July 29, 2008 -- Sen. Ted Stevens, one of 18 Republican Senators running for reelection this year, was indicted today by a federal grand jury for seven felony counts of making false statements.
The 28-page indictment charged that the Alaska Republican "knowingly and intentionally sought to conceal and cover up his receipt of things of value by filing Financial Disclosure Forms that contained false statements and omissions" regarding $250,000 in gifts of value.
"Senator Stevens accepted gifts from a privately held company called VECO," said Matthew Friedrich, acting assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's criminal division, describing myriad renovations to Stevens' house that the oil services company VECO paid for.
These included, Friedrich said, renovations to Steven's home such as a first floor, a wrap-around deck, "a new Viking gas range, a tool storage cabinet and an automobile exchange in which Senator Stevens received a new vehicle worth far more than what he provided in exchange" -- namely a 1999 Land Rover Discovery swapped out for Stevens' 1964 1/2 Ford Mustang and $5,000.
"These items were not disclosed on Senator Stevens' financial disclosure forms, which he filed under penalties of perjury either as gifts or as liabilities," the Justice Department official said.
Stevens, 84, used "his official position and his office on behalf of VECO,'' read the indictment.
However, said Friedrich, although "at the same time that Senator Stevens was receiving these things of value over that same time period, he was also being solicited by VECO to do certain things which he or his staff on occasion did, the indictment does not allege a quid pro quo. Bribery is not charged in this case. … Bribery requires proof of a specific agreement of a quid pro quo, this for that. This indictment does not allege such an agreement."
Calls and e-mails to Stevens' attorney, Brendan V. Sullivan Jr., were not immediately returned, but Stevens issued a statement through his office, saying, "It saddens me to learn that these charges have been brought against me. I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a U.S. Senator."
"I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that," he added.
In keeping with Senate Republican rules for indicted officials, Stevens has stepped down from his leadership positions as the top Republican on both the Senate Commerce Committee and the Appropriations Committee's defense appropriations subcommittee, though he remains a member of those panels.
The former chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee has held his Senate seat since 1968 and has become known for his temper, his Incredible Hulk ties, and for the profligate spending he showered upon Alaska, perhaps best encapsulated by the infamous "bridge to nowhere." Stevens is only the 11th sitting U.S. senator in American history to be indicted.
Stevens' GOP colleagues voiced support for him Tuesday afternoon. "I've known Ted Stevens for 28 years and I've always known him to be impeccably honest," said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Penn. "I don't know that there's a stronger comment to be made than that."
Said Sen. John Warner, R-Va., "he's a hero and a fighter. He's been a fighter for this country's interests and a fighter for his state ever since and a strong leader in the Senate, so all I can say is, I hope that this will turn out fairly and consistent with the law."
This indictment, needless to say, does not help the GOP's chances of holding onto the seat.
Republicans are fighting a fierce Democratic wind as they try to defend 23 Republican seats, with five incumbents retiring, among them the scandalized Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the ill Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., and the respected Warner.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., the chairman of the committee charged with trying to win back control of the Senate, recently said that if he can keep the Democrats to a net gain of four seats, that would be considered a good night. Sen. Chuck Schumer, Ensign's Democratic counterpart, recently told reporters that the nine seats Democrats need for a filibuster-proof majority is highly unlikely, but within reach, if they have a clean sweep of targeted races in November.
Today's Stevens news will only serve to bolster Democratic suspicions that they have a very good shot at winning that Senate seat in November. Alaska has already been on the list of some of the most targeted seats of the cycle.
Ted Stevens is well known in his home state, but in a poll conducted earlier this month of Alaska's likely voters, 61 percent gave him an unfavorable rating. In a match-up against his likely opponent in this fall's election, the lesser-known Democrat Mark Begich, Stevens nearly splits the polls 45-47 percent.
Democrats also see solid pick-up opportunities in Virginia, New Mexico, Colorado and New Hampshire. Both parties will also fight hard in Minnesota, Maine, Oregon and Mississippi.
Democrats, on the other hand, are defending only 12 seats, and most of them appear relatively safe. The only seat currently in Democratic hands that may be vulnerable is Mary Landrieu's Louisiana Senate seat.
"We bring cases when they are ready to be charged, and that's what happened here," said Friedrich, responding to a question about whether partisan politics played any role in today's indictment.
One year ago, Stevens' Girdwood, Ala., home was raided by FBI agents amid allegations that VECO paid for renovations to the home, renovations that included lifting the house up on stilts and adding a floor, doubling the size of the home, which is located at a resort. Former VECO CEO Bill Allen is cooperating in the case against Stevens.
Friedrich noted that a federal public corruption investigation launched in Alaska in 2004. Federal agents executed search warrants at VECO in August 2006.
"To date, that investigation has resulted in seven convictions," Friedrich said. "Among those who have been convicted are Pete Kott, the former speaker of the Alaska House of Representatives; Bill Allen, the former CEO of VECO; and Richard Smith, a former vice president at VECO; William Bobrick, a former lobbyist in Anchorage; and Thomas Anderson… a former Alaska state representative."
Rounding out the group are former Alaska state representative Victor Kohring, who pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the investigation last fall, and James Clark, the former chief of staff to the governor of Alaska, who pleaded guilty to fraud conspiracy charges earlier this year.
The officials said Stevens would not be arrested, but would be allowed to turn himself in. The FBI's J. Stephen Tidwell said at the press conference that "a summons will be issued, and it'll be worked out, what is most convenient for everyone regarding that and regarding the initial court appearance."
ABC News' David Chalian, Matt Jaffe, Julia Hoppock, Peyton Craighill and Stephanie Smith contributed to this report.