By MARSHA MERCER
Media General News Service
August 07, 2007
No, they didn't break down the front door. They called a locksmith. And the news media.
People could see agents in business suits taking pictures of cases of wine. One agent carried to a van a garbage bag filled with heaven-knows-what.
The best reality show is still reality.
And it doesn't get much better than this. The day after FBI and Internal Revenue Service agents raided his home, the longest-serving Republican in Senate history threatened in a private luncheon with GOP senators to hold up the ethics bill that was rolling through the Senate. He didn't want to give up flying home with lobbyists.
What a wonder is Ted Stevens.
You probably know him as Sen. "Bridge to Nowhere," a master of congressional earmarks who sought $320 million for a bridge from Gravina Island, pop. 50, to Ketchikan, pop. 8,900. But you may not know that your tax dollars provided earmarked special projects amounting to $1,064 for every man, woman and child in Alaska, the most per capita in the nation.
If he were a character in a novel, readers would say he's unbelievable. But fact is stranger.
In 2005, Stevens was so upset when the Senate refused to allow oil drilling in the Alaska wilderness that he said, "This has been the saddest day of my life."
How could that be? In 1978, five people were killed, including his first wife, Ann, in a plane crash in Anchorage in which he was injured.
The Stevens scandal came to a boil at a time when Republicans hardly needed more bad news. Saddled with an unpopular war and president, they're facing a steep climb to reclaiming control of Congress next year.
Just last month, Sen. David Vitter, R-La., showed up on the so-called "D.C. Madam's" phone list of clients. He said the calls were before his election in 2004 and apologized for his "very serious sin." Then, a former madam in New Orleans, who pleaded guilty in 2002 to running a house of prostitution, said he had been a client of her brothel. He's not up for re-election until 2010.
Stevens, 83, intends to run for a seventh full term next year.
Authorities may have other plans for him. They're investigating a major home-improvement project on Stevens' house. Bill Allen, an oil-services-company executive, oversaw the project -- which involved putting the house on stilts while a new first floor was built, doubling the house's size. Allen pleaded guilty in June to bribing Alaska state legislators and other charges and reportedly is cooperating with the investigation.
Stevens has said he paid every bill he received.
As usual, senators rallied around the latest member of the club to run afoul of the law. Even Democrats refused to criticize the powerful former chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, told reporters the raid on Stevens' house was "a bit Gestapolike."
What is it about August? Two years ago this month, Democratic Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana was in hot water. FBI agents, wearing suits, raided his house and found $90,000 in "various frozen-food containers" in his freezer.
Earlier, the FBI had photographed Jefferson taking a leather briefcase containing $100,000 in $100 bills.
Despite his problems, Jefferson won re-election easily last fall. Indicted in June on bribery, racketeering and other charges, he gave up his seat on the House Small Business Committee. But he's still in Congress.
Stevens' troubles could make Republican efforts to regain control of the Senate that much more difficult.
Republicans have to defend 22 seats, including that of the late Sen. Craig Thomas of Wyoming. Democrats have to protect only 12. Democrats are expected to strengthen their slender Senate majority, keep the House and could win the White House.
As the case of Jefferson illustrates, legal woes are hardly the impediment in Congress they are in business. And even members of Congress are innocent until proven guilty.
Distributed to subscribers for publication by
Scripps Howard News Service, http://www.scrippsnews.com