Stevens' corruption trial is on fast track

Alaska's Sen. Ted Stevens has never been one to back down from a fight.

So when the Justice Department charged him with corruption, his response was unequivocal: Make it quick. I'm up for re-election in November.

The Senate's longest-serving Republican wrangled control of the normally sluggish judicial process Thursday, receiving an unusually speedy trial date that he hopes will clear his name before voters head to the polls. He pleaded not guilty to seven counts of lying on congressional disclosure documents.

“He'd like to clear his name before the election,” attorney Brendan Sullivan told U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan. The attorney added: “This is not a complex case. It should be one that moves quickly.”

The Justice Department accuses Stevens of lying about more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations he received over seven years from a powerful oil field services contractor.

Prosecutors said they had no problem going to trial swiftly.

“That is absolutely fine,” said prosecutor Brenda Morris.

The judge set a tentative trial date of Sept. 24.

“I understand why the senator would like to have this matter commenced and concluded before the elections, and by all indications, that is possible,” the judge said.

Stevens, 84, also asked that the trial be moved from Washington to Alaska, where he has been a political figure since before statehood. He was named “Alaskan of the Century” in 1999 after unabashedly sending billions of dollars in federal money to the frontier state. The judge said he was not likely to send the case to Alaska.

Trials, especially public corruption trials, can take years and seldom move this quickly. Sullivan, a $1,000-an-hour member of Washington's legal elite, said he has never asked for such a fast track.

“But I've never had a situation with a general election coming 98 days after an indictment,” he said.

Some Republican lawmakers – most notably presidential candidate Sen. John McCain – have distanced themselves from Stevens as the GOP gears up for November. Senate Democrats, who enjoy a 51-49 majority, want to capture a filibuster-proof 60-vote majority.

Stevens is accused of concealing his gifts from executives of VECO Corp., a once-powerful contracting firm that used bribery and back room dealing to push favorable legislation and kill laws that were bad for the oil industry. Two executives have pleaded guilty, admitting they lavished money, gifts and campaign contributions on favored politicians and worked to keep their enemies at bay.