WASHINGTON -- The defense rested Monday in Sen. Ted Stevens' disclosure trial after the Alaska senator spent another tense, and at times contentious, three hours in the witness chair.
For the second day, Stevens was confronted with contradictions in his story by the lead prosecutor in the case, Brenda Morris. If Stevens didn't consider furniture from Veco chairman Bill Allen a gift when he received it in 2001, for instance, why did he offer it to his son Ben in 2005?
Stevens replied that he never owned the furniture.
How about the $2,695 massage chair that Girdwood neighbor and Double Musky owner Bob Persons had delivered to Stevens' Washington home in 2001 and intended it to be a present, based on e-mails Persons sent when he first attempted to get the chair?
It was not a gift, Stevens said. It belongs to Persons. It's just been in his house in Washington for seven years.
"I told him I would not accept is as a gift," Stevens said. "We have lots of things in our house that do not belong with us."
Then how about the e-mail in December 2001 which Stevens sent to Persons, Morris asked. "The chair arrived and it's great, you can't tell him how much you enjoyed it. Why are you thanking him for a loan?" she asked.
"Because that's what he said it would be," Stevens replied.
In fact, Stevens said, he planned to ship the chair back to Persons in Alaska with other furniture from Washington to use in the Girdwood house, but there wasn't any room in the "chalet" -- the place was filled with Allen's stuff, he said.
Where was his original furniture?
"Bill Allen stole our furniture and put his in our chalet," Stevens said.
"Why didn't you call the police?" Morris asked.
"It never crossed my mind to call the police at that time," Stevens said. "I might now."
CLOSING ARGUMENTS TODAY
U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan sent the jury home at lunchtime with instruction to return for closing arguments at 9:30 a.m. today .
Both sides were planning three hours each to sum up their case. Sullivan then plans to instruct jurors in the law Wednesday morning before identifying and dismissing the four alternates and sending the remaining 12 to the jury room for deliberations.
Even as his trial unfolded over the last month in a courtroom in Washington, Stevens' surrogates have been running his re-election campaign for a seventh full term 3,500 miles back in Alaska against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat.
But each day that passes without a verdict is one day closer to the Nov. 4 election with the central question in the Senate race -- Stevens' guilt or innocence -- unanswered.
Stevens, a Republican, had sought an early trial date hoping he could face voters riding the crest of a not-guilty verdict. But with 15 days of testimony and additional time spent on legal wrangling, the case will get to the jury just two weeks before the election. Lead prosecutor Brenda Morris from the Justice Department's Public Integrity Section began her cross-examination of Stevens on Monday where she left off Friday: the free stuff that appeared at his home in Girdwood from Bill Allen, the chairman of the oil-field service company Veco and a big-time Republican contributor. Stevens and wife Catherine said they didn't ask for the furniture that Allen brought from his old apartment in Anchorage in 2001 -- hated it, in fact.
The furniture was never listed as a gift on Stevens' disclosure forms, a Senate requirement for presents over $260 that year.
The government charges that Veco, Allen and other Alaska friends of Stevens gave him at least $250,000 in gifts and other benefits from 1999 to 2006. The gifts themselves weren't illegal, prosecutors say. Rather, it was Stevens' cover up -- his alleged failure to report them, they said. His motive? Keep Alaska voters in the dark so they wouldn't question his ethics, prosecutors said.
FURNITURE, SERVICES AND BEN STEVENS
Stevens has offered a variety of explanations for why he committed no crime. He thought he paid for some of the services, like the major renovations of his Girdwood home from 2000-2001, and some of the Veco-provided maintenance and repairs that followed. Some things he never wanted and when they arrived, he didn't use. Other items were loans, he said.
"The big, black leather furniture that Bill Allen left at your house -- do you recall?" Morris asked when her cross examination resumed Monday.
"Yes," Stevens said.
"With the cigarette burns?" said Morris.
"That's correct," said Stevens.
