- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 2, 2009

WASHINGTON (AP) - For former Sen. Ted Stevens, legal vindication is not translating into a political one.

Stevens’ former colleagues, while widely sympathetic to the convicted, defeated and about-to-be-cleared Alaskan, are not rushing to restore his honor in the Senate.

During his trial, the longest-serving Republican senator in history, 85, did them no favors by admitting to conduct that did not flatter him or the institution in which he served.

Prosecutorial misconduct aside, Stevens’ unreported gifts from a campaign contributor _ who can forget the $2,700 massage chair he claimed was a loan? _ fed a popular perception of arrogance and abuse of power among Washington’s elite.

Even his staunchest friends and allies, the ones who rose on the Senate floor last year to salute him as a role model and a Senate legend, mostly issued sad, tepid statements of support or none at all when the Justice Department announced Wednesday that it was asking a federal judge to toss out Stevens’ conviction because of prosecutorial misconduct.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, came closest to suggesting that the legal vindication meant the full restoration of Stevens’ Senate stature, repeating his belief that his friend had been “falsely accused” and, in effect, railroaded. But even Hatch acknowledged that Stevens would have a hard time reclaiming the kind of honors that the Senate typically bestows on its leaders _ and almost certainly would have on Stevens had the trial and its taint been fully erased.

“It’s something that should happen, but boy, how do you get your reputation back when you’ve been so smeared?” Hatch said.

Even Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, who unsuccessfully sought a pardon for Stevens from former President George W. Bush, did not go beyond decrying what she described as the government’s grossly unfair treatment of him.

“There is nothing that will ever compensate for the loss of his reputation or leadership to the state of Alaska,” Murkowski said.

Notably, the statements of Stevens’ other Senate confidants were terse. There was much talk about what no one would dispute, that Stevens’ family must be relieved. But there was none of whether Stevens should be honored in ways that the institution customarily does its former leaders: with a resolution on the floor, by hanging his portrait in the Capitol, or naming a room for him.

“I believe the Justice Department did the right thing,” Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, Stevens’ best friend in the Senate, said in a two-sentence statement. “I’m happy for Ted and his family.”

“Ted Stevens is 85 years old he’s already been punished enough,” Majority Leader Harry Reid told reporters. “I’m satisfied.”

Asked whether the Senate will honor Stevens in any way once he’s legally vindicated, Reid said, “We’ll have to see.” But knowledgeable aides of both parties widely said there was no move afoot to put Stevens in the pantheon of Senate leaders.

Stevens was undeniably one of them before the corruption trial. A decorated war veteran and advocate for Alaska even before it became a state, Stevens ascended to the chairmanship of the Senate Appropriations Committee and became Senate president pro tem, third in line to the presidency.

His name adorns countless Alaska landmarks, including airports and schools _ testament to his legendary ability to bring federal funding home to the remote territory that became the nation’s 49th state.

Stevens vociferously denied any wrongdoing. But a week before the November elections, the jury found that he had lied on Senate disclosure documents about gifts and home renovations. Democrat Mark Begich, the popular two-term mayor of Anchorage, defeated the veteran senator by fewer than 4,000 votes.

As he bid the Senate farewell Nov. 20, Stevens said he looked forward to a day when he would remove the ethical cloud hovering over him and his legacy. No fewer than 19 senators of all stripes rose to pay tribute and tell stories about the twinkle behind the tough talker in the Incredible Hulk necktie.

“We all make mistakes,” the only other sitting senator who has served longer, Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said that day.

“I have made more of them than I have hair follicles,” the 91-year-old senator added. “But thank God we will be judged in the next world by the good we do in this world. And Ted Stevens has done a lot of good.”

___

EDITOR’S NOTE _ Laurie Kellman has covered national politics and Congress for The Associated Press since 1997.

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