The nonpartisan Taxpayers for Common Sense will call on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to follow the lead of House Republican leaders and ask Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) to step down temporarily from his positions on the Commerce, Science and Transportation and Appropriations committees until a federal investigation of his activities is completed.
Stevens’ Girdwood, Alaska, home was raided by the FBI and the Internal Revenue Service on Monday as part of their probe of Stevens' home remodeling project overseen by oil services giant VECO Corp. Former VECO chief Bill Allen pleaded guilty to corruption charges this spring as part of a widening federal probe of Alaska politicians and business leaders. Along with Stevens, the Senator's son Ben has also been implicated, as has a former aide to the elder Stevens and Ben’s business partner, Trevor McCabe. Additionally, Rep. Don Young (R-Alaska) is being investigated as part of the VECO probe.
According to a source with the group, this will be the first time TCS has ever made such an appeal. But the organization will argue in a letter to McConnell that given the current public concern with Congressional ethics, he should take a path similar to one the House GOP leadership has followed and request that Stevens relinquish his seats on the two powerful committees until the investigation is completed.
In the letter, TCS President Ryan Alexander will argue that McConnell should ask Stevens to step down “until this federal investigation can be resolved and the public trust restored,” said the source, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the letter had not yet been completed as of this posting. In the letter, Alexander will underscore that TCS “understands his long tenure serving the people of Alaska ... [and that] we don’t take these matters lightly.” But given Stevens’ position and strict rules governing federal raids of private residences, McConnell should ask for the temporary resignation to ensure the public’s trust in Congress is not further harmed.
The source added that the letter will likely also point out that unlike House Republicans – who have been quick to yank the committee slots of lawmakers who have been raided – House Democrats have not been so sure-handed. Democrats “had a chance to make a very symbolic gesture” by removing Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.) from his Appropriations subcommittee chairmanship but have failed to do so.
McConnell spokesman Don Stewart declined to comment late Monday evening. However, should McConnell do so, it would mark the first time that a party's leadership has asked for even a temporary recusal of a sitting Member of the Senate.
In fact, according to Senate records and long time aides, there are few historical examples for McConnell to draw from. Although a number of lawmakers have been investigated by federal authorities, Stevens joins former Sens. Conrad Burns (R-Mont.) and Robert Torricelli (D-N.J.) as the only three Senators in modern times to be investigated by the FBI. Burns and Torricelli both left office under an ethics cloud.
Additionally, Stevens appears to be the only member of the Senate to have ever had his residence raided by the FBI.
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., right, hugs Harold Schaitberger, General President of the International Association of Fire Fighters, after the Congressman spoke at the IAFF's Legislative Conference General Session at the Hyatt Regency on Capitol Hill, March 9, 2015. The day featured addresses by members of Congress and Vice President Joe Biden.