Craig Considers Remaining In Senate During Legal Battle

By Paul Kane Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) is reconsidering his announced intention to resign, if he can clear his name of criminal and ethics charges before the end of the month, a spokesman said last night.

Other Craig aides, however, sent mixed signals yesterday about the strength of the senator's desire to remain in the chamber as he pursues a legal challenge to his guilty plea stemming from an undercover sex sting in an airport restroom, as well as an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.

Republican leaders, who leaned hard on Craig last week to resign, had put the matter behind them, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (Ky.) declaring yesterday, "The episode is over."

Informed last night of the apparent change of heart, McConnell's spokesman declined to comment.

Dan Whiting, Craig's Washington spokesman, told The Washington Post in an e-mailed statement last night: "As he stated on Saturday, Senator Craig intends to resign on September 30th. However, he is fighting these charges, and should he be cleared before then, he may, and I emphasize may, not resign."

But another Craig aide said clearance of the Minnesota conviction and by the ethics committee would only "impact" his final decision.

"It's not such a foregone conclusion anymore, that the only thing he could do was resign," Sidney Smith, Craig's spokesman in Boise, told the Associated Press. "We're still preparing as if Senator Craig will resign September 30, but the outcome of the legal case in Minnesota and the ethics investigation will have an impact on whether we're able to stay in the fight -- and stay in the Senate."

Last Saturday, in an appearance arranged to appease the rising call among Republican leaders for his resignation, Craig told reporters in Boise, "It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intent to resign from the Senate, effective September 30."

The phrase "intent to resign" was not merely semantic, it became apparent yesterday. The Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call published a voice-mail message from Craig, recorded on his way to that announcement, in which he explained that support from fellow Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) had encouraged him to change his wording.

"Having all of that, we've reshaped my statement a little bit to say, 'It is my intent to resign on September 30,' " Craig says in the voice-mail message. Whiting confirmed that it was Craig's voice.

Craig told his confidant -- whom he identifies as "Billy" -- that Specter would be speaking out on his behalf, and he urged Billy to go before the cameras and make a strong statement as well.

"I'm willing to fight. I've got quality people out there fighting in my defense, and that this thing could take a new turn," Craig said.

That afternoon, renowned criminal defense lawyer Billy Martin revealed in a statement that he had been retained to work on Craig's behalf. Whiting declined to identify whom the senator was addressing in the voice mail.

The next day, on the talk show "Fox News Sunday," Specter publicly advised Craig to fight the guilty plea in court.

"He left himself some daylight . . . when he said that he intends to resign," Specter said. "I'd like Larry Craig to go back to court, seek to withdraw his plea and fight the case. . . . I think he could be vindicated."

Political support on Capitol Hill for Idaho's senior senator imploded last week after revelations that he had pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor count of disorderly conduct in a men's restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The charging document said that Craig used a signal often used to solicit sex.

Craig did not tell his family, friends, staff or colleagues about the June 11 arrest or his Aug. 8 plea, asserting last week that he thought pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge would make the matter go away quietly.

That plea, however, prompted McConnell and his GOP leadership team to call for an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. Craig has retained Stanley Brand, a prominent ethics lawyer, to handle that. The committee has made no statement about Craig's case.

Craig did not return to the Senate yesterday as it got back to work after the August recess, and McConnell dismissed yesterday the prospect of his remaining in the chamber. "We will have a new senator from Idaho in the next month or so, and we're going to move on," he said.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee said last night that it would offer no support to Craig in a 2008 run for re-election.

Committee Chairman Sen. John Ensign (R-Nev.) "believes that Senator Craig made the right decision for himself and his party in resigning," said spokeswoman Rebecca Fisher.

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