By Shailagh Murray and Paul Kane
Washington Post Staff Writer and washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Saturday, September 1, 2007
Abandoned by his party, Sen. Larry E. Craig of Idaho is expected to announce today that he will resign his seat amid criticism over his arrest and guilty plea in a police sting operation in an airport men's room, according to two national Republican officials.
They said Craig began notifying party leaders of his decision last night, telling them he will step down Sept. 30.
Craig has scheduled a news conference for midday today in Boise. His spokesman, Dan Whiting, would not comment on resignation plans, saying: "He will make an announcement about his plans tomorrow morning."
Craig's resignation would not affect the makeup of the Senate, because Idaho's governor is expected to appoint another Republican to the seat. But the scandal adds to the difficulties that the GOP faces in trying win back control of the Senate in next year's elections, in which they will have to defend 22 seats, including that of Sen. John W. Warner of Virginia, who announced yesterday that he will retire when his term ends in 2009.
Craig had planned to announce his reelection plans later this month. But after news of his arrest broke, GOP sources said, the National Republican Senatorial Committee told Craig that it would withdraw support for him if he continued to serve and seek reelection next year.
Though he has served in the Senate for nearly 18 years, Craig, 62, was a little-known conservative lawmaker until Monday's revelation that he had pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after an encounter with an undercover police officer who was investigating complaints of lewd activity in bathroom stalls.
Fellow Republicans swiftly condemned him, fearful of the political fallout and mortified by the tabloid-style drama. Several GOP senators, including presidential candidate John McCain (Ariz.), called for Craig to step down.
On Thursday, officials at the Republican National Committee drafted a statement demanding Craig's resignation, GOP sources said, but it was not issued because senior members of the Idaho Republican Party feared that it would complicate efforts to persuade Craig to resign.
Craig did not attempt to contact party leaders in Washington all week, though in recent days he reportedly called party allies in Idaho, trying to gauge his support.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called Craig twice in recent days and spoke to him directly, leadership sources said. One call was on Tuesday, to tell Craig of the leadership's call for an ethics investigation, and the other was on Wednesday, to tell him he had been stripped of his position as ranking Republican on the Veterans' Affairs Committee and on subcommittees of the Appropriations and Energy and Natural Resources panels.
The sources said McConnell was furious about Craig's behavior and the fact that he did not inform the leadership about his arrest and guilty plea. On Thursday, McConnell told reporters in Lexington that Craig's conduct was "unforgivable."
Yesterday, McConnell's spokesman, Josh Holmes, said the GOP leader would not comment on Craig until after today's announcement.
Republican sources said Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter will probably name Lt. Gov. Jim Risch to serve the remainder of Craig's term, although a spokesman for Otter told reporters that no decision had been made.
Risch served as governor for seven months last year after Dirk Kempthorne left the job to become interior secretary, and Risch had expressed interest in Craig's seat if the senator opted to retire, as some political observers had speculated even before the scandal. Rep. Mike Simpson (R-Idaho) is also believed to be interested.
Craig was arrested June 11 at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport after stretching his foot under a restroom stall partition and touching the foot of the undercover officer. In the police report, the officer said Craig tapped his foot "as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct."
When he was detained, Craig showed the officer his Senate business card and said, "What do you think about that?"
Pressure on Craig escalated as details of his arrest and guilty plea came out. On Thursday, airport police distributed the audio and transcript of the eight-minute interview conducted immediately after Craig's arrest, in which the arresting officer questioned the senator and told him that his recollection of the events was "unbelievable."
Court records showed that Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct that "tended to arouse alarm or resentment in others" on Aug. 8, paid a $500 fine and was sentenced to one year's probation.
Craig has not been seen in public since Tuesday, when he told reporters "I am not gay" and denied wrongdoing. He said he regretted his guilty plea and had never told his family, friends or staff about the incident.
He said he pleaded guilty because his hometown newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, had been investigating his sexual orientation. He said he had hoped to quietly resolve the case to avoid what he called the paper's "witch hunt."