Theodore Fulton Stevens Sr. (November 18, 1923 – August 9, 2010) was an American politician who served as a United States Senator from Alaska from 1968 to 2009. He was the longest-serving Republican U.S. Senator in history at the time he left office; his record was surpassed in January 2017 by Orrin Hatch from Utah. He was President pro tempore of the United States Senate in the 108th and 109th Congresses from January 3, 2003, to January 3, 2007, and was the third U.S. Senator to hold the title of President pro tempore emeritus.
Stevens served for six decades in the American public sector, beginning with his service in World War II. In 1952, his law career took him to Fairbanks, Alaska, where he was appointed U.S. Attorney the following year. In 1956, he returned to Washington D.C. to work in the Eisenhower Interior Department, where he played an important role in bringing about statehood for Alaska. He was elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1964 and became House majority leader in his second term. In 1968, Stevens ran unsuccessfully for the Republican nomination for U.S. Senate, but was appointed to Alaska’s other Senate seat when it became vacant later that year. As a Senator, Stevens played key roles in legislation that shaped Alaska’s economic and social development, including the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline Authorization Act, the Alaska National Interest Lands Conservation Act, and the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. He was also known for his sponsorship of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978, which resulted in the establishment of the United States Olympic Committee.
In 2008, Stevens was embroiled in a federal corruption trial as he ran for reelection to the Senate. He was initially found guilty and eight days later was narrowly defeated at the polls. Stevens was the most senior U.S. Senator to have ever lost a reelection bid. However, prior to Stevens’s sentencing, the indictment was dismissed – effectively vacating the conviction – when a Justice Department probe found evidence of gross prosecutorial misconduct. Many argued the prosecution was unfair and politically motivated.
Early life and career
Childhood and youth
Stevens was born November 18, 1923, in Indianapolis, Indiana, the third of four children, in a small cottage built by his paternal grandfather after the marriage of his parents, Gertrude S. (née Chancellor) and George A. Stevens. The family later lived in Chicago, where George Stevens was an accountant before losing his job during the Great Depression. Around this time, when Ted Stevens was six years old, his parents divorced, and Stevens and his three siblings went back to Indianapolis to reside with their paternal grandparents, followed shortly thereafter by their father, who developed problems with his eyes and went blind for several years. Stevens’s mother moved to California and sent for Stevens’s siblings as she could afford to, but Stevens stayed in Indianapolis helping to care for his father and a mentally disabled cousin, Patricia Acker, who also lived with the family. The only adult in the household with a job was Stevens’s grandfather. Stevens helped to support the family by working as a newsboy, and would later remember selling many newspapers on March 1, 1932, when newspaper headlines blared the news of the Lindbergh kidnapping.
In 1934 Stevens’s grandfather punctured a lung in a fall down a tall flight of stairs, contracted pneumonia, and died. Stevens’s father, George, died in 1957 in Tulsa, Oklahoma, of lung cancer. Stevens and his cousin Patricia moved to Manhattan Beach, California, to live with Patricia’s mother, Gladys Swindells. Stevens attended Redondo Union High School, participating in extracurricular activities including working on the school newspaper and becoming a member of a student theater group, a service society affiliated with the YMCA, and, during his senior year, the Lettermen’s Society. Stevens also worked at jobs before and after school, but still had time for surfing with his friend Russell Green, son of the president of Signal Gas and Oil Company, who remained a close friend throughout Stevens’s life.
After graduating from high school in 1942, Stevens enrolled at Oregon State University to study engineering, attending for a semester. With World War II in progress, Stevens attempted to join the Navy and serve in Naval Aviation, but failed the vision exam. He corrected his vision through a course of prescribed eye exercises, and in 1943 he was accepted into an Army Air Force Air Cadet program at Montana State College. After scoring near the top of an aptitude test for flight training, Stevens was transferred to preflight training in Santa Ana, California; he received his wings early in 1944.
Stevens served in the China-Burma-India theater with the Fourteenth Air Force Transport Section, which supported the “Flying Tigers“, from 1944 to 1946. He and other pilots in the transport section flew C-46 and C-47 transport planes, often without escort, mostly in support of Chinese units fighting the Japanese. Stevens received the Distinguished Flying Cross for flying behind enemy lines, the Air Medal, and the Yuan Hai Medal awarded by the Chinese Nationalist government. He was discharged from the Army Air Forces in March 1946.
Higher education and law school
After the war, Stevens attended the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where he earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science in 1947. While at UCLA, he was a member of Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity (Theta Rho chapter). He applied to law school at Stanford and the University of Michigan, but on the advice of his friend Russell Green’s father to “look East,” he applied to Harvard Law School, which he ended up attending. Stevens’s education was partly financed by the G.I. Bill; he made up the difference by selling his blood, borrowing money from an uncle, and working several jobs—including one as a bartender in Boston. During the summer of 1949, Stevens was a research assistant in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of California (now the Central District of California).
While at Harvard, Stevens wrote a paper on maritime law which received honorable mention for the Addison Brown prize, a Harvard Law School award for the best essay by a student on a subject related to private international law or maritime law. The essay later became a Harvard Law Review article whose scholarship Justice Jay Rabinowitz of the Alaska Supreme Court praised 45 years later, telling the Anchorage Daily News in 1994 that the high court had issued a recent opinion citing the article. Stevens graduated from Harvard Law School in 1950.
