Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is due in federal court Thursday to answer charges that he lied about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from an oil services contractor.
Stevens is the Senate's longest-serving Republican and has been a dominant figure in congressional politics for a generation. After being indicted on seven counts of lying on Senate disclosure forms, Stevens was ordered to surrender in federal court and appear before a judge Thursday afternoon. A throng of reporters and television crews awaited his appearance.
Stevens had been scheduled to appear at a pretrial services office earlier Thursday to be interviewed by court officials, but, under an unusual arrangement, he arrived for that meeting Wednesday afternoon, avoiding media attention. U.S. Marshal George Walsh, whose office is in charge of booking defendants, said he was unaware of the arrangement until Thursday and was disappointed that it would appear Stevens received special treatment.
Court spokeswoman Jenna Gatski said Stevens made an early appointment with a pretrial services officer. Though a judge's order called for Stevens to appear for that meeting Thursday, Gatski said the pretrial office sets its own schedule. Stevens appeared late Wednesday afternoon but within business hours.
Stevens, a former federal prosecutor, has said little about the corruption investigation that has dogged him for more than a year. Thursday's court hearing was likely to be no different. He was expected to plead not guilty, but initial court appearances are usually brief.
The indictment is a blow to the senator's re-election bid. Once a seemingly invincible political figure, he now faces both Democratic and Republican challengers who hope his legal woes make him vulnerable.
Some GOP colleagues have distanced themselves from Stevens. A spokeswoman for John McCain's presidential campaign said Wednesday that the indictment was a "sad reminder" that the next president will have to work to rebuild the public's trust.
Nicolle Wallace said McCain and Stevens famously clashed over the appropriation process. McCain regularly says on the presidential campaign trail that appropriations are subject to corruption that causes voters to lose faith in government.
Stevens has steadfastly maintained his innocence, and his campaign has pledged that Stevens will press on with his re-election race.
He would have to ask U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan for permission to travel. Stevens was expected to remain free while he campaigns and attends to Senate business, but Sullivan was to decide what rules the senator must abide by while he awaits trial.
Stevens, 84, is accused of concealing more than $250,000 in gifts and home remodeling services he received from Veco Corp., a once powerful contracting firm. Two top Veco executives have pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers. The executives cooperated with the FBI and provided information about Stevens.
If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison on each of seven counts.
The indictment stops short, however, of charging Stevens with bribery or other traditional corruption charges. Despite winning cooperation from the Veco executives and searching the senator's home, the Justice Department said it could not prove a this-for-that corruption case.
His indictment is the culmination of an FBI investigation that for years has sent tremors through Alaska's political system. Several state lawmakers have been charged and others, including Stevens' son, Ben, remain under scrutiny.