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Stevens Relinquishes Ranking Panel Posts

UPDATE 5 PM: Stevens has released a statement declaring his innocence:

I have proudly served this nation and Alaska for over 50 years. My public service began when I served in World War II. It saddens me to learn that these charges have been brought against me. I have never knowingly submitted a false disclosure form required by law as a U.S. Senator.

In accordance with Senate Republican Conference rules, I have temporarily relinquished my vice-chairmanship and ranking positions until I am absolved of these charges.

The impact of these charges on my family disturbs me greatly.

I am innocent of these charges and intend to prove that.

ORIGINAL POST: The announcement less than three hours ago that iconic Sen. Ted Stevens (R) has been indicted on federal charges has sent shock waves through the Senate, but most of his colleagues have been guarded in their reactions to the news.

Stevens is stepping down from his posts as the ranking Republican on the the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee and the Appropriations subcommittee on Defense. Senate GOP Conference rules require lawmakers who have been indicted on felony charges to relinquish their chairmanships or ranking member positions.

As reporters hustled through the hallways looking for senators to pin down on the subject, a few lawmakers called the news "sad" and others reminded that the Alaskan hadn't been convicted of anything yet. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) did both.

"It's a sad day for him, and for us, but you know I believe in the American system of justice so he's presumed innocent," Reid said.

As for whether Stevens should be removed altogether from his two committees, Reid said that would be up to Republicans. But the Majority Leader did helpfully remind reporters that the GOP "acted very quickly" to punish Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) after he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor charges following an incident in a Minneapolis airport bathroom.

As for the Senate Ethics Committee, panel Chairwoman Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) declined to comment, but did say the committee would put out a statement later. The indictment of Stevens centers on his alleged failure to disclose hundreds of thousands of dollars in gifts on his Senate financial disclosure forms, so there is a ripe opportunity for the ethics panel to examine whether Stevens broke the chamber's rules. But based on precedent, the committee is most likely to defer any investigative action until the Justice Department is finished with the criminal case.

C. Simon Davidson, a lawyer specializing in congressional ethics issues at McGuireWoods, said that the Stevens case was highly unusual in that the "sole basis for the indictment is that his financial disclosure forms are false."

Normally in bribery cases, Davidson said, "you need a gift linked to an official act, and its that link that's usually hard for prosecutors to prove. But they're just skipping that link" in the Stevens case.

As a result, while the indictment does lay out alleged favors Stevens did for Veco Corp., such evidence won't be necessary to obtain a conviction on the charges. "All they have to establish is that his form was false and he knew it was false," Davidson said,

He added that a successful conviction would have the effect of "criminalizing any gift that you don't disclose" and send a stark warning to other senators that they take care in filling out their disclosure forms accurately.

By Ben Pershing  |  July 29, 2008; 4:43 PM ET
Categories:  Ethics and Rules  
Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   StumbleUpon   Technorati   Google Buzz   Previous: Report: Sen. Stevens Has Been Indicted
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No surprise. Stevens is not alone, however. So many of these Senators are way out of touch with the majority of Americans. Either they are millionaires to begin with, or they become millionaires (on a salary, by the way, of $170,000 a year) after a number of years in office. They are treated like royalty by staff and feted by lobbyists every day. As a former staffer, I know for a fact that these Senators never have to buy a meal. (It was so sad, walking in the hallways of the Capitol, to smell the crab cakes and filet mignon wafting through the halls while all we had access to were candy bars and chips in vending machines -- that WE HAD TO PAY FOR.) Term limits seems to be the only real answer to the immense, unchecked power gained after too many years in office -- since real finance reform doesn't stand a chance as long as they are the ones writing the laws. Probably Stevens didn't know this particular "gimme" was happening because he was so used to this treatment after -- what -- 40 years in office. But he had to know that his campaign was funded by oil interests trying to buy access to ANWR. The whole Congress is corrupted by the many whose greed for money and power have destroyed any semblance of trust in the government. And let's not forget the executive branch. The idea that Congress has oversight on the Presidency is like hiring prisoners to guard criminals on death row.

Posted by: Eileen | July 29, 2008 6:36 PM | Report abuse

I remember with fondness the last senatorial campaign of William Proxmire of Wisconsin, for which he said he spent a grand total of $42.

"Who else could be re-elected with landslides in a politically divided state again and again without spending, raising or taking any campaign money? Zero. He would spend a couple of hundred dollars for postage stamps to send back unsolicited checks for his campaign. " - Ralph Nader article on William Proxmire

Posted by: Krishna | July 29, 2008 9:12 PM | Report abuse

Mr. Davidson may think it strange that the indictment and charges are based on the Financial Disclosure Forms... However, it seems apparent from such a statement that davidson didn't bother to take the 20 minutes necessary to read the actual document filed. If he had done so, he would see -as surely as the grand jury did - that the testimony offered by Allen and other Veco employees corraborated the paper trail. It's incredibly disingenuous, but sadly not unexpected, that such twisting of the facts would be put into the public forum by people like Davidson (which says nothing of the laughable statements of Stevens himself).

Posted by: Corbett | July 29, 2008 11:00 PM | Report abuse

Is not the reason for the Financial Disclosure Form to tell the 'public' who is giving the representative money or gifts of significant value? So if the "sole basis for the indictment is that his financial disclosure forms are false." and we don't indict the representative for that, why have the form at all? For the rest of poor citizens hundreds of thousands of dollars are not common place. We should gather forces to insist on term limits and line item veto! It might not prevent all of the money in politics, but it sure would knock a dent in it. Henry Swats, Fayetteville, TN

Posted by: Hank | July 30, 2008 1:38 PM | Report abuse

Generally, it's safe to say that the more undemocratically a politician acts, the crookeder (?) he will eventually become. Stevens regarded anyone who opposed him as an "enemy," in much the same manner Nizon did. Like Nixon, Stevens ended up facing disgrace.
I remember Proxmire.......with more nostalgia than I can express.

Posted by: Dick Brandlon | July 30, 2008 5:08 PM | Report abuse

I nice to see that the his highness of the North has finally dug his own grave. Ted Stevens should be tossed in jail and the keys thrown away. So it is quite obvious that there is no love lost here. Now his son needs to be investigated also.

Posted by: Peter | July 30, 2008 6:02 PM | Report abuse

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