The Case Against Ted Stevens

I’m no fan of Alaska Senator Ted Stevens–anyone who has an airport named after him while he’s still alive has probably spent too much time at the trough–but this AP account casts considerable doubt on the government’s case against him, which is now being tried in Washington, DC.

The prosecution sent a key witness back to Alaska without telling the Court or the defense, apparently because they realized his testimony would be damaging to their case. The witness, Robert Williams, supervised the renovation of Stevens’ house that is the principal subject of the prosecution’s case:

A federal judge angrily rebuked the Justice Department on Monday for mishandling a witness against Sen. Ted Stevens, a dispute that delayed and initially threatened to derail the case against the Alaska senator.

Stevens is charged with lying on Senate financial disclosure forms about more than $250,000 in free home renovations and other gifts he received from VECO Corp., a powerful Alaska oil pipeline contractor.

The witness dispute began this weekend when Robert Williams, the VECO employee who supervised the renovation project, called defense attorneys and said prosecutors had ignored important facts in the case.

Williams said the government’s estimates for how much time he spent at the senator’s house — and how much that time was worth — were overblown, according to court documents.

The value of the renovation is key because Stevens paid $160,000 and says he assumed it covered everything. Prosecutors say the job was so expensive, Stevens must have known his $160,000 wouldn’t cover the tab.

If the claim that Stevens “must have known” that the renovation cost well in excess of $160,000 is really critical to the government’s case, the prosecutors could be in trouble, and not only because of Williams’ testimony. I wouldn’t want to take a case to a jury that hinges on the assumption that the average person (let alone the average 80-year-old Senator) is a good judge of construction costs.

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