WASHINGTON With Congress rushing to stop a meltdown in the U.S. financial market, Sen. Ted Stevens asked a federal judge Tuesday to let him skip out of his corruption trial from time to time.
The Senate's longest-serving Republican, Stevens is fighting charges that he lied about more than $250,000 in home repairs and other gifts he received from an oil contractor. U.S. District Judge Emmet Sullivan warned the Alaska senator that leaving court might hurt him in the eyes of jurors.
Stevens said he understood.
"There's only one thing more important in his life than this trial, and that's doing his duty as a senator, particularly in this time of national crisis," defense attorney Brendan Sullivan said.
The trial comes at a difficult time in Stevens' political career. He is fending off a strong Democratic challenge to his seat and, during the height of campaign season, Stevens is tethered to a courtroom in Washington.
Being absent as Congress considers a historic $700 billion bailout of the financial market could make it look like the corruption charges have made it impossible for Stevens to do his job.
Prosecutors didn't oppose Stevens' plan to leave court but they said Stevens shouldn't be able to use the crisis to cast himself as a dedicated senator in front of jurors. The judge said Stevens could leave court but jurors would not be told why.
Jury selection continued Tuesday and opening arguments were scheduled to begin as early as Wednesday morning.