Early legal career
After graduating, Stevens went to work in the Washington, D.C., law offices of Northcutt Ely. Twenty years earlier Ely had been executive assistant to Secretary of the Interior Ray Lyman Wilbur during the Hoover administration, and by 1950 headed a prominent law firm specializing in natural resources issues. One of Ely’s clients, Emil Usibelli, founder of the Usibelli Coal Mine in Healy, Alaska, was trying to sell coal to the military, and Stevens was assigned to handle his legal affairs.
Marriage and family
Early in 1952, Stevens married Ann Mary Cherrington, a Democrat and the adopted daughter of University of Denver Chancellor Ben Mark Cherrington. She had graduated from Reed College in Portland, Oregon, and during Truman‘s administration had worked for the State Department.
On December 4, 1978, the crash of a Learjet 25C at Anchorage International Airport killed five people. Ted Stevens survived; his wife, Ann, did not. The building which houses the Alaska chapter of the American Red Cross at 235 East Eighth Avenue in Anchorage is named the Ann Stevens Building in her honor. There is also a reading room at the Loussac Library in Anchorage which is named for her.
Stevens and his first wife, Ann, had three sons: Ben A. Stevens, Sr., Walter, and Ted Jr., and two daughters: Susan Covich and Elizabeth “Beth” Harper Stevens. Democratic Governor Tony Knowles appointed Ben to the Alaska Senate in 2001, where he served as the president of the state senate until the fall of 2006.
Ted Stevens remarried in 1980. He and his second wife, Catherine, had a daughter, Lily.
Stevens spent many years living at the Knik Arms, a six-story residential building constructed in 1950 on the western edge of downtown Anchorage. In his earlier years in the Senate, he would often point to this residence when trying to drive home the point that he was not of means and had not achieved such through his Senate service.
Stevens’s last home was in Girdwood, a ski resort community located near the southern edge of Anchorage’s city limits and about 40 miles by road from downtown Anchorage. The house was originally purchased as a vacation home, before Stevens began living there full-time.
Stevens was a survivor of prostate cancer and had publicly disclosed his cancer. He was nominated for the first Golden Glove Awards for Prostate Cancer by the National Prostate Cancer Coalition (NPCC). He advocated the creation of the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Program for Prostate Cancer at the Department of Defense, which has funded nearly $750 million for prostate cancer research. Stevens was a recipient of the Presidential Citation by the American Urological Association for significantly promoting urology causes.
Early Alaska career
In 1952, while still working for Northcutt Ely, Stevens volunteered for the presidential campaign of Dwight D. Eisenhower, writing position papers for the campaign on western water law and lands. By the time Eisenhower won the election that November, Stevens had acquired contacts who told him, “We want you to come over to Interior.” Stevens left his job with Ely, but a job in the Eisenhower administration didn’t come through as a result of a temporary hiring freeze instituted by Eisenhower in an effort to reduce spending.
Instead, Stevens was offered a job with the Fairbanks, Alaska, law firm of Emil Usibelli’s Alaska attorney, Charles Clasby, whose firm—Collins and Clasby—had just lost one of its attorneys. Stevens and his wife had met and liked both Usibelli and Clasby, and decided to make the move. Loading up their 1947 Buick and traveling on a $600 loan from Clasby, they drove across country from Washington, D.C., and up the Alaska Highway in the dead of winter, arriving in Fairbanks in February 1953. Stevens later recalled kidding Gov. Walter Hickel about the loan. “He likes to say that he came to Alaska with 38 cents in his pocket,” he said of Hickel. “I came $600 in debt.” Ann Stevens recalled in 1968 that they made the move to Alaska “on a six-month trial basis.”
In Fairbanks, Stevens cultivated the city’s Republican establishment. He befriended conservative newspaper publisher C.W. Snedden, who had purchased the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in 1950. Snedden’s wife Helen later recalled that her husband and Stevens were “like father and son.” “The only problem Ted had was that he had a temper,” she told a reporter in 1994, crediting her husband with helping to steady Stevens “like you would do with your children” and with teaching Stevens the art of diplomacy.
Stevens had been with Charles Clasby’s law firm for six months when Robert J. McNealy, a Democrat appointed as U.S. Attorney for Fairbanks during the Truman administration, informed U.S. District Judge Harry Pratt that he would be resigning effective August 15, 1953, having already delayed his resignation by several months at the request of Justice Department officials newly appointed by Eisenhower. The latter had asked McNealy to delay his resignation until Eisenhower could appoint a replacement. Despite Stevens’s short tenure as an Alaska resident and his relative lack of trial or criminal law experience, Pratt asked Stevens to serve in the position until Eisenhower acted. Stevens agreed. “I said, ‘Sure, I’d like to do that,’ ” Stevens recalled years later. “Clasby said, ‘It’s not going to pay you as much money, but, if you want to do it, that’s your business.’ He was very pissed that I decided to go.” Most members of the Fairbanks Bar Association were outraged at the appointment of a newcomer, and members in attendance at the association’s meeting that December voted to support Carl Messenger for the permanent appointment, an endorsement seconded by the Alaska Republican Party Committee for the Fairbanks-area judicial division. However, Stevens was favored by Attorney General Herbert Brownell, by Senator William F. Knowland of California, and by the Republican National Committee, (Alaska itself had no Senators at this time, as it was still a territory). Eisenhower sent Stevens’s nomination to the U.S. Senate, which confirmed him on March 30, 1954.
