WASHINGTON – Defense attorneys for Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens say they have only a handful of witnesses left to call at his corruption trial. The question now is, will their client be among them?
Though the veteran Republican lawmaker's name appears on the latest list of possible defense witnesses, his attorneys remained noncommittal Tuesday about their plans. They told U.S. District Judge Emmet G. Sullivan they have five remaining witnesses — if their client testifies. One of the other four is the senator's wife, Catherine.
The judge said he expected testimony, including that of three rebuttal witnesses from the government, to conclude this week. Closing arguments would begin early next week, followed by deliberations, he added.
So far in the defense case, jurors have heard character witnesses like former Secretary of State Colin Powell and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch sing Stevens' praises. When asked Tuesday about Stevens' reputation among colleagues, Hatch, R-Utah, called him one of the "legends of the U.S. Senate."
The defendant is a "very, very solid, decent, fine, honorable, decent man," Hatch said.
Stevens, 84, is accused of lying on Senate forms to conceal more than $250,000 in renovations on his mountain cabin in Alaska and other gifts from multimillionaire Bill Allen, his good friend and former chief of giant oil services company VECO Corp.
The senator, who spends more time at his home in Washington than in Alaska, says he paid little attention to the project that transformed a modest A-frame cabin into a handsome two-story home. Instead, he claims his wife kept up with the makeover, paying every bill that came her way — $160,000 in all.
Augie Paone, a local contractor hired by VECO, testified Tuesday that he received tens of thousands of dollars in checks signed by Catherine Stevens. He took the job with the understanding that "I was going to present all the bills to the senator," he said.
Paone was to continue testifying Wednesday.
Stevens, a patriarch of Alaska politics for generations, has languished in the courtroom as a Democratic opponent back home mounts a strong challenge to the seat the senator has held for 40 years.