As Congress rushed to stop a meltdown in the U.S. financial market, the Senate's senior Republican told a federal judge Tuesday that he might need to skip out of his corruption trial from time to time this week.
Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens said he understood it might look bad to jurors if he leaves court in the opening days of trial. But his attorney said his Senate duties took priority.
"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," attorney Brendan Sullivan said.
Stevens is charged with lying about more than $250,000 in home repairs and other gifts he received from an oil contractor. The trial comes at a difficult time in his political career: He is fending off a strong Democratic challenge to his seat and is tethered to a courtroom during the height of campaign season.
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.
It's unclear when Stevens might have to leave court. Jury selection was scheduled to conclude Wednesday morning and opening statements are scheduled for Thursday. Capitol Hill lawmakers, meanwhile, are under pressure to pass a bailout package quickly.
The Bush administration wants quick passage of legislation that would allow the government to buy bad mortgages and other troubled assets from banks shaken by the mortgage and banking crisis.
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.