Stevens soon gained a reputation as an active prosecutor who vigorously prosecuted violations of federal and territorial liquor, drug, and prostitution laws, characterized by Fairbanks area homesteader Niilo Koponen (who later served in the Alaska State House of Representatives from 1982–91) as “this rough tough shorty of a district attorney who was going to crush crime.” Stevens sometimes accompanied U.S. Marshals on raids. As recounted years later by Justice Jay Rabinowitz, “U.S. marshals went in with Tommy guns and Ted led the charge, smoking a stogie and with six guns on his hips.” However, Stevens himself said the colorful stories spread about him as a pistol-packing D.A. were greatly exaggerated, and recalled only one incident when he carried a gun: on a vice raid to the town of Big Delta about 75 miles (121 km) southeast of Fairbanks, he carried a holstered gun on a marshal’s suggestion.
Stevens also became known for his explosive temper, which was focused particularly on a criminal defense lawyer named Warren A. Taylor who would later go on to become the Alaska Legislature‘s first Speaker of the House in the First Alaska State Legislature. “Ted would get red in the face, blow up and stalk out of the courtroom,” a former court clerk later recalled of Stevens’s relationship with Taylor.
In 1956, in a trial which received national headlines, Stevens prosecuted Jack Marler; a former Internal Revenue Service agent accused of failing to file tax returns. Marler’s first trial, which was handled by a different prosecutor, had ended in a deadlocked jury and a mistrial. For the second trial, Stevens was up against Edgar Paul Boyko, a flamboyant Anchorage attorney who built his defense of Marler on the theory of no taxation without representation, citing the Territory of Alaska‘s lack of representation in the U.S. Congress. As recalled by Boyko, his closing argument to the jury was a rabble-rousing appeal for the jury to “strike a blow for Alaskan freedom,” claiming that “this case was the jury’s chance to move Alaska toward statehood.” Boyko remembered that “Ted had done a hell of a job in the case,” but Boyko’s tactics paid off, and Marler was acquitted on April 3, 1956. Following the acquittal, Stevens issued a statement saying, “I don’t believe the jury’s verdict is an expression of resistance to taxes or law enforcement or the start of a Boston Tea Party. I do believe, however, that the decision will be a blow to the hopes for Alaska statehood.”
Department of the Interior
In March 1956, Stevens’s friend Elmer Bennett, legislative counsel in the Department of the Interior, was promoted by Secretary of the Interior Douglas McKay to the Secretary’s office. Bennett successfully lobbied McKay to replace him in his old job with Stevens, and Stevens returned to Washington, D.C., to take up the position. By the time he arrived in June 1956, McKay had resigned in order to run for the U.S. Senate from his home state of Oregon, and Fred Andrew Seaton had been appointed to replace him. Seaton, a newspaper publisher from Nebraska, was a close friend of Fairbanks Daily News-Miner publisher C.W. Snedden, and in common with Snedden was an advocate of Alaska statehood, unlike McKay, who had been lukewarm in his support. Seaton asked Snedden if he knew any Alaskan who could come to Washington, D.C. to work for Alaska statehood; Snedden replied that the man he needed—Stevens—was already there working in the Department of the Interior. The fight for Alaska statehood became Stevens’s principal work at Interior. “He did all the work on statehood,” Roger Ernst, Seaton’s assistant secretary for public land management, later said of Stevens. “He wrote 90 percent of all the speeches. Statehood was his main project.” A sign on Stevens’s door proclaimed his office as “Alaskan Headquarters”, and Stevens became known at the Department of the Interior as “Mr. Alaska.”
Efforts to make Alaska a state had been going on since 1943, and had nearly come to fruition during the Truman administration in 1950 when a statehood bill passed in the U.S. House of Representatives, only to die in the Senate. The national Republican Party opposed statehood for Alaska, in part out of fear that Alaska would elect Democrats to Congress. At the time Stevens arrived in Washington, D.C., to take up his new job, a constitutional convention to write an Alaska constitution had just been concluded on the campus of the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. The 55 delegates also elected three unofficial representatives—all Democrats—as unofficial delegates to Congress: Ernest Gruening and William Egan as U.S. Senators and Ralph Rivers as U.S. representative.
President Eisenhower, a Republican, regarded Alaska as too large and sparsely populated to be economically self-sufficient as a state, and furthermore saw statehood as an obstacle to effective defense of Alaska should the Soviet Union seek to invade it. Eisenhower was especially worried about the sparsely populated areas of northern and western Alaska. In March 1954, he had drawn a line on a map indicating his opinion of the portions of Alaska which he felt ought to remain in federal hands even if Alaska were granted statehood.
