A combative Sen. Ted Stevens jousted with a federal prosecutor Friday over his relationship with a crooked businessman who provided gifts and thousands of dollars in free work on his house in Alaska.
The famously short-fused Stevens could be seen trying to keep his temper in check as prosecutor Brenda Morris pressed him about the more than $250,000 in renovations and other gifts he received through millionaire businessman Bill Allen, who founded VECO Corp., an oil services company.
Stevens is charged with trying to hide the gifts and free work by lying on Senate financial disclosure forms.
As Morris repeatedly questioned him on his relationship with Allen, VECO and the new things at his home, Stevens would shoot back with: "You're not listening to me, I've answered it twice," "I'm not going to get into a numbers game with you," "You're making a lot of assumptions that are unwarranted," and "That question is tautological."
Stevens insisted that the things he received from Allen, such as furniture, a backup generator and a toolbox, were things from a drinking buddy who had keys to his Girdwood home, not material from VECO Corp.
"VECO is not Bill Allen to me. Bill Allen is not VECO. You're the one bringing VECO in here. Bill Allen is my friend," Stevens said.
And Stevens told jurors that he didn't want the things Allen brought over anyway, and continually asked him for bills or to take the things away. But Allen didn't.
"You were a lion of the Senate, but you didn't know how to stop this man from putting big ticket items at your home?" said Morris, who asked the Republican icon why he didn't just ask for his keys back.
"I asked him to change and he said he would," said Stevens, who said Allen was a friend.
"But he didn't," Morris said.
"No, he didn't," Stevens said
The renovations are at the heart of Stevens' corruption trial. The Alaska Republican appeared as his own star witness, trying to convince jurors that he paid every bill he received for his 2000 home renovation project and didn't know he received any freebies.
"I pay my bills wherever I am," Stevens said. "I don't let people buy my lunch or buy my dinner. Wherever I am, I pay my bills."
Stevens said he and his wife, Catherine, intended to treat the renovation project the same way. He said they relied on friends to oversee it and arranged a loan to pay for it. He described making it clear that he intended to pay for everything.
Allen testified earlier in the trial that Stevens knew he wasn't getting billed for all the work being done and that he wanted invoices only to protect himself.
"That's just an absolute lie," said Stevens, who sat stone-faced during that testimony. "I heard it. It's an absolute lie."
Stevens suggested that some details may have gotten lost amid the busy life of a senator: the committee meetings, the long hours and the challenges that come with representing a state four time zones away.
And he said the renovations were essentially his wife's project. When renovation bills arrived at his office, Stevens said, his staff members forwarded them to his wife.
"What goes on in the house is Catherine's business," Stevens testified. "What goes on outside is my business," he said.
Stevens cast himself as an honest lawmaker who was out-of-the-loop when it came to the things that were going on at his Girdwood home. With his lawyer Brendan Sullivan, Stevens went through some of things he said he found at his home without ever asking for them.
He said he asked Allen to rent a small generator for the house and was surprised to find a complicated, high-end model hard-wired to the house. "I asked him why we had that rather than a portable one. He said, 'I told the guys to hook it up and that's what they did,"' Stevens testified.
He said he told Allen to get rid of it. "This is the first real argument I had with Bill over what was going on at the house," he said.
Stevens also described being stunned to find that Allen had stocked his house with furniture. "I literally walked in and found all new furniture," Stevens said. "All of our furniture was gone."
The trial has jeopardized one of the Senate's storied careers. An imposing figure in Alaska politics since before statehood, Stevens is now fighting to hold onto a Senate seat he has held for generations. He's hoping for an acquittal before Election Day.