- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Sen. Ted Stevens of Alaska, the longest serving Republican in the Senate, was indicted Tuesday on seven felony counts of concealing more than $250,000 in gifts from an oil services company that lobbied him, raising anew “culture of corruption” charges Democrats rode to sweeping victories in 2006.

The federal grand jury indictment said Mr. Stevens, 84, lied about accepting improvements to his vacation home in Alaska, including a new first floor, garage, wraparound deck, plumbing and electrical wiring, as well as car exchanges, a gas grill, furniture and tools.

In a statement released from Mr. Stevens’ office, the senator said he was “innocent of these charges and intend to prove that.”

Mr. Stevens, who has been dogged by a federal corruption investigation for several years, said he will step down temporarily from his role as the ranking Republican on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, in accordance with Senate Republican Conference rules, “until I am absolved of these charges.”

“The impact of these charges on my family disturbs me greatly,” he added.

Democrats used Republicans’ legal troubles as part of the 2006 congressional campaigns, and the charges helped oust Republicans from control of both the House and Senate.

Other members of Congress currently under indictment include Rep. Rick Renzi, Arizona Republican, who is facing federal wire fraud and money laundering charges and is retiring at the end of this term, and Rep. William J. Jefferson, Louisiana Democrat, who was indicted on racketeering and bribery charges. Nearly a dozen other members also have reportedly come under investigation for corruption.

Last year, Sen. Larry E. Craig, Idaho Republican, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after being caught in a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men’s room.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, declined to comment on the accusations against Mr. Stevens.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada Democrat, also said little about Mr. Stevens’ legal trouble, and would not indicate whether the Republican conference should ask the lawmaker from Alaska to step down from the chamber.

“It’s a sad day for him, for us, but I believe in the American system of justice that he´s presumed innocent,” he said. “As far as what’s going to happen [to Mr. Stevens] in the Republican caucus, that’s up to them.”

The publicity surrounding Mr. Stevens’ legal troubles has caused a once safe seat to enter into play. The senator faces what could be a tough primary election next month against David Cuddy, a wealthy real estate developer who spent more than a $1 million of his own money in a losing battle against Mr. Stevens in the 1996 Republican primary. If Mr. Stevens survives the primary, he faces a formidable challenge by Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat who is leading the race in some polls.

The charges against Mr. Stevens also could further improve Democrats’ hopes of expanding their Senate majority - which is now 49-49 with two independents who caucus with the Democrats - to a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.

The Justice Department said Mr. Stevens’ upcoming elections had no bearing on the release of the indictments.

“We bring cases based upon our evaluation of the facts and the law, and we bring cases when they are ready to be charged, and that’s what happened here,” said Matthew Friedrich, acting assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division.

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