Seaton and Stevens worked with Gen. Nathan Twining, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who had served in Alaska; and Jack L. Stempler, a top Defense Department attorney, to create a compromise that would address Eisenhower’s concerns. Much of their work was conducted in a hospital room at Walter Reed Army Hospital, where Seaton was being treated for back problems. Their work concentrated on refining the line on the map that Eisenhower had drawn in 1954, one which became known as the PYK Line after three rivers—the Porcupine, Yukon, and Kuskokwim—whose courses defined much of the line. The PYK Line was the basis for Section 10 of the Alaska Statehood Act, which Stevens wrote. Under Section 10, the land north and west of the PYK Line—which included the entirety of Alaska’s North Slope, the Seward Peninsula, most of the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta, the western portions of the Alaska Peninsula, and the Aleutian and Pribilof Islands—would be part of the new state, but the President would be granted emergency powers to establish special national defense withdrawals in those areas if deemed necessary. “It’s still in the law but it’s never been exercised,” Stevens later recollected. “Now that the problem with Russia is gone, it’s surplusage. But it is a special law that only applies to Alaska.”
Stevens also took part—illegally—in lobbying for the statehood bill, working closely with the Alaska Statehood Committee from his office at Interior. Stevens hired Margaret Atwood, daughter of Anchorage Times publisher Robert Atwood, who was chairman of the Alaska Statehood Committee, to work with him in the Interior Department. “We were violating the law,” Stevens told a researcher in an October 1977 oral history interview for the Eisenhower Library. “[W]e were lobbying from the executive branch, and there’s been a statute against that for a long time…. We more or less, I would say, masterminded the House and Senate attack from the executive branch.” Stevens and the younger Atwood created file cards on members of Congress based on “whether they were Rotarians or Kiwanians or Catholics or Baptists and veterans or loggers, the whole thing,” Stevens said in the 1977 interview. “And we’d assigned these Alaskans to go talk to individual members of the Senate and split them down on the basis of people that had something in common with them.” The lobbying campaign extended to presidential press conferences. “We set Ike up quite often at press conferences by planting questions about Alaska statehood,” Stevens said in the 1977 interview. “We never let a press conference go by without getting someone to try to ask him about statehood.” Newspapers were also targeted, according to Stevens. “We planted editorials in weeklies and dailies and newspapers in the district of people we thought were opposed to us or states where they were opposed to us so that suddenly they were thinking twice about opposing us.”
The Alaska Statehood Act became law with Eisenhower’s signature on July 7, 1958, and Alaska formally was admitted to statehood on January 3, 1959, when Eisenhower signed the Alaska Statehood Proclamation.
Alaska House of Representatives
After returning to Alaska, Stevens practiced law in Anchorage and became a member of Operation Rampart, a group in favor of building the Rampart Dam, a hydroelectric project on the Yukon River. Elected to the Alaska House of Representatives in 1964, he became House Majority Leader in his second term.
Stevens first ran for the U.S. Senate in 1962 and won the Republican nomination, but lost in the general election to incumbent Democratic U.S. Senator Ernest Gruening. In 1968, Stevens once again ran for the U.S. Senate, but lost in the Republican primary to Anchorage Mayor Elmer E. Rasmuson. Rasmuson lost the general election to Democrat Mike Gravel. In December 1968, after the death of Alaska’s other senator, Democrat Bob Bartlett, Governor Wally Hickel appointed Stevens to the seat. Since Gravel took office 10 days after Stevens did, Stevens was Alaska’s senior senator for all but 10 days of his 40-year tenure in the Senate—a unique distinction.
In a special election in 1970, Stevens won the right to finish the remainder of Bartlett’s term. He won the seat in his own right in 1972, and was reelected in 1978, 1984, 1990, 1996 and 2002 elections. His final term expired in January 2009. Since his first election to a full term in 1972, Stevens never received less than 66% of the vote before his 2008 defeat for re-election.
Committees and leadership positions
Stevens served as the Assistant Republican Leader (Whip) from 1977 to 1985. Stevens served as Acting Minority Leader during Howard Baker‘s run for president during the 1980 Republican primaries. In 1994, after the Republicans took control of the Senate, Stevens was appointed Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee. Stevens became the Senate’s President Pro Tempore when Republicans regained control of the chamber as a result of the 2002 mid-term elections, during which the previous most senior Republican senator and former President Pro Tempore Strom Thurmond retired.
After Howard Baker retired in 1984, Stevens sought the position of Republican (and then-Majority) leader, running against Bob Dole, Dick Lugar, Jim McClure and Pete Domenici. As Republican whip, Stevens was theoretically the favorite to succeed Baker, but lost to Dole in a fourth ballot.
Stevens chaired the Senate Appropriations Committee from 1997 to 2005, except for the 18 months when Democrats controlled the chamber. The chairmanship gave Stevens considerable influence among fellow Senators, who relied on him for home-state project funds. Even before becoming chairman of the Appropriations Committee, Stevens secured large sums of federal money for the State of Alaska. Due to Republican Party rules that limited committee chairmanships to six years, Stevens gave up the Appropriations gavel at the start of the 109th Congress, in January 2005.
He chaired the United States Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation during the 109th Congress, becoming the committee’s ranking member after the Democrats regained control of the Senate for the 110th Congress. He resigned his ranking-member position on the committee due to his indictment.
