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Prosecutor: Stevens believes he’s ‘above the law’

Prosecutors accused Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens on Tuesday of "believing he was above the law" by not reporting gifts while defense lawyers said he was an honest man who was too trusting of a crooked friend.
Prosecutor Joseph Bottini delivers the government's closing argument in the trial of Senator Ted Stevens.
Prosecutor Joseph Bottini delivers the government's closing argument in the trial of Senator Ted Stevens.Art Lien/NBC News
/ Source: The Associated Press

Prosecutors accused Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens on Tuesday of "believing he was above the law" by not reporting extravagant gifts while defense lawyers said the government skewed skimpy evidence to try to convict an honest man who was too trusting of a crooked friend.

"Without sufficient evidence, the government comes here late in the night of a good man's life and tries to brand him a criminal," defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan told jurors in closing arguments.

Prosecutor Brenda Morris countered with an accusation that a very deliberate and crafty Stevens "believed he was above the law," and "he thinks he's entitled to break the law" by taking gifts whenever it suited him.

"This trial has exposed the truth about one of the longest serving senators," Morris said.

The 84-year-old Stevens, the Senate's longest-serving Republican senator, is charged with lying on Senate financial disclosure forms about $250,000 in home renovations and other gifts he received from his friend, millionaire Bill Allen, who runs oil services company VECO Corp.

The jury is expected to begin deliberations Wednesday. The 12-member panel must be unanimous to find Stevens guilty.

Stevens testified for three days and said he repeatedly asked Allen for bills for the renovation work that changed the modest A-frame cabin into a two-story home with wraparound decks, new electricity and plumbing, a sauna and a master-bedroom balcony. He also said he never asked for the rope lighting, furniture, gas grill, fully stocked tool chest or other items that kept appearing at his house.

'Incredible and unbelievable'
Morris said all of the gifts are still at Stevens' house, making Stevens' story "incredible and unbelievable."

"If someone told you this exact same story sitting across your kitchen table, you'd say, 'What?'" she said.

Morris said a friend suggested that since the Girdwood house is in Alaska, "maybe Santa and his elves came down" from the North Pole and put the gifts there.

Sullivan accused the Justice Department of twisting the case to make an honorable senator appear corrupt. When prosecutors "look at life through a dirty glass," he said, "then the whole world looks dirty."

Stevens and his wife paid $160,000 for the remodeling, and Sullivan told jurors that more than covered the cost of the project.

He told jurors to focus on the many letters and e-mails in which Stevens asks to be billed for his home renovations. Stevens says he assumed the bills were sent and that his wife paid them. Prosecutors say Stevens wrote the letters to cover himself.

'That's sick'
To believe that, Sullivan told jurors, "You've got to think he's some mastermind of a conspiracy, who writes something so it'll protect himself seven, eight years later."

"That's sick," Sullivan said. "That's sick thoughts. That's not real life."

Sullivan also attacked Allen, the government's star witness, calling him a "bum." He told jurors that Allen — who has pleaded guilty to bribing state legislators — is offering substantial help to prosecutors in hopes of keeping his children from being prosecuted.

"What would a man say on a witness stand to protect his children?" Sullivan said.

Also, Allen is trying to protect his financial interests and perhaps reduce his jail time by maybe helping "the government get a senator convicted. That would be substantial." Sullivan said.

To believe the government, you'd have to believe in "a master cover-up by a sinister senator," Sullivan said.

"Wow," Morris exclaimed. "Were we at the same trial?"

She told the jury to stand up to Stevens.

"I ask you to do something that very few people have done, stand up to him. Behind all that growling, all those snappy comebacks and that righteous indignation, he's just a man," Morris said.

Crucial weeks
Stevens asked for an unusually speedy trial that he hopes will clear his name before Election Day. He is fending off a tough Democratic challenge for the seat he's held for 40 years.

Democrats have invested heavily in the campaign, sensing an opportunity to unseat a legendary Republican figure and perhaps capture a filibuster-proof majority in the Senate.

The monthlong trial has been a distraction for Stevens during the crucial final weeks of the campaign. His opponent, Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, has had the state all to himself while Stevens has been tethered to the Washington courtroom.

"If the trial comes to a conclusion and, as he believes, that he is found innocent, I think that he will win that election up there," Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, said Tuesday. "If it goes the other way, obviously it really won't matter what happens in the election."