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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)

Craig was once a rising star in the GOP. In the early 1990s, he chaired the informal Steering Committee, a group of conservatives who pushed a right-wing agenda because they were leery of their moderate Republican elders.

In 1996, Craig was elected Republican Policy Committee chairman, the No. 4 leadership post. He held it through 2002, when he lost a bid against McConnell to claim the Republican whip's post, the No. 2 leadership spot. Like most fellow Republicans, Craig has opposed gay rights, voting in favor of a federal ban on same-sex marriage several times in recent years.

Craig is now fighting a multi-front battle -- first and foremost, a long-shot bid to undo his guilty plea and the likely ethics probe, while trying to shore up support among constituents should he decide to seek a fourth six-year term in 2008. He said he will announce his decision next month.

Craig was arrested at the airport while changing flights on his way to Washington. Police said that they were investigating complaints of sexual encounters by men in a restroom at the airport, and that an undercover officer was in a restroom stall when Craig sat in the stall next to him. The officer said in his arrest report that 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. The senator was then arrested.

Craig said yesterday that he agreed to plead guilty because of the pressure he felt from the newspaper's investigation. "I overreacted in Minneapolis, because of the stress of the Idaho Statesman's investigation and the rumors it has fueled around Idaho," Craig said in his statement. He took no questions from reporters.

The paper reported on rumors -- fueled by a gay activist's report last fall that was based on anonymous sources -- that Craig had engaged in restroom sexual encounters with other men, including an unnamed man the Statesman quoted in its report as saying he had sex with Craig in a restroom at Washington's Union Station. In an interview with the newspaper in May, which was published yesterday, Craig denied having had gay sexual encounters and specifically denied restroom encounters.

"I'm going to have to leave it up to other people to weigh the care we took. I'm a bit disappointed" with Craig's complaints, said Vicki Gowler, the paper's top editor. "We were quite responsible, and we took great care with the story."

In his guilty plea, according to court records, Craig acknowledged engaging in physical "conduct which I knew or should have known tended to arouse alarm or resentment of others." Criminal defense lawyers said it could be difficult for Craig to have the case reopened.

Successful motions to withdraw guilty pleas usually meet a high threshold, such as showing that the person was misled into entering the plea, that his constitutional rights were violated or that there was wrongdoing by prosecutors, said Minneapolis lawyer Peter B. Wold.

But Craig's written plea detailed the charges related to the airport incident and specified that he knew that the judge could not accept a guilty plea from a person who felt he was innocent, and that he was making no claim of innocence.

If successful in overturning his plea, Craig will probably face a public trial, Wold said.

Staff writers Robert Barnes and Howard Kurtz contributed to this report.

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