WASHINGTON -- Sen. Ted Stevens took the stand in his own defense this afternoon, asserting in a dramatic and rapid-fire exchange with his lawyer that he has done no wrong.
"Senator, when you signed those forms, did you believe they were accurate and truthful?" asked his lawyer, Brendan Sullivan.
"Yes sir," Stevens said.
"Did you ever intentionally file false disclosure forms?" his lawyer asked.
"No, I did not," Stevens said.
"Did you ever engage in any scheme to conceal anything from the Senate?" Sullivan asked.
"No sir," Stevens said.
The 84-year-old Alaska Republican is on trial for failing to report more than $250,000 in alleged gifts and services, largely from the oil field service company Veco and its chief executive, his former friend Bill Allen. Most of the gifts are connected to renovations that doubled the size of the Stevenses' home.
His testimony, which ended after 20 minutes when court broke for the day, followed that of his wife, Catherine, who also testified as a defense witness.
Stevens is not required to take the stand, and jurors couldn't hold it against him if decided against it, the judge warned him before he began his testimony.
"It's a privilege and a duty," Stevens said just before jurors entered the room to hear his testimony.
Catherine Stevens, a lawyer who appeared calm and poised while her husband's attorney, Robert Cary, questioned her, took the stand to help support the defense theory that the Alaska senator had paid all the bills he received in connection with the renovations of their Girdwood home. She often turned and spoke directly to the jury.
Mrs. Stevens, who oversaw the financial details of the renovation, said she assumed that two Veco Corp. employees who were on the job site in 2000 and 2001 were being paid by the contractor that was doing most of the work, Christensen Builders.
"He was working with Christensen Builders," she said of Robert "Rocky" Williams. "He was on the job there. He was paid by them."
Same for David Anderson, another Veco employee who was working on their home, Catherine Stevens said.
"He was at the job site. I assumed he was working with Christensen Builders," she said.
Both workers were on the Veco payroll, according to earlier testimony.
Catherine Stevens also testified that when she sent Williams a thank-you gift certificate from Delta Air Lines for his work on the project, she sent it in care of Veco's office in Anchorage.
"I don't know why, unless he asked that I send it there," Catherine Stevens said. "He worked for Veco, I don't know how long."
Earlier in the day, prosecutors wrapped up their cross-examination of defense witness Bob Persons, Stevens' longtime friend and Girdwood neighbor, who had a power of attorney to obtain a building permit on Stevens' behalf, oversaw the initial construction and handled bills for the family. Stevens' lawyers called him to strengthen their theory that the senator had paid all the bills he was given for the renovations.
Prosecutors grilled Persons, however, pointing to inconsistencies in his testimony.
When Stevens attorney Cary asked Persons about conversations he'd had with Allen, Persons said he "reminded Bill of all the times that the senator had told him that he had to give him bills for anything and everything that was done at that house."
Yet when prosecutor Nicholas Marsh asked Persons whether he ever got an invoice from Allen, he said no.
One of Stevens' defense attorneys asked Persons to describe a February 2006 interview with two FBI agents. The interview was very confusing, Persons said. It "reached a point where I don't know whether I was answering questions or he was," Persons said, describing the demeanor of one of the agents who interviewed him at his home in Girdwood.
"It was like being mentally waterboarded," Persons said. "The guy was awful. That was the most hateful human being I ever met in my life. That guy made me understand why there's a lot of innocent people in prison."