By Paul Kane and Shailagh Murray
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer and Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, August 28, 2007
Sen. Larry E. Craig pleaded guilty earlier this month to misdemeanor disorderly-conduct charges stemming from his June arrest by an undercover police officer in a men's restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a court spokeswoman and the senator's office said yesterday.
Craig issued a statement confirming his arrest and guilty plea, which were reported in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. But the Idaho Republican maintained that he had not engaged in any "inappropriate conduct" and that the airport police misunderstood his behavior.
"At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions. I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct," Craig said. "I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter. In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously."
Now in his third term, Craig, 62, has been a member of the Senate Republican leadership and ran unsuccessfully in 2002 to become the GOP whip, the No. 2 leadership job. He has been a prominent figure on gun rights and Western land issues, and he resigned yesterday as Idaho chairman of the presidential campaign of former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R).
Craig "did not want to be a distraction," said Romney spokesman Matt Rhoades, "and we accept his decision."
Roll Call, citing a copy of a report by airport police, said officers had been conducting a sting operation inside the men's room because of complaints of sexual activity there. The police report gives this account of the arrest:
The undercover officer was monitoring the restroom on June 11. A few minutes after noon, Craig entered and sat in the stall next to him. Craig began tapping his right foot, touched his right foot to the left foot of the officer and brushed his hand beneath the partition between them. He was then arrested.
While he was being interviewed about the incident, Craig gave police a business card showing that he is a U.S. senator. "What do you think about that?" Craig asked the officer, according to the report obtained by Roll Call.
Airport police declined to comment last night. Nancy Peters, a spokeswoman for the Hennepin County District Court, confirmed the charges. She said Craig paid $500 in fines and was placed on one year's probation, beginning Aug. 8, the date he pleaded guilty. He could face an additional $500 in fines and a 10-day jail sentence if he violates probation.
Senate GOP leaders said yesterday that they were shocked by the news but declined to comment further. "We just found out about this incident late this afternoon," said Josh Holmes, a spokesman for Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.).
Because Craig pleaded guilty to a crime, the incident may be reviewed by the Senate ethics committee. Its chairman, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), declined to comment last night.
In 2006, a gay activist said he had spoken with men who had sexual encounters with Craig, including in the restrooms at Union Station. Craig's office told the Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., that the allegations were "completely ridiculous."
The activist, Mike Rogers, who runs the Web site BlogActive.com, has complained about Craig's opposition to gay rights. The conservative senator has supported an amendment to the Constitution banning same-sex marriage and voted for the Defense of Marriage Act in the 1990s. Craig, who served in the National Guard, has also spoken out against homosexuals serving in the military.
Craig was a member of the "Singing Senators," a now-defunct Republican barbershop quartet. It included Sen. Trent Lott (Miss.) and then-Sen. John D. Ashcroft (Mo.), who broke up the group when he was named attorney general.
Craig was chairman of the Republican Policy Committee, the fourth-ranking GOP leadership job, from 1996 to 2002. He also played a prominent role in recent immigration battles, championing rights for illegal farmworkers -- an advocacy that made the staunch conservative an unlikely target of groups opposing illegal immigrants.
Craig is married and has three grown children. He will complete his third Senate term next year, after serving 10 years in the House, and speculation has swirled for months that he may retire. Spokesman Dan Whiting said the senator will announce his decision this fall.
On June 30, Craig reported $550,000 in the bank for a reelection race, a healthy sum in the heavily Republican state.
His leading Democratic challenger is former congressman Larry LaRocco, a Boise banker and onetime Senate staffer. He already is campaigning aggressively, baling hay and laying pipe on a "Working for the Senate" tour. LaRocco reported raising $80,000 through June 30 and has lost repeated attempts at state office, including a House race to Craig in 1982 and a bid for lieutenant governor in November. He served two terms in the House in the early 1990s.
On the Republican side, if Craig does not run again, one colorful match could pit veterinarian Rex Rammell against Jim Risch, who as governor had ordered state officials to kill elk that had escaped from Rammell's ranch, in order to prevent the possible spread of disease. Rammell was arrested in September 2006 after scuffling with state wildlife officials, but he was acquitted and later sued the state for $1.3 million, according to the Idaho Statesman newspaper.
Risch has said he is interested in Craig's seat if the senator retires. Another potential GOP candidate is Rep. Mike Simpson.
Staff researcher Madonna Lebling contributed to this report.