Election 2008

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska

Stevens Joins Short List of Sitting Senators to Go on Trial

September 23, 2008 03:49 PM
by Lindsey Chapman
Ted Stevens of Alaska is the first sitting senator to go to trial in more than 20 years. Which senators came before him?

Stevens Corruption Trial Begins

The trial of Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens began on Sept. 22, in Washington, D.C., with the start of the jury selection process. Stevens is charged with failing to report more than $250,000 in gifts and home renovations he may have received from VECO oil services company.

His trial is expected to last one month; his life after it is relatively uncertain at this point. Even if Stevens is convicted, his name will still appear on the ballot for Alaska’s open Senate seat in November. If he wins the election, the Senate could decide whether to expel him from his job; a two-thirds vote is required to expel a senator from office. Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin would have to call a special election to replace Stevens if the expulsion occurs or he resigns.

Indiana Sen. Jesse Bright was the last sitting senator removed from office, in 1862.

Historical Context: Past senators on trial

According to Politico, four sitting senators have been convicted while in office, but only Sen. Truman Newberry, R-Mich., remained in his post after trial. He was “eventually hounded out of office in 1922 by senators seeking his expulsion.”

Newberry was elected in 1918 after spending “the then shocking sum of $195,000” on his campaign, according to Time magazine. Congress passed the Corrupt Practices Act six years later to prevent a single donor from contributing more than $5,000 to “any one national campaign organization.”

The last sitting senator to go on trial was Sen. Harrison A. Williams Jr., D-N.J., in 1981. Williams was convicted on nine counts of bribery and conspiracy related to the Abscam sting. FBI agents posed as Arab sheiks and their representatives and offered bribes to members of Congress. Williams was accused of using his position to further a hidden business interest, according to CNN. He resigned from the Senate in 1982.

Related Topic: Seeking reelection amid controversy


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