WASHINGTON – Former secretary of state Colin Powell went to bat for Sen. Ted Stevens on Friday,calling the Republican's integrity unrivaled.
But he also testified he knew nothing about the case that could topple the political career of the Alaska icon.
Stevens is charged with failing to report $250,000 in home renovations and gifts on his Senate disclosure forms.
In turning to Powell,a former general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff,defense lawyers hoped a nearly unrivaled resume would sway the jury.
Powell vouched for Stevens,whom he has known for 25 years,as if he were one of his soldiers. “This is a guy you take on a long patrol,” he said. He added that Stevens' word was “sterling.”
Powell was the latest high-profile character witness for Stevens,who called on Sen. Daniel K. Inouye,D-Hawaii,the day before.
Much like Inouye,Powell said there was no reason to suspect Stevens had done anything wrong.
But prosecutors made it clear to jurors that Powell was a long way from Girdwood,Alaska,where the home repairs in question were done.
The renovations and gifts mostly came from VECO Corp.,a defunct oil services company that was once the largest employer in Alaska.
The defense said it would call Sen. Orrin Hatch,R-Utah,when the trial resumes Tuesday after Monday's Columbus Day holiday.
U.S. Judge Emmet G. Sullivan said the defense can call only three more character witnesses.
Defense lawyers wanted to call 10 witnesses to speak to the 84-year-old Republican senator's integrity,but Sullivan said that would be repetitious.
Also schedule to testify Tuesday is Girdwood restaurant owner Bob Persons,who was an intermediary between Stevens and VECO owner Bill Allen. Allen testified that Persons told him Stevens' requests for renovation bills were a ruse.
Before headliner Powell,defense lawyers spent much of the morning examining the value of the improvements to the Girdwood chalet.
Real estate appraiser Gerald Randall Jr. valued Stevens' home and property at $270,000 after the upgrade.
Stevens' attorneys claimed the senator did not have to disclose the renovations on Senate forms because the $160,000 paid by Catherine Stevens,his wife,was consistent with its value.
That is irrelevant,prosecutors say,because VECO pumped far more than $160,000 into the project.
Brendan Sullivan,Stevens' lead lawyer,went out of his way to highlight Powell's 35-year military.
“Thirty-five years,three months and 22 days,” Powell corrected him,to laughter in the courtroom.
And Powell did his best to portray Stevens as a straight shooter,detailing their work in the 1980s to work with Democrats to support U.S. policy in Latin America.
“With Sen. Stevens,I always had a guy who could tell me when I was off-base,tell me when I had no clothes on,figuratively,” he said.
Powell was the first black secretary of state,which may hold increased value with the jury. Alaska is 97 percent white. Three-fourths of the jurors are black,a somewhat higher percentage than the D.C. population,which is more than 55 percent black.