The Last Line of Defense


Sen. Ted Stevens has served as senator from Alaska for most of his life and nearly all of the state’s existence. Stevens greatest accomplishments have been as a patronage chief; bringing home federal dollars for Alaska and protecting and expanding the extraction industries in the state, particularly the oil industry. In many ways, Stevens is Alaska. It comes as no surprise that Stevens would run his current reelection campaign on a message that says, “Without Ted, we’re toast.”

As some have noted already, Stevens – a “patronage-distributing warlord” – may be a dying breed of politician. There are others who still exclusively practice this kind of politics, most notably Alaska’s lone representative Don Young, but few to the degree that Stevens has over the years. Stevens’ undying support for earmarking and the oil industry may have brought on investigative scrutiny and, ultimately, an indictment. But they also appear to have muddled the water in the investigation, prompting prosecutors to charge Stevens with seemingly lesser felonies – for now.

From looking at the charges as filed and the evidence submitted by the prosecution it is evident that they have uncovered a scheme by which Sen. Stevens accepted gifts, including the extreme home makeover of his Bridgewood “chalet”, in exchange for legislative help in Washington and Anchorage and help in dealing with executive branch agencies and international trade bodies. Despite what appears to be a mound of evidence, including taped phone calls and seized emails and phone messages, the government did not charge Stevens with accepting bribes or any other related charge instead relying on false statement charges. It might be difficult to prove that Sen. Stevens acted in support of a company in exchange for a bribe when his entire career has been based on his support for Alaskan oil interests. Of course, I’m not saying that Stevens is the right for his actions – a jury will have to decide that.

This is the “I’ve been doing it my whole career” defense. Which is kind of like the “criminalization of politics” defense. Or, the more effective “friend and compatriot” defense rolled out by both Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay. DeLay and Abramoff were close friends who shared incredibly similar ideological beliefs. It’s hard to pin someone down for doing something corrupt when it might overlap with something someone would do for a friend or for an ideological cause – or in Stevens’ case, for a home state interest. So far, DeLay has escaped indictment for any role in Abramoff’s crimes.

Sen. Stevens’ legal defense team will certainly use this defense when the trial gets underway. Many congressmen, including John Murtha and Jerry Lewis, who appear to be running rackets in their districts in the name of winning money for local business and constituents already do so when confronted with negative stories. As Stevens could represent a dying breed of politician, this line of defense could crumble into dust during his trial.