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Sen. Stevens Indicted In Graft Probe

MELISSA BLOCK, Host:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, Host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

In Alaska, he's known as Uncle Ted - a fixture in politics for more than 50 years since before statehood. Today, Republican Senator Ted Stevens stands indicted for concealing hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of gifts received from an oil services company. This is Acting Assistant Attorney General William Friedrich(ph) speaking to reporters in Washington.

WILLIAM FRIEDRICH: The gifts Senator Stevens is alleged to have received include substantial amounts of material and labor used in the renovation of a private residence which Senator Stevens and his wife own located in the town of Girdwood, Alaska. These renovations are alleged to have included the addition of a new first floor with multiple bedrooms and a bathroom as well as a finished full basement.

NORRIS: The indictment goes on to detail other items Senator Stevens allegedly received including furniture, a tool cabinet, and a new Viking range. NPR's Martin Kaste is covering the story. Hello, Martin.

MARTIN KASTE: Good afternoon.

NORRIS: Now, explain to us what crimes this indictment outlines.

KASTE: Well, this indictment is about false statements. The Justice Department is accusing the senator of basically concealing the fact that he was receiving these gifts. That he was allegedly profiting from his relationship with VECO and the executives at VECO, the oil services company. This is specifically about the fact that they alleged that he didn't - he failed to disclose in the annual financial disclosure form, that senators are required to file, the fact that this income or these gifts or these benefits were coming to him and that is a violation of ethics rules and of federal law. So this is about what he failed, what they alleged - they alleged that this is about him failing to disclose what he was receiving.

NORRIS: Now, I want to make sure I understand this. So he's not actually accused of bribery.

KASTE: They're very clear about that. They say they are not accusing him of a quid pro quo, of him delivering a service in his capacity as a senator to these oil executives in return for these gifts. They do, in the indictment, describe the fact that as far as the government is concerned, these executives knew that he listened to their requests, that he often did help them on their various issues that they had in the federal government, but they do not actually accuse him of exchanging favors for these gifts. Observers here assume that that means they just didn't have the evidence to make that kind of a case.

NORRIS: Now, the Justice Department said that Stevens would not be arrested. He would be allowed to turn himself in. Has he actually responded now?

KASTE: No statements from the senator yet today. In the past, he has repeatedly and adamantly denied any wrongdoing in connection to this investigation. It was widely known this investigation has been going on. Last year, he made a point of saying he had paid the bills relating to that remodeling job on his house. What he said, actually, was that he paid the bills presented to him, but he has insisted that he has not - that he's not guilty of any wrongdoing here.

NORRIS: How did this investigation begin?

KASTE: Well, apparently, the investigation has been going on for about four years, but it really burst into public attention in Alaska two years ago when federal agents raided the offices of six state legislators. This took, of course, the political establishment in Alaska by shock. It was quite a shock to see them raiding these legislators' offices and starting them - they started to seeing these indictments. Five legislators were indicted; three so far have been tried and convicted.

And as this investigation sort of churned on, everyone was asking themselves, does this reach Ted Stevens? Does this go to the highest levels? Now, we have some sense of what the government had in mind.

NORRIS: Stevens has generally faced very easy elections, but even before the indictment it sounds like he was facing a very tough race this year.

KASTE: Tougher than usual. It's hard to know what Ted Stevens' reputation in Alaska. It's hard to know whether he really would've had a tough reelection race without this. He'd certainly had a strong challenger in Mark Begich who's from an old Alaska political family. Now, we really have no idea how these indictments will affect his reelection race. But he generally comes from a position of incredible strength in Alaska. He still is a formidable presence in Alaska and I wouldn't write him off right away.

NORRIS: Thank you, Martin.

KASTE: You're welcome.

NORRIS: That's NPR's Martin Kaste. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Martin Kaste is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk. He covers law enforcement and privacy. He has been focused on police and use of force since before the 2014 protests in Ferguson, and that coverage led to the creation of NPR's Criminal Justice Collaborative.