Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) was convicted today on seven counts of failing to report more than $250,000 in improper gifts he received from 1999 to 2006, a stunning blow to a political career that has lasted more than 40 years and marked Alaska’s entire history as a part of the United States.
Stevens, 84, now faces a question over whether he will resign, and if he does not, whether he can win reelection Nov. 4 in an already tough race. At first, Stevens showed no emotion, holding his stomach as verdict was read. But a few minutes later, it seemed to sink in as Stevens sat quietly, hunched over with his hands covering his face. Stevens, visibly shaken, did not take any questions as he quickly slipped out a side door of the federal courthouse and left in a white van.
Stevens could also be sentenced to as much as five years in federal prison, although considering his age and lack of previous convictions, is unlikely to receive anywhere near the maximum sentence. Stevens’ sentencing hearing is scheduled for Feb. 25, and Stevens' attorneys have already told Judge Emmet Sullivan they would file motions to overturn the verdict by early December.
Stevens could also appeal the decision, but would likely to have to pay a heavy political price for such a move. Alaska’s Democratic Party has already called on Stevens to resign.
“Senator Stevens’ felony convictions are very serious and he should immediately resign from the Senate,” Democratic Party Chairwoman Patti Higgins said. “He knew what he was doing was wrong, he did it anyway and lied to Alaskans about it. Alaskans deserve better from their public officials, it’s time for us to elect an ethical and honest senator who will move this state forward.”
The conviction came after a tumultuous week in the jury room. First there were complaints about an unruly juror, then another had to be replaced when she left Washington following the death of her father. Finally, jurors on Monday discovered a discrepancy in the indictment that had been overlooked by prosecutors. Jury deliberations in this historic trial have at times been as contentious as some of the proceedings
The Justice Department indicted Stevens on July 29, and Stevens took a huge legal gamble and asked for a speedy trial in order to resolve the charges before Election Day. Judge Sullivan complied with Stevens’ request, and in less than three months from the time of his indictment, Stevens was found guilty.
The verdict, which followed a month-long trial, puts into serious doubt Stevens’ political career, as well as his 40-year tenure in the Senate.
Stevens was seeking a seventh full term as in the Senate – he was first appointed in 1968 – and wanted to clear his name before he had to go before voters. With today’s guilty verdict, Democrat Mark Begich, Stevens’ opponent, will get a huge political boost, and make it that much more likely that he will unseat Stevens.
And even if he wins reelection, Stevens could face an expulsion from the Senate. Of the four sitting senators who were convicted of crimes while in office, only one — Sen. Truman Newberry (R-Mich.) — continued to serve after being found guilty, and he was eventually hounded out of office in 1922 by senators seeking his expulsion.
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