WASHINGTON Sen. Ted Stevens told an oil-executive friend, in recordings played on Monday at the Alaska Republican's corruption trial, they both risked going to jail -- but he didn't think it would come to that.
"These guys can't hurt really us. They're not going to shoot us. It's not Iraq. What the hell?," Stevens told Bill Allen, founder of the former VECO Corp. oil-services firm based in Alaska.
Stevens is charged with lying on Senate disclosure forms from 2001 to 2006 to conceal more than $250,000 in renovations to his property and other gifts provided by VECO.
"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.
However, he said, "We've got a fight out there ahead of us, and we're going to win, because we didn't do anything wrong. You've got a right to spend all the money you've got to support the party you believe in."
Allen, who has pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers, was cooperating with a federal probe of corruption in Alaska and allowed his telephone calls to be recorded. Prosecutors played three conversations with Stevens that took place between August and October 2006.
The 84-year-old senator is seeking re-election in November after 40 years in the Senate. A verdict of guilty would make his re-election bid more difficult, meaning that the trial's outcome could influence the Democratic Party's attempt to tighten their hold on the U.S. Senate.
Stevens has denied the charges. He said his wife took care of financial matters. Defense attorneys have also accused the government of withholding evidence that could benefit Stevens and they are asking the court to dismiss the charges.
In the conversations played on Monday at federal district court in Washington, both men shared anxieties and frustrations over the investigation, and Stevens frequently lapsed into profanity as he denounced the probe as "political." He kept a grim visage in the courtroom.
"Those bastards are not going to stop us from working for this state," he said in a conversation taped on October 18, 2006.
Stevens cautioned that the two should not share information about the case, to guard against accusations of obstruction of justice. He said he suspected federal agents were listening to the call, but Allen reassured him the phone was secure.
"We ought to lay low right now," Stevens said. "Let's not hasten this thing along and make it look like we're trying to head 'em off at the pass," he said in the October 18 call.
Questioned by defense lawyer Brendan Sullivan, Allen made a number of admissions that hurt the prosecution's case.
He acknowledged telling FBI agents the first time he met them that, "Ted Stevens wanted to pay for everything he got."
Allen also said he told the agents that Stevens paid all bills from the contractor working on the house in Girdwood, Alaska, and would have paid for an architect's work if Allen had billed him.
He testified that Stevens always paid his share of restaurant bills and reimbursed him whenever he flew on the company's plane.
(additional reporting by James Vicini)
(Editing by Alan Elsner)