The Constitution prohibits lawmakers from being charged with crimes for duties carried out as part of their legislative duties — a key element in the separation of powers clause — but the case against Stevens centers on alleged services and favors done for Stevens that were not directly related to his duties as a senator, federal prosecutors said in court motions filed Thursday evening.
Stevens has been charged with seven felony counts of failure to disclose the gifts and services provided to him by VECO Corp., an Alaskan oil firm embroiled in an ever widening corruption scandal that has snared many of the top GOP officials in Alaska. The court filings today are part of a flurry of motions leading up to Stevens' late September trial in Washington.
Stevens' lawyers argued in motions filed Thursday that the charges should be dismissed because it's the Senate's job to punish those who violate rules on financial disclosure and not the Justice Department's role. His lawyers also argue that his actions center on legislative decisions and votes.
But in its filing this evening, the Justice Department says "the government's criminal case against Senator Stevens is not based on his legislative activities, but on his receipt of financial benefits and his need to conceal those benefits from public scrutiny."
The speech and debate protections afforded lawmakers has been a central argument in the case against Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) because his congressional office was raided and papers confiscated as part of the bribery allegations against Jefferson. Jefferson has argued that the FBI raid on his office violated the constitutional separation of powers, but his claims have been rejected by a federal judge.
The Stevens case, however, centers on his financial disclosure forms, and the government argues that "the Speech or Debate Clause is simply not at issue in this prosecution because evidence relating to these constituent-based errands do not impinge on protected legislative activities."