Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Alaska Senator Is Indicted on Corruption Charges

NY Times
July 30, 2008

WASHINGTON — Senator Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest-serving Republican senator in United States history and a figure of great influence in Washington as well as in his home state, has been indicted on federal corruption charges.

Mr. Stevens, 84, was indicted on seven counts of falsely reporting income. The charges are related to renovations on his home and to gifts he has received. They arise from an investigation that has been under way for more than a year, in connection with the senator’s relationship with a businessman who oversaw the home-remodeling project.

The indictment will surely reverberate through the November elections. Mr. Stevens, who has been in the Senate for 40 years, is up for re-election this year. Mark Begich, a popular Democratic mayor of Anchorage, hopes to supplant him.

The Justice Department scheduled a news conference for Tuesday afternoon to announce the indictment.

Republicans on Capitol Hill were already jittery over a lobbying and influence-peddling scandal related to the lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is now in prison. Mr. Stevens’s troubles are not linked to that affair. Instead, they stem from his ties to an oil executive whose company won millions of dollars in federal contracts with the help of Mr. Stevens, whose home in Alaska was almost doubled in size in the renovation project.

Mr. Stevens is a former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and he is still on the panel. As chairman, he wielded huge influence, and did not hesitate to use it to steer money and projects to his state.

“No other senator fills so central a place in his state’s public and economic life as Ted Stevens of Alaska,” the Almanac of American Politics says. “Quite possibly, no other senator ever has.”

Mr. Stevens, one of only a handful of World War II veterans left in the Senate, grew up in Indiana and California and moved to Alaska in 1950, before it was a state, according to the political almanac. He first ran for the Senate in 1962, losing to Ernest Gruening, a Democrat. He was appointed to fill a vacant seat in the Senate in 1968 by the governor at the time, Walter Hickel, and has been re-elected six times since then.

Word spread through the Capitol like an electric current, prompting whispers among senators and staff. The Democrats were gathering in a room near the Senate chamber for their weekly conference lunch. Republicans, meanwhile, moved their lunch to the headquarters of the Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, a common change of venue when the primary topic of discussion is politics.

Mr. Stevens is seen as a legendary, even heroic, figure in Alaska, who played a crucial role in its achievement of statehood, which became official in 1959. According to Senate Republican rules, Mr. Stevens will have to give up his leadership positions, which include some hugely powerful posts, as the senior Republican on the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the defense appropriations subcommittee.

The long-running federal corruption investigation in Alaska has been hanging over Mr. Stevens as he faces his toughest re-election contest in many years. Mr. Begich was expected to mount a strong challenge even before word of the indictment spread.

Alaska, which last elected a Democratic senator in 1974, is one of several seemingly unlikely states where Democrats believe they have a strong chance of pulling off upset victories in the November elections.

The indictment comes nearly a year after federal agents raided Mr. Stevens’s home as part of a continuing investigation into corruption that had already ensnared the senator’s son, Ben Stevens, who was then president of the State Senate.

Though lawmakers have been aware of the Justice Department inquiry for some time, the news of an indictment still came as something of a shock this week, as both houses of Congress are trying to wrap up legislative business before the monthlong August recess.

Senator Daniel Inouye, Democrat of Hawaii, who is the chairman of the defense appropriations subcommittee and a friend of Mr. Stevens, said that “he is innocent until proven guilty.” Mr. Inouye said he did not expect that the indictment would interfere with Senator Stevens’s ability to work in the Senate.

Other lawmakers, including Senator Barbara Boxer, Democrat of California, the chairwoman of the ethics committee, said they needed to know more about the indictment before commenting.


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