WASHINGTON — In secretly recorded telephone conversations played in court Monday, an occasionally profane Sen. Ted Stevens denied wrongdoing and cursed at the federal agents who were raiding homes and offices in Alaska as part of a sweeping corruption probe.
"I don't know what the (expletive) these guys are doing, we'll have to figure that out later," Stevens said to Bill Allen, the chief executive of the oil services firm, Veco Corp.
But Stevens also offered up advice on maintaining a good attitude in the face of the investigation to Allen, the man who — unknown to Stevens — had agreed to testify against the senator in exchange for leniency in his own sentencing and the promise prosecutors wouldn't target his children.
They needed to maintain the attitude that "these guys can't really hurt us," Stevens said to Allen.
"They're not going to shoot us. It's not Iraq, so what the hell," Stevens said. "The worst that can happen to us is we wind up with a bunch of legal fees and might lose, and we might have to pay a little fine, might have to serve a little time in jail. I hope to Christ it never gets to that, and I don't think it will."
"I'm developing the attitude that I don't think I did anything wrong so I'm going to go right through my life and keep doing what I think is right," the senator said.
Two years after that conversation, Stevens, now 84 and up for re-election, is on trial for taking more than $250,000 in gifts — chiefly from Veco — and lying about them on his U.S. Senate financial disclosure forms.
The first of the three recordings played Monday in court as part of Allen's testimony was made Aug. 31, 2006. That was one day after the FBI searched Allen's home and office and he agreed to cooperate with investigators in the Alaska corruption investigation. In 2007, Allen pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers.
In conversations played in court Monday, Stevens told Allen that the investigation was weighing on his mind so heavily that he wasn't sleeping well.
"Well, I'm not getting much sleep when I think about all this (expletive) that's going down, about four hours a night," Stevens said in the 2006 phone call. "But I'm going to survive. I just can't figure out why these (expletive) are doing this thing to our friends."
The Alaska Republican also was equally insistent he had done no wrong, telling Allen that his own lawyers had warned him about Martha Stewart, whom Stevens described as going to prison not for what she'd done, but because "she lied about a conversation she had with somebody."
"I don't think we've done anything wrong, Bill, I can tell you right now," Stevens said. "I told my lawyers I can't think of a thing we've done that's wrong."
On cross examination later in the day, Stevens' main lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, zeroed in quickly on the heart of their defense strategy: the senator is an honorable man who pays his debts and would've written a check for the home renovations had he known he owed Veco or Allen any money.
"You never tried to bribe Sen. Ted Stevens, did you, sir?"
"No," Allen said.
"You knew you couldn't bribe Sen. Ted Stevens, could you, sir?"
Allen's testimony, which is at the center of the trial against Stevens, began last week. The trial nearly derailed Thursday after Stevens' lawyers accused prosecutors of hiding evidence that Allen might have said things that would have helped Stevens win his case. They included notes from an FBI interview in which Allen told the investigator he thought Stevens would have paid a bill had he ever sent him one.
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan, furious with the government team, ruled that prosecutors had bungled the evidence, but that there was not enough misconduct to declare a mistrial or throw out the charges.
The trial, on hold for two days last week, restarted this morning with Allen's testimony. Before they played the audio recordings, prosecutor Joe Bottini walked Allen through a series of questions about gifts he'd given Stevens, including furniture, a bed and free labor on repairs to his boiler in 2006.
Outside of the courtroom, Stevens' lawyers continued to hammer at Allen's credibility as a witness, filing a second motion late Sunday asking the judge to declare a mistrial. This time, they accuse the prosecutors of deliberate misconduct and said they've manipulated Allen to elicit the testimony most damaging to Stevens.
Judge Sullivan will hold a hearing Tuesday or Wednesday on the new request for a mistrial. The judge has already twice reprimanded the prosecution team. He earlier became upset when the government sent a key witness home to Alaska without testifying and without informing the court or defense until the man left town. Prosecutors said the man, Rocky Williams, a foreman on the project to expand Alaska Stevens' home in Girdwood, was seriously ill.
(Mauer reports for the Anchorage Daily News.)
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