Sen. Ted Stevens, Alaska’s dominant political figure for more than four decades, was found guilty on Monday of violating federal ethics laws for failing to report tens of thousands of dollars in gifts and services he received from friends.
The jury of District of Columbia residents convicted Stevens, 84, on all seven felony counts he faced in connection with charges that he knowingly failed to list on Senate disclosure forms the receipt of some $250,000 in gifts and services used to renovate his home in Girdwood, Alaska.
Stevens, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican and a consistently grim-faced figure, seemed to frown even more deeply as the verdict was delivered by the jury foreman. Stevens’ wife and one of his daughters sat glumly behind him in the courtroom.
In a statement issued after he left the courthouse, Stevens struck a defiant tone, urging Alaskans to re-elect him to a seventh full term when they vote next week.
He blamed the verdict on what he said was repeated misconduct by the federal prosecutors. “I will fight this unjust verdict with every ounce of energy I have,” he said.
“I am innocent. This verdict is the result of the unconscionable manner in which the Justice Department lawyers conducted this trial. I ask that Alaskans and my Senate colleagues stand with me as I pursue my rights. I remain a candidate for the United States Senate.”
Nonetheless, the verdict is widely expected to write an end to Stevens’ long political career, which has moved in tandem with his state’s rough and tumble journey from a remote territory to economic powerhouse.
Stevens was instrumental in promoting statehood for Alaska when he was a young Interior Department official in the Eisenhower administration and went on to represent the state in the Senate for 40 years. Over that time, he used his steadily accumulated influence over federal spending, notably using his membership on the Appropriations Committee, to steer millions, perhaps billions, of dollars in federal funds to his home state.
The verdict comes almost exactly a week before the voters of Alaska decide whether to return him to the Senate or elect his Democratic opponent, Mark Begich, the mayor of Anchorage. After his indictment in July, Stevens asked for a quick trial so he might clear his name before Election Day.
If Stevens loses his seat, the trial’s implications could be felt on a far broader political scale, helping Democrats in their drive to win enough seats in the Senate to give them a filibuster-proof majority of at least 60 votes. Within an hour of the verdict’s becoming public, Democrats in Senate races around the country immediately sought to make the conviction an issue for their opponents, demanding that those who had received money from Stevens, who was generous with contributions to his colleagues, return the funds.
If Stevens wins and insists on keeping his seat, his fate would be in the hands of his Senate colleagues. A senator can be expelled only by a two-thirds vote of the entire Senate, so a conviction does not automatically cost a lawmaker his seat. Since 1789, only 15 senators have been expelled, mostly for supporting the Confederacy during the Civil War, according to the Senate Web site.