At various times, Stevens also served as Chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, the Senate Ethics Committee, the Arms Control Observer Group, and the Joint Committee on the Library of Congress.
Due to Stevens’s long tenure and that of the state’s sole congressman, Don Young, Alaska was considered to have clout in national politics well beyond its small population (the state was long the smallest in population and is currently 47th, ahead of only Wyoming, North Dakota, and Vermont).
Internet and net neutrality
On June 28, 2006, the Senate commerce committee was in the final day of three days of hearings, during which the Committee members considered over 200 amendments to an omnibus telecommunications bill. Stevens authored the bill, S. 2686, the Communications, Consumer’s Choice, and Broadband Deployment Act of 2006.
Senators Olympia Snowe (R-ME) and Byron Dorgan (D-ND) cosponsored and spoke on behalf of an amendment that would have inserted strong network neutrality mandates into the bill. In between speeches by Snowe and Dorgan, Stevens gave a vehement 11-minute speech using colorful language to explain his opposition to the amendment. Stevens referred to the Internet as “not a big truck,” but a “series of tubes” that could be clogged with information. Stevens also confused the terms Internet and e-mail. Soon after, Stevens’s interpretation of how the Internet works became a topic of amusement and ridicule by some in the blogosphere. The phrases “the Internet is not a big truck” and “series of tubes” became internet memes and were prominently featured on U.S. television shows including Comedy Central‘s The Daily Show.
CNET journalist Declan McCullagh called “series of tubes” an “entirely reasonable” metaphor for the Internet, noting that some computer operating systems use the term ‘pipes‘ to describe interprocess communication. McCullagh also suggested that ridicule of Stevens was almost entirely political, espousing his belief that if Stevens has spoken in a similar manner, yet in support of Net Neutrality, “the online chortling would have been muted or nonexistent.”
Stevens was a long-standing proponent of logging and championed a plan that would allow 2,400,000 acres (9,700 km2) of roadless old growth forest to be clear-cut. Stevens stated that this would revive Alaska’s timber industry and bring jobs to unemployed loggers; however, the proposal would mean that thousands of miles of roads would be constructed at the expense of the United States Forest Service, judged to cost taxpayers $200,000 per job created.
Stevens, once an avowed critic of anthropogenic climate change, began actively supporting legislation to combat climate change in early 2007. “Global climate change is a very serious problem for us, becoming more so every day,” he said at a Senate hearing, adding that he was “concerned about the human impacts on our climate.”
However, in September 2007, Stevens said:
We’re at the end of a long, long term of warming. 700 to 900 years of increased temperature, a very slow increase. We think we’re close to the end of that. If we’re close to the end of that, that means that we’ll starting getting cooler gradually, not very rapidly, but cooler once again and stability might come to this region for a period of another 900 years.
Criticism of political positions and actions
As a Senator, Stevens was subject to criticism several times:
- Citizens Against Government Waste accused Stevens of pork barrel politics and kept a list of his pet projects.
- In 2005, Stevens strongly supported federal transportation funds to build the Gravina Island Bridge, which quickly became derided due to its price tag (approximately $398 million) and as an unnecessary Bridge to Nowhere. Stevens threatened to quit the Senate if the funds were diverted.
- Additionally, he received criticism for introducing a bill in January 2007 that would heavily restrict access to social networking sites from public schools and libraries. Sites falling under the language of this bill could include MySpace, Facebook, Digg, English Wikipedia, and Reddit.
- In 2007, Stevens added $3.5 million into a Senate spending bill to help finance an airport to serve a remote Alaskan island. The airstrip would connect the roughly 100 permanent residents of Akutan, but the biggest beneficiary is the Seattle-based Trident Seafoods that operates “one of the world’s largest seafood processing plants on the volcanic island in the Aleutians.” In December 2006, a federal grand jury investigating political corruption in Alaska ordered Trident and other seafood companies to produce documents about ties to the senator’s son, former Alaska Fisheries Marketing Board Chairman Ben Stevens. Trident’s chief executive, Charles Bundrant, was a longtime supporter of Stevens, and Bundrant with his family contributed $17,300 since 1995 to Stevens’s political campaigns and $10,800 to his leadership PAC, while Bundrant also gave $55,000 to the National Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee.
In December 2003, the Los Angeles Times reported that Stevens had taken advantage of lax Senate rules to use his political influence to obtain a large amount of his personal wealth. According to the article, while Stevens was already a millionaire “thanks to investments with businessmen who received government contracts or other benefits with his help,” the lawmaker who was in charge of $800 billion a year, writes “preferences he wrote into law,” from which he then benefits.
Home remodeling and VECO
On May 29, 2007, the Anchorage Daily News reported that the FBI and a federal grand jury were investigating an extensive remodeling project at Stevens’s home in Girdwood. Stevens’s Alaska home was raided by the FBI and IRS on July 30, 2007. The remodeling work doubled the size of the modest home. Public records show that the house was 2,471 square feet (230 m2) after the remodeling, and that the property was valued at $271,300 in 2003, including a $5,000 increase in land value. The remodel in 2000 was organized by Bill Allen, a founder of the VECO Corporation—an oil-field service company—and was alleged by prosecutors to have cost VECO and the various contractors $250,000 or more. However, the residential contractor who finished the renovation for VECO, Augie Paone, “believes the [Stevens’s] remodeling could have cost—if all the work was done efficiently—around $130,000 to $150,000, close to the figure Stevens cited last year.” Stevens paid $160,000 for the renovations “and assumed that covered everything.”
