Stevens’ Defense to Rely on E-Mails

Posted September 25, 2008 at 11:54am

Attorneys for Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens (R) sought to portray the lawmaker Thursday morning as a man wrongly accused, asserting that he did not knowingly conceal or, in some cases, even receive the more than $250,000 in gifts as alleged by government prosecutors.

“Ted Stevens had no intent to violate the law … He did file accurate statements to the best of his knowledge,” attorney Brendan Sullivan said.

Stevens is charged with seven counts of filing false statements over an eight-year period to conceal the receipt of gifts — mostly renovations to his Girdwood, Alaska, home — from the now-defunct VECO oil services firm. He has pleaded not guilty.

Sullivan sought to undercut government allegations that Stevens did not pay for the majority of the home renovations, noting that the defense would rely heavily on e-mails sent by Stevens during the project to demonstrate his innocence.

“E-mail is an amazing source of evidence,” Sullivan said. “It actually shows you what is going on in a person’s mind at that time. Ted Stevens’ intent actually jumps off the page.”

In addition, Sullivan sought to dispel government allegations that Stevens also received costly gifts, including a high-end gas barbecue and tool chest, from VECO executives.

“You can’t report what you don’t know,” Sullivan said. “You can’t fill out a form and say what’s been kept from you by the deviousness of [former VECO CEO] Bill Allen.”

Sullivan also aimed to dismiss prosecutors’ suggestions that it was improper for VECO to seek assistance from Stevens in his capacity as the state’s Senator.

“There’s nothing illegal about that. Bring ’em on. Line it up. Ted Stevens is crazy about his constituents,” Sullivan said. “To suggest that he or his office worked for his constituents, yes. Guilty.”

Sullivan repeatedly alluded to Stevens’ age, at one point telling the jury: “He hates it when I say he’s 84 years old … He spent almost six decades in public service.”

Earlier, federal prosecutors sought to depict Stevens as a savvy career politician who surreptitiously accepted valuable gifts from a small circle of loyalists.

“This is a simple case about a public official who took hundreds and thousands dollars worth of free financial benefits, and then took away the public’s right to know that information,” prosecutor Brenda Morris said in her opening statement to the court.

She later said: “This case is about concealment. … [of] things that the defendant received from friends and benefactors, who were the powerful.”

The trial marks the first time in more than 27 years that a sitting U.S. Senator has faced a federal jury.