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Stevens lawyers say case is unconstitutional and should be dropped

Erika Bolstad

WASHINGTON -- Lawyers for Sen. Ted Stevens attacked the Justice Department case against him as unconstitutional and asked a judge on Thursday to throw out charges the Alaska Republican accepted thousands of dollars of home repairs and gifts but lied about them on financial disclosure forms.

Stevens' lawyers argued in motions filed Thursday that the charges against the 84-year-old senator are vague, that they violate laws on the statute of limitations and that they breach constitutional barriers meant to keep executive branch investigators from meddling in congressional affairs.

His lawyers also complained that although Stevens is not charged with bribery, the first count of the indictment includes "blatantly inflammatory" language that suggests he accepted gifts and renovations from Veco Corp. in exchange for legislative favors for the former Alaska-based oil services company. Jurors should not see that language, his lawyers said in one of their motions.

"The gratuitous suggestion of a quid pro quo relationship would only serve to inflame the jury and create unfair prejudice against Senator Stevens," his lawyer, Robert Cary wrote.

Stevens' lawyers submitted seven motions on Thursday, the deadline for filings in an expedited trial schedule granted at Stevens' request, so his case can be heard before the Nov. 4 election. U.S. District Court Judge Emmet Sullivan will hold a hearing next Wednesday to decide whether to move Stevens' trial to Alaska. If the trial stays in Washington, jury selection is expected to begin Sept. 22. The trial would begin two days later.

Even as his lawyers prepare to defend Stevens in court, he continues to campaign in Alaska for the Aug 26 Republican primary. Stevens' campaign on Thursday unveiled three television commercials that will begin airing throughout Alaska.

In their motions, Stevens' lawyers raised particular concerns about the first count of the indictment, which suggested Stevens accepted gifts in exchange for helping Veco with federal legislative business.

His lawyers argued that a grand jury could have issued such an indictment only if it were shown evidence that violates what's known as the speech or debate clause -- a portion of the U.S. Constitution that limits what sort of evidence executive branch investigators can use when they probe acts by members of Congress. If a grand jury heard evidence protected under the speech or debate clause, "the indictment in this case should be dismissed," Stevens' lawyers wrote.

Investigators may have overstepped their authority by interviewing Stevens' past and current legislative staffers, the senator's lawyers suggested.

"Even if those staffers did not themselves testify before the grand jury, it is equally problematic if FBI agents summarized testimony about protected information to the grand jury," his lawyers wrote.

In a similar vein, they argued that the indictment violated the separation of powers clause of the Constitution. The alleged false statements and omissions that Stevens made in the financial disclosure forms are a matter for the U.S. Senate to take up, not executive branch investigators, his lawyers argued.

In several other motions, Stevens' lawyers accused prosecutors of being sloppy and imprecise about the charges he faces. The indictment accused Stevens of failing to disclose the receipt of certain "things of value," his lawyers wrote.

"Yet the indictment does not describe the alleged falsity or concealment with any degree of specificity," they wrote, calling it "fatal to the indictment."

Stevens' lawyers ask for prosecutors to file more detailed charges that specify the things of value mentioned in the indictment, as well as the labor costs of Veco employees and contractors who worked on renovations in 2000 that doubled the size of Stevens' house. They also want more specifics on the cost of materials that prosecutors allege weren't included in the invoices sent to Stevens.

The motion also suggests that the indictment doesn't adequately specify what sort of requests Veco employees made of Stevens when they asked him to use his official opinion to help the company.

"These allegations are insufficient, as a matter of law, to provide Senator Stevens with fair notice of the charges against him or to ensure that the grand jury properly returned an indictment in this matter," they wrote. "He is constitutionally owed a statement of the specific charges against him, a requirement not satisfied by a recitation of facts followed by general allegations."

The gifts Stevens is charged with accepting from 1999 to 2006 came during a renovation that doubled the size of the Girdwood home he owns with his wife, Catherine. Veco employees and contractors performed architectural design services, put the house on stilts and installed a new three-bedroom first floor, a finished basement, a garage, a Viking gas range and a wraparound deck, according to the indictment.

Stevens paid a construction firm for its work, but the indictment accuses him of failing to fully reimburse Veco or its contractors -- even as he stayed closely involved in the progress of the work. Stevens has said he paid $130,000 of the construction costs.

Stevens' lawyers also argued Thursday in their motions that some of the charges he faces are outside of the statue of limitations. During the investigation, Stevens agreed to a statute of limitations that dates to May 9, 2002. Yet his lawyers pointed out that the indictment alleges a scheme to conceal gifts by filing false disclosure forms that include the calendar years 1999 and 2000 -- dates that are outside of the statue of limitations.

Prosecutors also had a Thursday deadline to file motions in the case; theirs weren't available late in the afternoon. Sullivan will hear all motions in the case Sept. 10.

PDF: Stevens motion #2 (Dismiss count 1 as duplicitous to counts 2-7)
PDF: Stevens motion #4 (Dismiss for violation of the speech or debate clause)
PDF: Stevens motion #5 (Dismiss for violation of separation of powers)
PDF: Stevens motion #6 (Dismiss as unconstitutionally vague)
PDF: Stevens motion #7 (For Bill of Particulars)
PDF: Stevens motion #8 (Additional relief from court)
By ERIKA BOLSTAD