In June, the Anchorage Daily News reported that a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C., heard evidence in May about the expansion of Stevens’s Girdwood home and other matters connecting Stevens to VECO. In mid-June, FBI agents questioned several aides who worked for Stevens as part of the investigation. In July, Washingtonian magazine reported that Stevens had hired “Washington’s most powerful and expensive lawyer”, Brendan Sullivan Jr., in response to the investigation. In 2006, during wiretapped conversations with Bill Allen, shortly after the VECO offices were searched and Allen agreed to cooperate with the investigation, Stevens expressed worries over legal complications arising from the sweeping federal investigations into Alaskan politics. “The worst that can happen to us is we run up a bunch of legal fees, and might lose and we might have to pay a fine, might have to serve a little time in jail. I hope to Christ it never gets to that, and I don’t think it will,” Stevens said. On the witness stand, “Allen testified that VECO staff who had worked on his own house had charged ‘way too much,’ leaving him uncertain how much to invoice Stevens for when he had his staff work on the senator’s house … that he would be embarrassed to bill Stevens for overpriced labor on the house, and said he concealed some of the expense.”
In September 2007, The Hill reported that Stevens had “steered millions of federal dollars to a sportfishing industry group founded by Bob Penney, a longtime friend.” In 1998, Stevens invested $15,000 in a Utah land deal managed by Penney; in 2004, Stevens sold his share of the property for $150,000.
Trial, conviction, and reversal
On July 29, 2008, Stevens was indicted by a federal grand jury on seven counts of failing to properly report gifts, a felony, and found guilty at trial three months later (October 27, 2008). The charges relate to renovations to his home and alleged gifts from VECO Corporation, claimed to be worth more than $250,000. The indictment followed a lengthy investigation by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) for possible corruption by Alaskan politicians and was based in part on Stevens’s extensive relationship with Bill Allen. Allen owned racehorses, including a partnership in the stud horse So Long Birdie, which included Stevens and eight others, and which was managed by Bob Persons. The FBI not only had calls between Allen and Stevens, made after Allen became a cooperating witness, but they had thousands of wiretapped conversations involving the phones of both Allen and VECO Vice President Rick Smith. They had also videotaped meetings between Allen and state legislators at VECO’s hotel suite in Juneau, the state capitol. Allen had testified in court that he bribed Ted’s son Ben, the former Alaska Senate president. A former VECO employee said he did campaign fundraising work for Stevens while on VECO’s payroll, a violation of federal law. Allen, then an oil service company executive, had earlier pleaded guilty—with sentencing suspended pending his cooperation in gathering evidence and giving testimony in other trials—to bribing several Alaskan state legislators. Stevens declared, “I’m innocent,” and pleaded not guilty to the charges in a federal district court on July 31, 2008. Stevens asserted his right to a speedy trial so that he could have the opportunity to clear his name promptly and requested that the trial be held before the 2008 election.
U.S. District Judge in Washington, D.C. Emmet G. Sullivan, on October 2, 2008, denied the mistrial petition of Stevens’s chief counsel, Brendan Sullivan, due to allegations of withholding evidence by prosecutors. Thus, the latter were admonished and would submit themselves for internal probe by the United States Department of Justice. Brady v. Maryland requires prosecutors to give a defendant any material exculpatory evidence. Judge Sullivan had earlier admonished the prosecution for sending home to Alaska a witness who might have helped the defense.
The case was prosecuted by Principal Deputy Chief Brenda K. Morris, Trial Attorneys Nicholas A. Marsh and Edward P. Sullivan of the Criminal Division‘s Public Integrity Section, headed by Chief William M. Welch II; and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Joseph W. Bottini and James A. Goeke from the District of Alaska.
Guilty verdict and repercussions
On October 27, 2008, Stevens was found guilty of all seven counts of making false statements. Stevens was only the fifth sitting senator to be convicted by a jury in U.S. history, and the first since Senator Harrison A. Williams (D-NJ) in 1981 (although Senator David Durenberger (R-MN) pleaded guilty to a felony more recently, in 1995). Stevens faced a maximum penalty of five years per charge. His sentencing hearing was originally arranged February 25, but his attorneys told Judge Emmet Sullivan they would file applications to dispute the verdict by early December. However, it was thought unlikely that he would have seen significant time in prison.
Within a few days of his conviction, Stevens faced bipartisan calls for his resignation. Both parties’ presidential candidates, Barack Obama and John McCain, were quick to call for Stevens to stand down. Obama said that Stevens needed to resign to help “put an end to the corruption and influence-peddling in Washington.” McCain said that Stevens “has broken his trust with the people” and needed to step down—a call echoed by his running mate, Sarah Palin, governor of Stevens’s home state. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, as well as fellow Republican Senators Norm Coleman, John Sununu and Gordon Smith also called for Stevens to resign. McConnell said there would be “zero tolerance” for a convicted felon serving in the Senate—strongly hinting that he would support Stevens’s expulsion from the Senate unless Stevens resigned first. Late on November 1, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid confirmed that he would schedule a vote on Stevens’s expulsion, saying that “a convicted felon is not going to be able to serve in the United States Senate.” Had Stevens been expelled after winning election, a special election would have been held to fill the seat through the remainder of the term, until 2014. Some speculated Palin would have tried to run for the Senate via this special election. No sitting Senator has been expelled since the Civil War.
