WASHINGTON – A combative Sen. Ted Stevens sparred curtly with prosecutors over his definition of gifts as he concluded his third day of testimony at his corruption trial Monday.
The Senate's longest-serving Republican, Stevens is charged with lying on Senate financial disclosure forms about $250,000 in renovations and other gifts he received from oil services contractor VECO Corp.
Stevens has said he never sought gifts and wouldn't even accept a free lunch, much less expensive remodeling services. But prosecutors say he had a history of accepting gifts —including an expensive massage chair from a friend — and omitting them from the financial disclosure forms.
He said he considered that chair a loan.
"And the chair is still at your house?" prosecutor Brenda Morris asked.
"Yes," Stevens said.
"How is that not a gift?"
"He bought that chair as a gift, but I refused it as a gift," Stevens said. "He put it there and said it was my chair. I told him I would not accept it as a gift. We have lots of things in our house that don't belong to us."
Playing to the jury, Morris appeared confused.
"So, if you say it's not a gift, it's not a gift?" she said.
"I refused it as a gift," Stevens replied. "I let him put it in our basement at his request."
With Stevens' testimony complete, defense attorneys rested their case. Closing arguments were scheduled for Tuesday and jurors were to begin deliberating Wednesday.
The massage chair isn't central to the case against Stevens, but prosecutors hammered away at the story line to portray Stevens as a crafty politician who concocted ways to avoid disclosing favors and freebies.
Morris also seemed eager to bring out the senator's famous temper.
"You are more than willing to be treated just like anyone else? Is that correct?" the prosecutor asked.
"What?" Stevens snapped back.
"Withdrawn," Morris said, changing the subject.
Though gruff, Stevens kept his temper in check. He was the last witness to be called in his own defense and prosecutors have said they will call no rebuttal witnesses. That means Stevens' testimony will be the lasting impression for jurors before closing arguments.
Though Stevens appeared testy, Morris seemed unfocused at times, raising topics and then drifting away from them without forcing Stevens into an answer. If jurors read that as evasiveness, it will help prosecutors. If it adds ambiguity or confuses the case in jurors' mind, Stevens will benefit.
The government's star witness, VECO founder Bill Allen, testified early at the trial that his workers spent countless hours transforming Stevens' small A-frame cabin into a large, modern home with a sauna, wine cellar and wraparound porches.
Stevens says he relied on Allen to oversee the project but expected his friend to send him all the bills. Stevens says his wife, Catherine, paid every bill she received — $160,000 in all. Any freebies, Stevens said, were added on without their knowledge.
Morris pressed Stevens to acknowledge that he knew the foreman and other workers were VECO employees. But Stevens said that's not how he viewed it.
"He did work for VECO, yes, but when working at my house, he's working for me," Stevens said. "VECO was not involved in renovating my house."
Once an untouchable political force, Stevens faces a tough re-election fight and he's hoping for an acquittal before Election Day. Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich, a Democrat, has sought to capitalize on Stevens' legal woes in the tight race.