WASHINGTON – Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens, in the midst of a tough re-election fight back at home, begins another fight with legal and political implications as his trial on corruption charges begins only steps from the U.S. Capitol.
Stevens, a Republican, is charged with lying in Senate financial disclosure records about hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts and home renovations he received from VECO Corp. On Friday, he urged people to reserve judgment until all the evidence is in.
"I have said I am innocent of the charges against me, and I think the trial will show that," Stevens said at a news conference in Anchorage, Alaska.
VECO employees normally build oil pipeline and processing equipment. But company workers also led the renovation of the senator's home, a project that was overseen by Bill Allen, a longtime Stevens friend and now the government's star witness.
Stevens, 84, says he paid every bill he received and has pleaded not guilty to all seven counts. The senator has pushed to get his trial completed before Alaskans vote Nov. 4 on his re-election.
Stevens, who has skipped most of the pretrial hearings at the E. Barrett Prettyman Federal Courthouse three blocks from the Capitol, will be in court for the jury selection starting on Monday, lawyers said.
The 150 potential jurors will complete a multipage questionnaire behind closed doors before being questioned by lawyers on their suitability for the monthlong trial.
Stevens, who is looking to win a seventh term, is in a tough race against Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat. The longtime Republican icon will have to stay in Washington during the trial, while Begich is free to campaign around Alaska.