"It remains there?" said Morris of the furniture that arrived in 2001.
"Yes," said Stevens.
Morris showed Stevens an e-mail he sent to Allen on July 14, 2005.
"Ben and Elizabeth are looking at a larger house," the e-mail said. "We told them if they got one we'd let them have the black furniture you brought to the Chalet. I hope that is OK. Is the old stuff we had still in the warehouse?"
Morris asked Stevens, "You're trying to regift the furniture that's so hideous to your son, isn't that correct?"
"No," said Stevens
That's the same Ben Stevens who got $243,000 from Veco, Morris asked, referring to a brief reference earlier in the case to "consulting fees" Veco paid to Ben.
"He worked for Veco, I don't know how much money he got," Stevens said.
The same Ben Stevens who made $715,000 from the Special Olympics? Morris said, referring to what she earlier said were newspaper reports of Ben Stevens' salary when he ran the Anchorage committee putting on the winter games in 2001.
Stevens said he didn't know how much his son was paid.
Why would Stevens give furniture to his son that he didn't own in the first place, Morris asked.
Referring to the e-mail to Allen, Stevens replied, "Why would I ask for permission if it's a gift to me?"
That brought an admonishment from the judge to him: "Answer the question, sir."
'GO RIGHT AHEAD WITH YOUR QUESTIONS, MISS'
On Friday, Stevens, famous for his testiness, answered many questions with questions of his own, but the judge's rebuke seemed to have had an effect Monday.
Stevens answered most the questions with "Yes, ma'am" or "No ma'am," but a few times he curtly called Morris "Miss."
For instance, when Morris was questioning him about his possession of a $29,000 fish sculpture on his deck that he claimed was a gift to his future senatorial library "when I'm gone," he said, "It belongs to the foundation. ... You go right ahead with your questions, Miss."
At one point in her cross examination, Morris tried setting a trap for Stevens over who was paying the salary of Rocky Williams, the Veco supervisor on the Girdwood remodeling project. The evidence in the trial was that Williams was paid by Veco, making his work a gift to Stevens. But did Stevens know that when he compiled his disclosure forms for the years 2000 and 2001?
In late September 2000, when work on the house was well under way with Williams and other Veco workers framing the addition that doubled the size of the house, Allen recommended Stevens hire Christensen Builders of Anchorage, owned by Augie Paone, for carpentry and cabinet work. From then until around March 2001, Catherine Stevens paid Christensen more than $100,000 for the work -- less than half the total cost of the project, according to the government.
Catherine Stevens earlier testified that she assumed she paid Williams' salary through Christensen's bills -- even though she knew he worked for Veco before and after the project and received mail at Veco's headquarters during the project.
With Ted Stevens on the stand, Morris began a methodical display of e-mail messages received and sent by the senator that referenced Williams. Most were from Persons, who kept his eye on the project for Stevens.
On July 20, 2000, Persons wrote Stevens, "Rocky will begin the (addition) drawings Friday and hopefully will have them for me on Monday."
Aug. 23, 2000: "I kind of torment Rocky to keep him concentrating on the chalet rather than all the projects Bill keeps him working on."
Sept. 10, 2000: "I can't emphasize enough how much and how well Rocky does, Bill has a true gem there. The guy works seven days a week on Bill's projects."
Sept. 11, 2000: "Rocky is pretty impatient to get the plywood on the walls because the north wind is beginning to blow."
"There's no mention of Augie in this e-mail and there's no Christensen Builders at this point, is there?" Morris asked.
"No," said Stevens.
She repeated the question after several more e-mails. Just who is Williams working for, she asked?
Stevens acknowledged that sometimes Williams worked for Veco. "But working on my house, he's working for me." Stevens said he had no idea how he paid Williams -- that was his wife's department.
"Catherine paid for the work that was done at our house, she paid the bills and that's all there is to it," Stevens said, in what ended up being the final words by the final witness in his trial.