Nonetheless, during a debate with his opponent, Anchorage, Alaska Mayor Mark Begich, days after his conviction, Stevens continued to claim innocence. “I have not been convicted. I have a case pending against me, and probably the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct by the prosecutors that is known.” Stevens also cited plans to appeal. On November 4, 2008, eight days after his conviction, Begich went on to defeat Stevens by 3,724 votes.
On November 13, Senator Jim DeMint of South Carolina announced he would move to have Stevens expelled from the Senate Republican Conference (caucus) regardless of the results of the election. (Absentee, provisional, and early ballots were, at the time, still being tallied in the close election.) Losing his caucus membership would cost Stevens his committee assignments. However, DeMint later decided to postpone offering his motion, saying that while there were enough votes to throw Stevens out, it would be a moot point if Stevens lost his reelection bid. Stevens ended up losing the Senate race, and on November 20, 2008, gave his last speech to the Senate, which was met with a rare Senate standing ovation.
Government concealment of evidence
In February 2009, FBI agent Chad Joy filed a whistleblower affidavit, alleging that prosecutors and FBI agents conspired to withhold and conceal evidence that could have resulted in a verdict of “not guilty.” In his affidavit, Joy alleged that prosecutors intentionally sent a key witness back to Alaska after the witness performed poorly during a mock cross-examination. The witness, Rocky Williams, later notified the defense attorneys that his testimony would undercut the prosecution’s claim that his company had spent its own money renovating Sen. Stevens’s house. Joy further alleged that the prosecutors intentionally withheld Brady material including redacted prior statements of a witness, and a memo from Bill Allen stating that Sen. Stevens probably would have paid for the goods and services if asked. Joy further alleged that a female FBI agent had an inappropriate relationship with Allen, who also gave gifts to FBI agents and helped one agent’s relative get a job.
As a result of Joy’s affidavit and claims by the defense that prosecutorial misconduct caused an unfair trial, Judge Sullivan ordered a hearing to be held on February 13, 2009, to determine whether a new trial should be ordered. At the February 13 hearing, the judge held the prosecutors in contempt for failing to deliver documents to Stevens’s legal counsel. Judge Sullivan called this conduct “outrageous.”
Convictions voided and indictment dismissed
On behalf of U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Paul O’Brien submitted a “Motion of The United States To Set Aside The Verdict And Dismiss The Indictment With Prejudice” in connection with case No. 08-231 early on April 1, 2009. Federal judge Emmet G. Sullivan soon signed the order, and since it occurred prior to sentencing it had the effect of vacating Stevens’s conviction. During the trial, Sullivan expressed concern and anger regarding prosecutorial conduct and related issues. Holder, who had taken office only three months earlier, was reportedly very angry at the prosecutors’ apparent withholding of exculpatory evidence, and wanted to send a message that prosecutorial misconduct would not be tolerated under his watch. After Sullivan held the prosecutors in contempt, Holder replaced the entire trial team, including top officials in the public integrity section. The final straw for Holder, according to numerous reports, was the discovery of a previously undocumented interview with Bill Allen, the prosecution’s star witness, that raised the possibility prosecutors had knowingly allowed Allen to perjure himself on the stand. Allen stated that the fair market value of the repairs to Stevens’s house was around $80,000—far less than the $250,000 he said it cost at trial. More seriously, Allen said in the interview that he didn’t recall talking to Bob Persons, a friend of Stevens, regarding the repair bill for Stevens’s house. This directly contradicted Allen’s testimony at trial, in which he claimed Stevens asked him to give Persons a note Stevens sent him asking for a bill on the repair work. At trial, Allen said Persons had told him the note shouldn’t be taken seriously because “Ted’s just covering his ass.” Even without the notes, Stevens’s attorneys claimed that they thought Allen was lying about the conversation.
Later that day, Stevens’s attorney, Brendan Sullivan, said that Holder’s decision was forced by “extraordinary evidence of government corruption.” He also claimed that prosecutors not only withheld evidence but “created false testimony that they gave us and actually presented false testimony in the courtroom”—two incidents that would have made it very likely that the convictions would have been overturned on appeal.
On April 7, 2009, federal judge Sullivan formally accepted Holder’s motion to set aside the verdict and throw out the indictment, declaring “There was never a judgment of conviction in this case. The jury’s verdict is being set aside and has no legal effect,” and calling it the worst case of prosecutorial misconduct he’d ever seen. He also initiated a criminal contempt investigation of six members of the prosecution. Although an internal probe by the Office of Professional Responsibility was already underway, Sullivan said he was not willing to trust it due to the “shocking and disturbing” nature of the misconduct.
