Idaho Senator Asserts: 'I Never Have Been Gay'

With his wife, Suzanne, beside him, Sen. Larry E. Craig said he pleaded guilty to a disorderly-conduct charge to avoid a newspaper's scrutiny.
With his wife, Suzanne, beside him, Sen. Larry E. Craig said he pleaded guilty to a disorderly-conduct charge to avoid a newspaper's scrutiny. (By Troy Maben -- Associated Press)
By Paul Kane Staff Writer
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Senate Republican leaders called for an ethics investigation of Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) yesterday as he dug in for a legal and political fight to save his congressional career after acknowledging that he had pleaded guilty to disorderly-conduct charges stemming from an incident with an undercover police officer in an airport men's room.

Craig denied doing anything wrong and said he had "overreacted" in pleading guilty after his June 11 arrest at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. He said that he is "not gay" and vowed to continue to serve in the Senate.

"While I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct at the Minneapolis airport or anywhere else, I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in the hope of making it go away," Craig, 62, told reporters in Boise, Idaho.

He said that he has retained a lawyer to review his guilty plea, though earlier this month he signed court papers declaring that he had read the police report of the incident and understood the nature of the crime and he paid a $500 fine. Legal experts said that would make any challenge difficult.

Craig said yesterday that he pleaded guilty because his hometown newspaper, the Idaho Statesman of Boise, had been conducting an eight-month investigation into his sexual orientation. He said he hoped that quietly resolving the case -- without telling any of his family members, friends, staffers or colleagues -- would settle the matter without bringing it to light for what he called the newspaper's "witch hunt."

"Let me be clear: I am not gay. I never have been gay," he said.

Senate Republican leaders issued a rare joint statement minutes before Craig's news conference, complaining that none of them had been told of his legal troubles until yesterday. The senators asked the ethics committee to investigate the matter, vowing to consider other punitive sanctions.

"This is a serious matter. Due to the reported and disputed circumstances, and the legal resolution of this serious case, we will recommend that Senator Craig's incident be reported to the Senate Ethics Committee for its review. In the meantime, leadership is examining other aspects of the case to determine if additional action is required," Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.), Minority Whip Trent Lott (Miss.) and three other elected leaders said.

The only GOP leader not on the statement is Sen. John Cornyn (Tex.); he is the vice chairman of the ethics panel, to which Craig's case is being referred.

In his statement, Craig repeatedly apologized to his family, friends, staff and constituents, but not to Senate colleagues.

Yesterday, former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney (R), whose Idaho presidential campaign Craig headed until the charges came to light, compared Craig's behavior to President Bill Clinton's encounter with a White House intern and to the case of Mark Foley (R-Fla.), who resigned from the House of Representatives last year in a scandal involving male pages.

"I think it reminds us of the fact that people who are elected to public office continue to disappoint, and they somehow think that if they vote the right way on issues of significance or they can speak a good game, that we'll just forgive and forget," Romney said on CNBC's "Kudlow & Company." "We've seen disappointment in the White House, we've seen it in the Senate, we've seen it in Congress. And frankly, it's disgusting."

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