of the gifts he had been given, and that his wife, Catherine, was responsible for the home renovations that led, in part, to his federal indictment. Stevens is accused of failing to disclose more than $250,000 in gifts — including free labor — that helped double the square footage of his modest A-frame cabin in Girdwood, Alaska.

Stevens, whose 40-year Senate career has given him a temperament more accustomed to being the one doing the questioning, bristled at having to wait to be asked. He wasn't always able to control himself, and he made his disdain for Morris clear by occasionally responding to her questions with inquiries of his own.

"I think you better rephrase your question; your question is tautological," he lectured Morris in response to a question about renovations to his deck.

Stevens testified that he and his wife wanted none of the gifts, and that they were especially annoyed when they returned to their newly renovated home in 2000 and found that Bill Allen, the chief witness against him, had replaced their furniture with some used stuff of his own.

"If you didn't want all these items, why didn't you just ask for your key back?" Morris asked. "Why didn't you take away his key?"

"He was a good friend and I trusted him," Stevens said of Allen, former chief of Veco Corp., a now defunct oilfield-services company that once was one of the largest private employers in Alaska. "He did things I didn't like and I asked him to change and he said he would. But he didn't."

The trial, which began Sept. 22 with jury selection, is likely to conclude Monday after the cross-examination of Stevens finishes and both sides give final arguments. The jury could begin deliberations as soon as Tuesday.

Earlier in the day, under questioning by his own lawyer, Stevens had accused Allen of lying to jurors about conversations the two had when they were still friends.

Allen testified earlier in Stevens' corruption trial that he never gave Stevens invoices for work done on the senator's home in Girdwood, even though Stevens asked for them. Allen, who pleaded guilty last year to bribing Alaska state lawmakers, agreed to testify in Stevens' trial and two others in exchange for leniency in his own sentencing.

Stevens disputed Allen's account of a 2006 conversation in Arizona, where they were both vacationing on their annual boot camps — get-togethers where they would drink wine and walk in the desert to shed weight. Allen testified that he and Stevens talked about the need for the senator to receive invoices for the Veco work on the house. But Stevens denied the conversation.

"That's just an absolute lie, I heard it," Stevens said, referring to Allen's courtroom testimony. "It's just an absolute lie."

Stevens also disputed Allen's account of a conversation the two had in Alaska at a restaurant owned by a mutual friend in Girdwood. Stevens told him he was aware that his friend had done more work on the house than he was letting on, Allen testified.

That was "another falsehood," Stevens said.

Stevens also expanded on the "teepee" theory his lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, first introduced in the opening day of the trial. His wife was responsible for everything inside the teepee, Stevens said.

"What goes on inside" was up to Catherine, Stevens said. "Outside is my business."

When Stevens described his initial vision for renovating their cabin by adding a garage and a bunkroom on the first floor, he testified that it wasn't what his wife wanted and, therefore, they came up with a more elegant design.

"When she said she didn't like that plan, there was a new plan, and there was no argument," Stevens said. "And I wasn't unhappy about it. I was happy about that."

Catherine was in charge of all of it, Stevens testified. She obtained the line of credit, maintained the checkbook for their house-related expenses and received all of the bills. She paid them all, too, Stevens said.

"She got all the bills and paid all the bills," he said.

(Mauer reports for the Anchorage Daily News.)

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McClatchy Newspapers 2008

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