In 2012, the Special Counsel report on the case was released. It said,
The investigation and prosecution of U.S. Senator Ted Stevens were permeated by the systematic concealment of significant exculpatory evidence which would have independently corroborated Senator Stevens’s defense and his testimony, and seriously damaged the testimony and credibility of the government’s key witness.
The fairness, quality, and accuracy of the Special Prosecutor’s Report has been called into question, however, including the Special Prosecutor’s opinion that the exculpatory material allegedly withheld would have made much of a difference in the outcome of the trial, and whether the material was deliberately concealed.
Upon the release of the Special Counsel report, the Stevens defense team released an analysis of its own which stated, “The meticulous detail paints a picture of the government’s shocking conduct in which prosecutors repeatedly ignored the law. The Report shows how prosecutors abandoned their oath of office and the ethical standards of their profession. They abandoned all decency and sound judgment when they indicted and prosecuted an 84-year old man who served his country in World War II combat, and who served with distinction for 40 years in the U.S. Senate.”
A statement issued by Stevens’ widow Catherine said, “I can say that the Stevens family continues to be shocked by the depth and breadth of the government’s misconduct.”
Stevens was voted Alaskan of the Century in 2000 by the Alaskan of the Year Committee. In the same year, the Alaska Legislature renamed the Anchorage airport, the largest in the state, to the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport.
The Ted Stevens Foundation is a charity established to “assist in educating and informing the public about the career of Senator Ted Stevens”. The chairman is Tim McKeever, a lobbyist who was treasurer of Stevens’s 2004 campaign. In May 2006, McKeever said that the charity was “nonpartisan and nonpolitical,” and that Stevens does not raise money for the foundation, although he has attended some fund-raisers.
When discussing issues that were especially important to him (such as opening up the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge to oil drilling), Stevens wore a necktie with The Incredible Hulk on it to show his seriousness. Marvel Comics has sent him free Hulk paraphernalia and has thrown a Hulk party for him. On December 21, 2005, Stevens said that the vote to block drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge “has been the saddest day of my life.”
Stevens was a close friend of Democratic former Governor Jimmie Davis of Louisiana. In 2005, Stevens was named a “Friend of Jimmie Davis” by the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield, Louisiana. Stevens admired Davis’s music and once hosted the former governor at a Kennedy Center concert in Washington, D.C. Speaking at the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame, Stevens recalled having been with both Davis and Ronald W. Reagan, when Reagan was contemplating his first run for Governor of California and asked Davis for political advice. At the gathering, Stevens joined the Jimmie Davis Band in a rendition of “You Are My Sunshine“, Davis’s trademark song.
On April 13, 2007, Stevens was recognized as the longest serving Republican senator in history with a career spanning more than 38 years. His colleague, Senator Daniel Inouye, a Democrat from Hawaii, referred to Stevens as “The Strom Thurmond of the Arctic Circle.” Stevens served in total over 40 years in the Senate.
Death and legacy
On August 10, 2010, Stevens and seven other passengers including former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe were aboard a de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter plane when it crashed about 17 miles north of Dillingham, Alaska, while en route to a private fishing lodge. Stevens was confirmed dead in the crash via a statement from his family. He and others were aboard a single-engine plane registered to Anchorage-based GCI Communication.
As Stevens’s death was confirmed, Alaskan and national political figures from all sides of the political spectrum spoke highly of the man many Alaskans knew as “Uncle Ted.” Senator Lisa Murkowski said of Stevens: “His entire life was dedicated to public service—from his days as a pilot in World War II to his four decades of service in the United States Senate. He truly was the greatest of the ‘Greatest Generation.‘“
The Pacific Aviation Museum Pearl Harbor honored Stevens with a plaque and a display of memorabilia of his wartime service in China-Burma-India. Senator Mark Begich stated, “Over his four decades of public service in the U.S. Senate, Senator Stevens was a forceful advocate for Alaska who helped transform our state in the challenging years after Statehood” and former president George H. W. Bush released a statement that “Ted Stevens loved the Senate; he loved Alaska; and he loved his family—and he will be dearly missed.” President Barack Obama said in a statement, “Ted Stevens devoted his career to serving the people of Alaska and fighting for our men and women in uniform.”
Hundreds of Alaskans attended a memorial Mass for Stevens at Holy Family Cathedral in downtown Anchorage on August 16. On August 17, mourners paid their respects as he lay in a closed casket at All Saints Episcopal Church, also in downtown Anchorage, which was Stevens’ home church. His funeral at Anchorage Baptist Temple on August 18 was attended by some 3,000 people, including Vice President Joe Biden, former Governor Sarah Palin, then-Governor Sean Parnell and three other former governors, 11 senators, 9 former senators, and 2 congressman, and many other dignitaries from state and federal governments, the armed forces, and abroad. Stevens was interred at Arlington National Cemetery on September 28.
USS Ted Stevens
In January 2019, the US Navy announced that an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer Flight III would be named USS Ted Stevens (DDG-128). It will be constructed at Huntington Ingalls Industries‘ Ingalls shipbuilding division in Pascagoula, Mississippi.
- Alaska political corruption probe
- List of fatalities from aviation accidents
- Mount Stevens
- List of federal political scandals in the United States
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