- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 20, 2008

Since before statehood, Ted Stevens has believed in Alaska. In a Senate career that has spanned five decades, he has championed Alaska’s oil and fishing industries and delivered billions of dollars to its cities and far-flung villages.

Now, as he prepares to stand trial in the midst of a contentious re-election fight, “Uncle Ted” is asking Alaska to believe in him.

“Alaskans work on the basis of faith. I have faith in them and they have faith in me,” said Mr. Stevens, the Senate’s longest-serving Republican. “If they have faith in me, this is just another bump in the road.”

Mr. Stevens is charged with lying about receiving more than $250,000 in home renovations and gifts from an oil contractor. Jury selection begins Monday in a case that could determine his political future as well as his legacy.

He is hoping for a verdict before Election Day, which is Nov. 4, that will propel him to his seventh full term in the Senate - and does not appear to be contemplating any other outcome.

“I believe I’ve done nothing wrong. I have faith that I’ve done nothing wrong and that’s something the Alaskan people understand,” he said.

At a news conference in Anchorage on Friday, Mr. Stevens reiterated his claim of innocence, said he planned to testify at his trial and urged Alaskans to reserve judgment. “I have said I am innocent of the charges against me and I think the trial will show that,” Mr. Stevens said.

During the trial, he said, he planned to be in the courtroom in the morning and return to the Senate in the afternoon. “I am not worried about my participation,” he said.

Political observers expect a close race between Mr. Stevens and Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat. Some voters are fed up with what they see as a wave of corruption in their state. Some are standing by their senator. Others are waiting to see what happens in court.

Mr. Stevens is charged with making false statements on Senate financial forms, but the case runs much deeper.

The Justice Department plans to describe a longtime relationship between Mr. Stevens and Bill Allen, found of VECO Corp., an oil pipeline services company now owned by Denver-based CH2M Hill. Mr. Allen showered Mr. Stevens with gifts, prosecutors say, including a renovation project that lifted Mr. Stevens’ Alaska house onto stilts so a new first floor could be built under it.

When Mr. Allen needed help securing business or navigating Washington’s bureaucracy, prosecutors say he called Mr. Stevens.

Mr. Stevens’ defense lawyers say that sounds like a bribery charge and they say the government is trying to hint at such corruption without actually having to prove it. They want to keep the case focused on what they see as a paperwork violation.

A key to the defense is that Mr. Stevens paid for much of the renovation and believed he was paying for all of it. Prosecutors must show that Mr. Stevens knowingly lied when he filled out his financial forms.

If not for the FBI investigation, it would have been unimaginable that Mr. Stevens would face a serious electoral challenge. But Mr. Begich is running a strong race with the support of Senate Democrats who sense an opportunity to seize a longtime Republican seat.

Mr. Begich can capitalize on Mr. Stevens’ trial with aggressive campaigning in the coming weeks. Mr. Stevens, meanwhile, will be tethered to a Washington courtroom while the trial makes headlines. If the Justice Department makes its case in the court of public opinion, Mr. Stevens could be out of a job even if he escapes conviction.

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