A Senate aide who handled Sen. Ted Stevens’ personal bills did not report any payments from his personal funds, raising questions about whether the two violated gift restrictions or federal law.
Barbara Flanders, a financial clerk at the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, is cooperating in a corruption investigation of the lawmaker. The Associated Press reported Tuesday that Flanders is cooperating in the probe of Stevens’ dealings with a wealthy Alaska contractor.
In her public financial disclosure form for 2006, Flanders checked the “No” box when asked whether she or her spouse had earned income of more than $200 beyond her Senate salary.
Income received from Stevens, R-Alaska, would be reportable under Senate rules.
If she was not paid for the personal work, it could be considered a gift that Stevens would have to report on his annual disclosure forms. He has not reported gifts from Flanders, a longtime aide who also has worked in the senator’s personal office.
Flanders did not return calls seeking her comment.
‘Vast knowledge and experience’
Stevens’ spokesman, Aaron Saunders, said in an e-mailed statement: “As the former chairman of the Senate Ethics and Rules Committees, Senator Stevens has vast knowledge and experience with the Senate rules. He has long-standing office policies that are consistent with these rules, including personally compensating staff members for performing tasks that are outside their official duties.”
Saunders said Flanders has not worked in Stevens’ personal office since 2005 when she switched to the committee’s payroll.
Stevens, 83, is the committee’s top Republican and the longest-serving GOP senator in history. He has been in the Senate since 1968.
Flanders testified under subpoena in the past few weeks and provided documents regarding the senator’s bills, according to a lawyer in the case who spoke on condition of anonymity because grand jury matters are secret.
Investigators are scrutinizing Stevens’ relationship with oil field services contractor Bill Allen, who helped oversee a renovation project that more than doubled the size of Stevens’ Alaska home in 2000.
Allen’s company, VECO Inc., won tens of millions of dollars in federal contracts. Allen has pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska lawmakers.
Investigators, including FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents, raided Stevens’ home Monday. They photographed and videotaped its contents and left with a garbage bag full of unidentified items.
U.S. law prohibits a federal employee from giving a gift to a superior. The law also would bar Stevens from accepting a gift from an employee receiving less pay.
Lawmakers are prohibited from accepting anything of value from someone whose interests may be substantially affected by the performance of the lawmaker’s official duties. In this case, Flanders’ job and her duties could be affected by Stevens’ official actions.
Senate gift rules are somewhat conflicting. But the Senate has long held that federal law trumps congressional standards of conduct.
The rules limit members, officers and employees from accepting a gift that is valued at more than $49.99 in any single instance.
Cumulative gifts from any source cannot be valued above $99.99 in a calendar year.
There is an exception that lets a lawmaker accept gifts from another member, officer or employee of the House or Senate. This is the kind of provision, however, that would be negated by restrictions under the law.
Federal law also says Senate employees must be paid with government funds only for assisting senators in their official duties, and not for performing personal or other nonofficial activities.
At least one House member has been convicted of fraud for having an individual on the congressional payroll when that person did not regularly perform official congressional duties. Rather, the individual performed personal activities for the congressman.
Marc Elias, a lawyer who represents Democrats in ethics and white-collar investigations, said Flanders’ duties could lead to an ethics investigation, but it is unlikely that would affect the criminal investigation against Stevens.
Federal prosecutors will be more interested in what Flanders knows about Stevens’ finances than how she got paid, Elias said.
“The ethics committee is not going to give Senator Stevens a gold star for this,” said Elias. “But right now, the ethics committee is probably the least of his concerns.”
Apology from Young
Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, who also is under a federal investigation, apologized privately to a group of Republicans on Wednesday, several weeks after a harsh exchange with a GOP colleague during a House debate.
Young had said: “There is always another day when those who bite will be killed, too, and I am very good at that. Those that bite me will be bitten back.”
Rep. Scott Garrett, R-N.J., had drawn Young’s ire by opposing an appropriation for Native Alaskans.
“He came there humbled,” Rep. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., said of Young’s appearance at the private session.
Young’s spokesman would not comment because the remarks were made in private.
Flake said Young described himself as a man with “more weaknesses than strengths” and as someone who “gets defensive when talking about Native Alaskans. It was very well received.”
Republican leadership sources said the House GOP leader, Rep. John Boehner of Ohio, told Young he had to apologize to Garrett. Young then went to the group of Republicans to issue a further apology.