WASHINGTON – Prosecutors painted Sen. Ted Stevens with an aura of entitlement,willing to turn the other way when others lavished him with gifts and favors,as the defense wrapped its case Monday in the trial of the longest serving Senate Republican.
The Alaska senator,known for his quick fuse,kept his anger bottled up for the most part during the final hours of his multiday testimony but fumed at the suggestion he held himself to a different standard.
“You are more than willing to be treated just like anyone else?” asked prosecutor Brenda Morris. “Is that correct?
“What?” barked back the 84-year-old senator,clearly agitated with the question.
U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan told the prosecutor to move on.
The confrontation was one the few of the day. Unlike Friday's cross-examination,which was scattered with grumblings and lectures from the witness stand,Stevens remained calm when Morris interrogated him.
He is accused of failing to disclose $250,000 in renovations and gifts for his Girdwood,Alaska,chalet on Senate financial forms.
Much of the day – and case for that matter – was devoted to what Stevens knew and when he knew it.
Closing arguments will be held Tuesday,and then it will be up to jurors to decide whom they believe.
On one side is Bill Allen,the government's star witness,who claimed his now-defunct oil-services company,VECO Corp.,provided the senator with freebies. On the other side are the senator and his wife,Catherine Stevens,who have said they paid every bill they were aware of,alleging Allen gave them gifts they never asked for.
Using a borderline mocking tone,Morris quizzed Stevens on his definition of a gift.
Stevens has indicated a plethora of items,including a gas grill,bronze fish statue and high-power Christmas lights,were not gifts because he never asked for them.
“So,if you say it's not a gift,it's not a gift?” Morris asked.
She was referring to a $2,700 massage chair given to Stevens eight years ago. The senator has claimed it was a loan,even though it is still in his Washington home.
“I refused it as a gift,” Stevens replied. “I let him put it in our basement at his request.”
He also added,”We have lots of things in our house that don't belong to us.”
By illuminating the free items,prosecutors want to discredit the senator's reputation,vouched for by bigwigs such as former secretary of state Colin Powell,Sen. Daniel K. Inouye,D-Hawaii,and Sen. Orrin Hatch,R-Utah,during the nearly month-long trial.
Stevens has been labeled by his lawyers as the “lion of the Senate” and so astute about strict Senate ethics rules that he would not take even a lunch on somebody else's dime.
Government prosecutors have claimed Stevens was anything but in the dark,documenting the sometimes daily correspondence he had with friends about the progress of the renovations on his ski home.
Beyond mere ignorance,they said,the gifts are just another example of a senator who could not hold himself to the rules he applied to others.
During the past week,prosecutors aired some of the more potentially embarrassing details of the senator's finances. Stevens acknowledged that his Senate staffers monitored his personal bills,sometimes handling his payments for late movie rentals and his wife's shopping.
Following closing arguments,jurors will be read instructions Wednesday about the law and how to deliberate. They will then pore through thousands of documents,representing seven years of changes made to the Stevens' getaway home.
Their decision could cause ripple effects in the Senate,as Anchorage's Democratic Mayor Mark Begich is giving Stevens the stiffest re-election challenge of his 40-year Senate career.
Stevens' lawyers have tried to blur the line between personal gifts and projects the senator was associated with. For example,a crated $29,000 bronze statue of migrating salmon still is at the Girdwood chalet.
However,Stevens has claimed it is for a memorial library. Morris questioned how the fish was not a gift if plans for a building have not been made.
“Ms. Morris,I've not died yet,” he said,lecturing the prosecutor. The library is to be posthumous,he said in previous testimony.
Even Stevens,who appeared stern throughout the day,showed a lighter side.
Morris again questioned why Stevens allowed Allen to replace his Girdwood furniture with his own. Photographs showed cigarette holes decorating a black leather couch unloaded by Allen at the home.
“Why didn't you call the police when Bill Allen stole your furniture?” Morris asked Stevens.
“It never crossed my mind,” he said,pausing to smile. “It might now.”