In a flash, the trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens went from plodding and tedious to strikingly bizarre.
The government's prosecution team wrapped its case against the 84-year-old Stevens earlier on Thursday. And after a jury-free hearing on an early defense motion for acquittal — which was denied in short order by U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan — Stevens' high-profile and highly compensated defense team took control of the proceedings, and immediately set about calling its first cluster of witnesses.
That first group consisted of a highly regarded senior U.S. senator, two champion "dog mushers," and an Alaska musician who goes by the stage name "Hobo Bob."
Hawaii Democratic Sen. Daniel Inouye took the stand first, to be gently led through his testimony by lead defense attorney Brendan Sullivan. Inouye, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient who first entered the Senate in 1963, spoke of his long-standing friendship and relationship with Stevens, who first set foot on the floor of Congress' upper chamber in 1968. The two had too many things in common for them not to have become friends, Inouye said.
Among their mutual concerns and characteristics, Inouye included the fact that the two men were both World War II veterans, and were coming into the Senate as representatives of the union's two newest states. Alaska and Hawaii had both been U.S. territories just a few short years before both men attained elective office.
"We were outsiders," Inouye said of his early kinship with Stevens. "I felt it was the natural thing to greet him," Inouye said of the day Stevens, a Republican, arrived in Washington.
Their relationship has deepened in the course of the last four decades, Inouye said, adding that the two have traded chairmanships routinely, depending on which party had majority control of the chamber.
"He's nice to me, and I am nice to him,: Inouye said.
"I can assure you that his word is good as far as I am concerned. It's good enough to take to the bank."
Inouye had to endure a shaky cross examination conducted by young prosecuting attorney Nicholas Marsh, who attempted to take him in a hypothetical direction that involved questions about learning someone he had just met had lied under oath. Inouye wanted nothing to do with Marsh's tactic.
"I've never heard of (Stevens) lying under oath," the senator said. "And I have never known him to lie. I don't expect him to." Inouye then told Marsh and Judge Sullivan, "I am not inclined to answer hypothetical questions."
The awkward moments allowed attorney Brendan Sullivan to swoop back in and ask Inouye about Stevens' reputation for "truthfulness and integrity," which Inouye firmly described as "absolute."
How worthy of a sled team is a sled dog?
Inouye was brought on by the defense as an opening character witness, but once he had left the stand, the defense team shifted gears and began to look at the government's accusations against Stevens in detail, starting with the prosecution's claim that Stevens under-reported the value of a Siberian Husky puppy that had been given to him by a friend.
In what some Alaska-based members of the media pool described as an Alaskan 'cavalcade of stars,' two champion "dog mushers," Dean Osmar and David Monson, took the stand to describe the sled-worthiness of the white, blue-eyed puppy that came to be known as "Keely." ("Dog mushers" are the leaders of sled-dog teams, by the way).
Stevens was at one time in possession of Keely and another sled dog puppy named "Taz." Keely has proved problematic for Stevens, because the government has alleged Stevens underreported her value on one of his yearly Senate financial disclosure forms. Keely had been whelped by Osmar, who gave her to another of today's witnesses, Alaska musician "Hobo Bob" Varsos, who donated her to a yearly fundraiser for the state's Kenai River.
The puppy was purchased at a fundraiser auction by a close friend of Stevens for over $1,000. Stevens claimed her value as $250 on his disclosure forms, because that is how much he paid for Taz, when he purchased him to keep Keely company.
Osmar described the dog as being worth only $50-$100 had he sold her himself, and Monson, who took both puppies off the Stevens hands when they became too uncontrollable for the streets of Washington, D.C., said, "they weren't very good sled dogs" in his estimation, intimating that in the Alaska market, they weren't very valuable at all.
The government has continued to maintain, however, that Stevens should have claimed the price that was paid for Keely at auction.
The defense brings several more witnesses to the stand Friday, including its second high-profile character witness, former Secretary of State Colin Powell.
The government prosecution rested its case against Stevens earlier on Thursday after adding a surprise witness to its appearance roster when court was gaveled into session in the morning.
That witness was former VECO employee Dave Anderson, who has been described throughout the trial thus far as one of the main foremen on the renovation of Sen. Stevens' Girdwood, Alaska., "chalet." It is that renovation which has caused Stevens the most grief. The government contends Stevens never paid for — or claimed on his disclosure forms — the work VECO and its employees did on the house, and has valued VECO's portion of the project at $188,000.
Anderson is thought to have been the figure inside the now defunct oil services firm who blew the whistle about the company's work on Stevens' house.
Anderson has been a divisive figure through the entirety of the trial to date. His questioned role in the renovation nearly ended up being the demise of the government's case, as the prosecution was sanctioned late Wednesday by federal Judge Sullivan for including as evidence false time logs submitted by Anderson to his bosses at VECO. Anderson had attempted to claim as work hours some seven weeks he spent away from the job to assist family members in Oregon.
The judge blasted government prosecutors yesterday for submitting the time logs as evidence, saying they new the logs "were lies."
Judge Sullivan instructed the jury later in the day Thursday to disregard the time logs, but the government's sudden production of Anderson and as a witness in the morning effectively mitigated the effects of those instructions, which were intended by the judge as a sanction of the government's efforts. Anderson provided thorough and often entertaining testimony about the extensiveness of the work he performed on Stevens' residence, and the lengthy amount of time he spent there. He admitted to the seven-week absence on the stand.
The defense team, in another surprise move, opted not to cross-examine Anderson.