WASHINGTON – Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch on Tuesday called fellow Republican Sen. Ted Stevens a hero, a legend and one of the true lions of the Senate at the Alaska senator's corruption trial.
Stevens is "one of the strongest, toughest, best, most decent people I've known in the Senate," said Hatch, the latest of Stevens' famous friends to come to Washington during a congressional recess to testify to the senator's character.
The Alaska GOP icon also indicated Tuesday that he may take the stand himself, with his name appearing along with his wife, Catherine, on an evolving list of this week's possible defense witnesses.
Stevens, 84, is accused of lying on Senate forms to conceal more than $250,000 in renovations on his cabin and other gifts from Bill Allen, the former chief of giant oil services company VECO Corp.
Defense attorneys have depicted Catherine Stevens as the person who truly oversaw the massive conversion of the modest A-frame cabin into a two-story home with wraparound decks, new electricity and plumbing, a sauna and a master-bedroom balcony.
The senator, who spends more time at his home in Washington than in Alaska, says he paid little attention to the project. He says he assumed the $160,000 they paid for the project covered everything.
Augie Paone, a local contractor hired by VECO, testified Tuesday that the Stevenses paid him tens of thousands of dollars. He took the job with the understanding, "I was going to present all the bills to the senator," he said.
Stevens earlier brought in Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye of Hawaii and former Secretary of State Colin Powell to testify to what they called Stevens' sterling character and absolute honesty. Hatch, who has been in the Senate since 1976, echoed their assessments and said when he first came to Capitol Hill Stevens was one of the "heroes" he wanted to meet.
"If he gives you his word, he'll keep it. He's totally honest," Hatch said.
When asked by defense attorney Brendan Sullivan about Stevens' reputation among senators, Hatch replied: "I'd rate him at the very top. He's one of the true lions of the Senate along with my friend Ted Kennedy," the senior senator from Massachusetts.
Kennedy is also on Stevens' witness list, although lawyers have said he is unlikely to be called because of his health problems.
Hatch also joined Inouye in calling Stevens one of the "legends of the U.S. Senate."
Stevens is a "very, very solid, decent, fine, honorable, decent man," Hatch said.
Under a brief cross-examination, Hatch testified that he didn't know the details of the corruption case against Stevens.
The corruption investigation has rattled Alaska politics and made Stevens vulnerable to a Democratic challenge for his Senate seat in the Nov. 4 election. Sitting in the courtroom instead of campaigning in Alaska, Stevens has had to rely on proxies and technology to make his case to his constituents.
The defense also called one of the senator's daughters, Susan Covich, to back claims that Allen added his own extras like a fancy gas grill because he used the cabin himself to socialize while Stevens was away. She described stopping by her father's home one night to break up a long drive, but left after seeing strange cars parked outside.
"It just got too creepy, so I just drove on," she said.
The daughter also said her son once was employed by VECO — a hire that prosecutors list among the favors Allen showered on Stevens. But she also testified that Stevens' grandson wasn't protected from being fired once the company found out he had a drug habit.