The business formalities that could have prevented financial-corruption charges against Sen. Ted Stevens were “not the Alaska way,” the Republican senator testified in his own defense Friday in federal court in Washington.
Mr. Stevens said he did not know that his Senate financial-disclosure forms omitted information about donated work on his Alaska cabin, saying his wife handled most of the business affairs.
He also said that because the cabin was shared with the man who federal prosecutors say paid for most of the work, the renovations were more like shared property than gifts.
Mr. Stevens and Justice Department attorney Brenda Morris clashed repeatedly Friday afternoon during cross-examination at federal district court, and the famously short-tempered Mr. Stevens could be seen visibly straining against losing his temper.
Under cross-examination, Mr. Stevens described Bill Allen, former head of oil field equipment company VECO Corp., as a drinking buddy who under a similar informality had a set of keys and frequently used the cabin with the permission of the senator and his wife, Catherine.
“They were free to use it,” Mr. Stevens testified. “I welcomed them using it.”
Mr. Stevens said he and his wife stayed at the cabin only about 22 nights per year. “I thought it would be great to have somebody there once in a while.”
Prosecutors accuse the Alaska Republican of lying on federal-disclosure forms to conceal work funded by Mr. Allen, whose company stood to benefit from Mr. Stevens’ friendship.
When Ms. Morris questioned the informal way the senator sought out contractors and monitored the work, Mr. Stevens said the business formalities she asked about are “not the Alaska way.”
Mr. Stevens earlier testified that Mr. Allen had a metal staircase installed at the cabin. “You knew the staircase came from VECO?” Ms. Morris asked Friday.
“I thought we had paid for it,” Mr. Stevens said. “I never employed VECO, I never dealt with VECO, I dealt with Bill Allen.”
Part of Mr. Stevens’ defense is built around e-mails he sent to Mr. Allen and his associates in late 2002 asking for bills on the remodeling and explaining he had a duty as a senator to report his financial expenditures. He said he never received the bills and assumed his wife already paid them.
Ms. Morris asked the senator whether he was “trying to cover your bottom” by sending the e-mails, knowing in advance he would not be billed for work on his cabin.
“My bottom was never exposed,” Mr. Stevens said.
In one exchange, Mr. Stevens asked Ms. Morris rhetorically, “If it was a gift, why did I ask for a bill?”
“To cover your butt,” Ms. Morris said calmly.
“That wasn’t fair, ma’am,” Mr. Stevens replied.
As Ms. Morris repeatedly pressed him about Mr. Allen, VECO and the cabin’s new fittings, Mr. Stevens testily shot back with such lines as “You’re not listening to me, I’ve answered it twice,” “I’m not going to get into a numbers game with you,” “You’re making a lot of assumptions that are unwarranted,” and “That question is tautological.”
Government attorneys will continue Monday their cross-examination of Mr. Stevens, the last scheduled witness in the case. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan told the jurors that he expected them to start deliberating early next week.
When Mr. Stevens was questioned by his own attorneys earlier Friday, he largely repeated his wife’s statements from one day earlier that she handled the bills for the remodeling while Mr. Stevens was in Washington.
Mrs. Stevens testified that she paid $160,000 for the remodeling, but the Justice Department says the true value is $250,000 more than the Stevenses paid.
“She got all the bills, and she paid all the bills,” Mr. Stevens said.
His attorney, Brendan Sullivan, showed a photograph in court of a deck installed around the A-frame cabin and asked the Alaska Republican whether he approved the work before the deck was installed.
“I was never told it was going to go in there,” Mr. Stevens said.
Mr. Stevens also strongly denounced testimony from Mr. Allen, a one-time drinking and fishing buddy who has pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators and is now the government’s star witness.
Mr. Allen has testified that Mr. Stevens knew the bills did not reflect all the work being done and just wanted invoices to protect himself legally.
“That’s just an absolute lie,” said Mr. Stevens, who sat stone-faced during Mr. Allen’s testimony. “I heard it. It’s an absolute lie.”
Much of the defense’s evidence Friday consisted of Mr. Sullivan showing photos and invoices, then e-mails from the senator to friends and his wife demonstrating that he was unaware of the extent of the remodeling work and how much it would cost.
“I pay my bills wherever I am,” Mr. Stevens said. “It’s true in Washington, too. If I go to lunch with people, I pay my own bill.”
At one point, Mr. Sullivan asked Mr. Stevens about a large stained-glass window installed in the cabin during the remodeling.
“Who purchases art in your home?” Mr. Sullivan asked.
“Catherine does,” Mr. Stevens said.
“Did you know anything about the value of the stained-glass piece?” Mr. Sullivan said.
“No, I did not,” Mr. Stevens said.