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Stevens faces arraignment in corruption case

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is due in federal court Thursday to answer charges that he lied about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from an oil services contractor.
Stevens Indictment
Sen. Ted Stevens is surrounded by reporters as he leaves a committee meeting on Capitol Hill in Washington on Wednesday.Susan Walsh / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens is due in federal court to answer charges that he lied about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts from an oil services contractor.

Stevens is the Senate's longest-serving Republican and has been a dominant figure in congressional politics for a generation. After being indicted on seven counts of lying on Senate disclosure forms, Stevens was ordered to surrender in federal court and appear before a judge Thursday.

Stevens has said little about the corruption investigation that has dogged him for more than a year. Thursday's court hearing was expected to be no different. He was expected to plead not guilty, but initial appearances are usually brief affairs.

The indictment is a blow to the senator's re-election bid. Once a seemingly invincible political figure, he now faces both Democratic and Republican challengers who hope his legal woes make him vulnerable to defeat.

Some Republican colleagues have distanced themselves from Stevens. A spokeswoman for John McCain's presidential campaign said Wednesday that the indictment was a "sad reminder" that the next president will have to work to rebuild the public's trust.

Nicolle Wallace said McCain and Stevens famously clashed over the appropriation process. McCain regularly says on the presidential campaign trail that appropriations are subject to corruption that causes voters to lose faith in government.

Though some Republican colleagues have distanced themselves from Stevens, he has steadfastly maintained his innocence, and his campaign has pledged to continue.

To do so, he would have to ask U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan for permission to travel. Stevens was expected to remain free while he campaigns and attends to Senate business, but Sullivan was to decide what rules the senator must abide by while he awaits trial.

Stevens, 84, is accused of concealing more than $250,000 in gifts and home remodeling services he received from VECO Corp., a once powerful contracting firm. Two top VECO executives have pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers. The executives cooperated with the FBI and provided information about Stevens.

If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison on each of seven counts.

The indictment stops short, however, of charging Stevens with bribery or other traditional corruption charges. Despite winning cooperation from the VECO executives and searching the senator's home, the Justice Department said it could not prove a this-for-that corruption case.

His indictment is the culmination of an FBI investigation that for years has sent tremors through Alaska's political system. Several state lawmakers have been charged and others, including Stevens' son, Ben, remain under scrutiny.