Former Secretary of State Colin Powell called Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens' word "sterling" at the senator's corruption trial on Friday.
Federal prosecutors have accused Stevens of lying on Senate documents about more than $250,000 in renovations to his Alaska cabin and other gifts from Bill Allen, former head of the oil services company VECO Corp.
Powell testified that he's known Stevens well for 25 years. The former Army general and chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said there has never been any suggestion that Stevens "would do anything that was improper."
In Army infantry talk, Powell said Stevens is a man "you take on a long patrol."
In cross-examination, Powell said he didn't know anything about the case against Stevens.
Before testimony resumed Friday, U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan ordered that a list of character witnesses that the defense wanted to call to the stand — including Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Edward Kennedy, D-Mass. — be cut from 10 to five. In court papers, lawyers had argued they should have been able to call as many witnesses as they wanted to vouch for Stevens.
The defense began its case on Thursday by calling Sen. Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell was also slated to testify Friday on behalf of the senator from Alaska.
It was unclear when and if Hatch would testify. Though Kennedy was listed, lawyers said the ailing senator would only appear if his health improves.
Inouye emphatically testified to Stevens’ honesty.
“His reputation for truthfulness and honesty is what, sir?” asked defense attorney Brendan Sullivan.
“Absolute,” Inouye answered.
Inouye is one of Stevens’ best friends, with the two World War II veterans calling each other “brother” and the Democratic senator going so far to as to hold a fundraising lunch for the Republican senator in Washington in April.
It was not clear whether Stevens, the longest-serving Senate Republican and patriarch of Alaska politics for generations, would take the stand in his own defense. He has languished in the federal courtroom as a Democratic opponent back home mounts a strong challenge to the seat he’s held for 40 years.
Justice Department lawyers, who rested their case Thursday, relied on testimony by several VECO workers who, starting in 2000, labored for months to transform Stevens’ modest A-frame cabin in Alaska into a two-story home with wraparound decks, new electricity and plumbing, a sauna and a master-bedroom balcony.
Prosecutors called Allen as their star witness. He has pleaded guilty to bribery in a corruption investigation resulting in convictions of several Alaska legislators.
A self-made multimillionaire who has known Stevens for more than two decades, Allen testified that the senator came up with the idea for the renovations to make room for visiting grandchildren. As the work progressed, Stevens sometimes asked him for invoices, but Allen said he ignored the requests because he liked his old fishing and drinking buddy too much, and the senator never paid VECO.
If convicted, Stevens, 84, faces up to five years in prison on each of seven charges, though under federal sentencing guidelines, he probably would receive much less prison time, if any.