Yesterday Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and his wife, Washington lawyer Catherine Stevens, testified in his trial on charges of hiding corporate gifts, consisting mainly of renovation work on the couple's "chalet" in Girdwood, Alaska. Stevens' main defense is that his wife paid about $130,000 to a contractor she thought was doing all the work. She says she did not realize that much of the work was done by VECO Corp., an oil services company whose CEO, an old pal of the senator's, has pleaded guilty to bribing Alaska legislators. Prosecutors value the unreported goods and services provided by VECO at $250,000. Is it plausible that the senator and his wife believed $130,000 covered the entire project, which involved lifting the house, adding a new first floor with several newly furnished rooms, and building a wrap-around decks with a Viking gas grill?
First of all, Catherine Stevens said, the gifts were not gifts. Second, the gifts were not welcome:
The grill was dangerous and scared her, she testified. The furniture provided in the house by Mr. Allen was tasteless, she asserted.
And therefore she returned it? Kept it without paying for it? Kept it and paid for it even though she didn't want it? Stevens account of how she and her husband came into possession of a massage chair purchased by a friend, Robert Persons, was similarly unpersuasive:
Mr. Persons, who testified earlier about the chair, had initially tried to assert that the chair was a gift. But after learning that Mr. Stevens could not accept it without disclosing it, Mr. Persons then said it was a loan.
Mrs. Stevens tried to insist that the chair was Mr. Persons' and was on loan even though she acknowledged it had remained in the Stevens home for seven years.
"What kind of loan is that?" [prosecutor Brenda] Morris asked.
As I've said before, this penny-ante stuff about unreported gifts pales in comparison to Ted Stevens' legal grand theft from the U.S. Treasury on behalf of Alaskans during the last four decades. But even if he's not convicted, his weaselly defense may convince voters it's time to retire him.