In a defiant and occasionally testy appearance in court today, Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, forcefully denied charges that he had accepted improvements to his Alaska home in violation of Senate ethics code.
Stevens was sharply questioned by lead prosecutor Brenda Morris this afternoon about his relationship with Bill Allen, the former CEO of a defunct Alaska oil services company, who the prosecution said, supplied the senator's Girdwood, Alaska, home with furniture and other amenities free of charge. The cross-examination was scheduled to resume Monday morning.
At times, the five-term senator flashed his well-known temper, telling Morris, "You're making a lot of assumptions," and declaring, "I'm not going to get into a numbers game with you."
When the prosecutor said that the oil company, Veco, was the general contractor on the Stevens' home, the senator exclaimed, "They were not and you know that."
The defense supplied copies of invoices the Stevenses were sent by Christensen Builders as evidence that Stevens and his wife paid over $160,000 for renovations on the home.
The cross-examination came after the senator took questions for hours from his own lawyers. Stevens testified that he never wanted items left at the house by Allen, and that Allen sometimes acted on his own by adding things to the Stevens' home, including a steel staircase on a deck, a gas grill, spare furniture, a giant toolkit and rope lighting that covered the home, and an 80-foot tree on the property.
The government contends that Stevens knowingly accepted all of the items but failed to report them, along with work done by Veco, on Senate financial disclosure forms.
Morris questioned why Stevens let Allen use his house, even when he did things to upset the senator and his wife. "If you didn't want all of these items, why didn't you get your key back?" asked the prosecutor.
"He was using the place much more than I was. ... There are no gifts there at all," Stevens said.
Stevens told the jury that he was at home only two nights in 2000 and spent less than 20 days there during the year.
Morris closely questioned Stevens about renovations, including a deck added to the home in 2002, when most of the other renovations were complete. Earlier in the day, Stevens told his defense lawyer he had no idea that a steel staircase would be added to his home, which he calls a "chalet."
"It's not a question of wanted it ... it was there when I saw it," Stevens told the prosecutor.
When the prosecutor kept pressing the senator about the staircase, Stevens shot back that it was from Allen's junk pile. "It was left over from an [oil] platform. Did you know that?" the senator asked.
Morris zeroed in on the point, saying it proved that Veco material was being used on the senator's home and that Allen directed the effort.
"Veco is not Bill Allen to me. Bill Allen is not Veco," Stevens replied. "You're the one bringing Veco in here. Bill Allen is my friend."
The defense has highlighted memos and notes from Stevens, asking Allen for bills for the work.
When the press began to inquire about rumors that Veco had done the work, Stevens' friend Bob Persons, who monitored the progress on the home, sent the senator an e-mail dated Dec. 4, 2004. "The press will try to spin this on you, we're fully documented and so is Bill," the e-mail read.
"Weren't you covering your bottom with these e-mails?" Morris asked the senator.
Stevens responded, "My bottom wasn't bare."
The prosecution then entered into evidence Stevens' response to his friend's message, in which he noted his displeasure at how his press secretary, Courtney Boone, was handling the issue. "I'm a little pissed at Courtney," Stevens wrote. "She didn't listen to the question and didn't really find out who the questioner was. I'm telling her that only happens once on my team."
Also in his testimony Friday, Stevens told the jury that his wife received all the bills and paid for all of the work done on his house.
A federal grand jury indicted Stevens in July for allegedly lying on financial disclosure forms required by the U.S. Senate. Prosecutors claim Stevens omitted $250,000 in gifts, including the house renovation.
Stevens also said today that Allen lied to the jury in his testimony.
Testifying that the renovation was overseen by his wife Catherine, Stevens said his wife undertook the project while he focused on his work. "Catherine threw herself into the project," he said.
Under questioning by lead defense attorney Brendan Sullivan Jr., Stevens said of his wife, "She got all the bills and paid all the bills."
Questioned about Allen's earlier testimony in which he said that Stevens knew he wasn't being billed for work done on the house, Stevens, 84, shot back, "That's just an absolute lie."
As Sullivan read a transcript of Allen's testimony from the trial that Stevens had told Allen he knew Veco was doing a lot of work on the house, Stevens interjected, "That's another falsehood."
Stevens testified that he was unaware of add-ons to the house that Allen and others built, including a steel staircase and a small balcony made of steel on the third floor.
"Did you know a porch would be built?" Sullivan asked his client.
"No," said Stevens, who first testified Thursday in the trial that began last month.
The defense then reviewed exhibits the government introduced, including an October 2002 note that Stevens sent Allen, which stated, "You owe me a bill ... remember Torricelli my friend ... Friendship is one thing, Congressional Ethics rules are an entirely different matter."
Asked why he included a reference to former Sen. Robert Torricelli, D-N.J., who decided not to run for re-election to the U.S. Senate amid an ethics investigation, Stevens testified about the former lawmaker's legal issues. "It was a serious problem because he took something from a friendship deal," Stevens testified.
Stevens also contradicted Allen's testimony that he was only asking for bills to give the appearance that everything was being done properly. Stevens' attorney asked him, "Did you ever tell [Bob] Persons you were trying to cover your ass by asking for this bill?" "No," Stevens said.
Persons is a friend of Stevens' who looked in on the home renovation project and kept the senator updated on its progress.
Stevens testified that the gift of a stained glass window in the house was his wife's artwork and he had no interest in it. "What goes on in the house is Catherine's business," Stevens said. "What goes on outside is my business."
Despite work done to the house, the senator testified that his house is a mess because of design flaws that have resulted in extensive ice damage to the roof and gutters and a request from the FBI that he not alter or repair anything until after the trial.
At the trial in federal court in Washington, D.C., Veco workers have testified about the flawed roof design and that they installed a heating system on the roof to prevent ice buildup. At trial, Allen called the roof design a "mistake." Stevens told the jury today he only learned about the heating system "when Bill Allen told me he had it done."
The jury was shown pictures of the roof in its current condition, dented with twisted gutters. "The whole thing's a mess. ... I can't fix it," Stevens said, citing the FBI request.
The senator also testified that a Viking gas grill Allen installed at the home was also of no use to him, saying, "I told him I didn't want it, that it was his business. ... I never used it."
The case is expected to go to the jury next week.