Politics & Government

Fellow senator testifies to Stevens' integrity

Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves the federal court after appearing as a witness in the corruption case of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) on Thursday, October 9, 2008, in Washington, D.C.
Former U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell leaves the federal court after appearing as a witness in the corruption case of Sen. Ted Stevens (R-AK) on Thursday, October 9, 2008, in Washington, D.C. Chuck Kennedy / MCT

WASHINGTON — One of Sen. Ted Stevens' oldest friends and peers, a fellow World War II veteran and senator, led the charge Thursday to defend the Alaska Republican's character and integrity.

Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, the first defense witness in Stevens' corruption trial, told jurors that fellow senators have "absolute faith" in the 84-year-old Stevens. The two have been friends since Stevens entered the Senate in 1968, Inouye testified, and are so close that Stevens' youngest daughter, Lily, calls him "Uncle Dan."

"I can assure that his word is good, as far as I'm concerned, it's good enough to take to the bank," he said of Stevens, whose friendship is such that the two call each other "brother."

With Inouye, Stevens' legal team began its defense, calling witnesses who are famous, such as former Secretary of State Colin Powell, and many who are famous in Alaska, such as David Monson, the widower of Iditarod champion Susan Butcher.

Powell will testify Friday afternoon. He is among about 10 character witnesses that Stevens' lawyers hope to introduce, but the judge is likely to limit them to just three or so.

Stevens is charged with seven counts of filing false statements on the financial disclosure forms he's required to submit each year as a U.S. senator. He's accused of accepting more than $250,000 in gifts and home repairs, mostly from Veco and its former chief executive, Bill Allen, once a friend of Stevens and the star witness in the case against him.

Stevens' lawyers began to chip away at evidence prosecution witnesses have presented about gifts the senator is alleged to have received over the years. Thursday afternoon, they zeroed in on a sled dog Stevens' friends bought him for $1,000 at the Kenai Classic auction in 2003.

Early in the trial, Stevens' lead attorney, Brendan Sullivan, told how the senator got one of the dogs at an auction and was so smitten with the puppy that he bought another for about $250. But the dogs were too much of a handful for Stevens in Washington, so he and his wife decided to send them back to Alaska, where Monson and Butcher cared for them. Stevens and his wife sent two $500 checks for the dogs' care.

In an e-mail read Wednesday in court, Stevens haggled with his friend, Bob Penney, over how much to value the dog on his financial disclosure paperwork. The dog sold at the auction was a runt and nearly worthless as a sled dog, testified kennel owner and Iditarod champion Dean Osmar. He gave it to his friend, James Varsos, a singer known as "Hobo Jim," to offer up at the auction, an annual charity fundraiser attended by political bigwigs.

"I think most people went home with things they didn't really want," Varsos said of the auction.

Prosecutors rested their case earlier in the day, with one final witness. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan decided to allow prosecutors to call David Anderson, a former welder who worked for Veco Corp. and supervised repairs that nearly doubled the size of Stevens' home in Girdwood, Alaska.

Anderson, who is Allen's nephew, wasn't scheduled to testify. But prosecutors asked to allow him after the judge overseeing the case determined that some of the evidence they presented about Anderson's time on the project might have been inaccurate.

Stevens' defense team asked for a mistrial late Sunday after they had the opportunity to review more than 300 FBI interview reports and 83 grand jury transcripts the judge ordered government lawyers to turn over. The defense team got those documents last week after Judge Sullivan ruled prosecutors had dragged their feet on turning over evidence that might be helpful to Stevens' case. That evidence included statements by Allen that he thought Stevens would have paid bills for repairs had he ever been given an invoice.

The evidence showed that Anderson testified to a grand jury that he was in Portland, Ore., at the end of 2000, even though he submitted timesheets to Veco for work in Alaska on the Stevens place at the same time.

Incensed, Sullivan on Wednesday punished prosecutors by ordering that jurors disregard the testimony from a Veco bookkeeper about Anderson's time.

Jurors also were told to disregard evidence they've seen concerning how much time Veco employee Robert "Rocky" Williams spent remodeling Stevens' home. They'll also be told that prosecutors knew the hours Anderson said he worked could be inaccurate and yet still presented it to the jury as part of the $188,000 total that Veco accounting records show the oilfield-services company spent on the Stevens remodel.

To compensate for the loss of evidence, prosecutors asked Thursday morning whether they could have Anderson testify. Judge Sullivan gave a reluctant OK over the objections of Stevens' legal team.

Anderson began his testimony mid-morning Thursday. He testified he was working as much as 10 hours a day, six days a week, "between travel time and stuff," Anderson said. So was Williams, he said.

Anderson detailed the work he and Williams did on the home, including jacking it up to add a bottom story.

Related stories from McClatchy DC