Stevens Dies in Plane Crash

Updated: 2:34 p.m.

Former Sen. Ted Stevens, the longest-serving Republican Senator, has died following a plane crash Monday in his home state of Alaska. He was 86.

Mitch Rose, a spokesman for the Stevens family and former staffer for the Senator, told the Associated Press that the family had been notified of Stevens' death.

Stevens' 40-year career in the Senate was marked by the accumulation of power and influence as chairman of the Appropriations Committee and a dizzying fall from grace when he was indicted on federal corruption charges.

Stevens was found guilty by a jury in Washington, D.C., but that verdict was thrown out by a judge amid charges of prosecutorial misconduct. All along, Stevens vowed he would be vindicated.

Stevens was also one of two survivors in a 1978 plane crash at Anchorage airport that killed his wife, Ann, and several others.

The airport has since been renamed the Ted Stevens Anchorage International Airport in recognition of his career as one of the most influential figures in the history of his state.

Stevens was first appointed to the Senate in December 1968 to fill the seat of Sen. Bob Bartlett (D), who died in office. Two years later Stevens won an election to complete Bartlett's term, then won a full term of his own in 1972, and he served continuously until he was narrowly defeated in his 2008 re-election bid by former Anchorage Mayor Mark Begich (D).

Stevens came to Alaska in the 1950s, serving as U.S. attorney in Fairbanks and an official in the Interior Department.

Stevens first pursued a Senate seat in Alaska in 1962, earning the Republican nomination but taking just 42 percent of the vote against Democrat Ernest Gruening that fall.

He won election to the Alaska House in 1964 and later served as Majority Leader.

Stevens made his name as a fierce defender of his state and an unapologetic font of federal earmarks for Alaska. As chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee he steered billions of dollars of federal money to Alaska projects, and he was a tireless advocate for oil and mineral development in the state.

But his reputation as a power broker and provider for his home state was tarnished by a raucous corruption trial in 2008.

The Justice Department charged Stevens with seven counts of accepting illegal gifts from friends and contractors, primarily in the form of tens of thousands of dollars of renovations to his home in Girdwood, Alaska. The indictment was issued in July, but Stevens was still able to win the Republican primary for his re-election in August.

In October 2008, a jury found Stevens guilty of failing to disclose the gifts on his financial disclosure forms, but the government's case began to unravel before he could be sentenced. Prosecutors ultimately admitted to mishandling evidence in the case, and an FBI agent turned whistle-blower to complain that members of the Alaska FBI team had inappropriate personal relationships with some witnesses. In April 2009, the judge threw out the case against Stevens.

In a statement at the time, Stevens' attorneys said: "The misconduct of government prosecutors, and one or more FBI agents, was stunning. Not only did the government fail to disclose evidence of innocence, but instead intentionally hid evidence and created false evidence. ... In essence, the government tricked the jury into returning a tainted verdict against the Senator based on false evidence."

But by then Stevens had lost his re-election, which came just days after the initial guilty verdicts were handed down. Stevens said: "I always knew that there would be a day when the cloud that surrounded me would be removed. That day has finally come. It is unfortunate that an election was affected by proceedings now recognized as unfair."

Prior to his indictment, Stevens had been one of the most powerful Members of the Senate.

He chaired the Appropriations Committee from 1997 to 2005, except for 18 months in 2001 and 2002 when Democrats controlled the Senate. In 2005 and 2006, he also chaired the Commerce Committee. In both positions, his Democratic counterpart was Sen. Daniel Inouye (Hawaii), and the two developed a deep personal friendship, frequently referring to themselves as brothers. Inouye testified as a character witness for Stevens at his trial.

From his Appropriations seat, Stevens routed billions of dollars in federal funds to Alaska, which helped solidify his popularity back home, where he was widely known as "Uncle Ted."

Over the last decade, as other Members of Congress and outside watchdogs assailed earmarks and held up Alaska as a prime example of misuse of federal funds, Stevens fought back. He claimed earmarks were of critical importance to small, remote states such as Alaska, where there is no other federal infrastructure to serve the people.

Stevens was a garrulous member of an otherwise genteel institution, and he enjoyed his reputation as a fighter. When the annual end-of-year scrum over appropriations bill would come to a head, Stevens would invariably arrive at a press conference wearing a tie emblazoned with an image of the Incredible Hulk, which he said was symbolic of his willingness to fight for the bill he had helped craft.

Information from CQ's Politics in America was used in this report.

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