Craig Tells Senate Leader of Plans to Fight Charge, Finish Term

By Paul Kane Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 5, 2007 6:22 PM

Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) told a Republican leader today that he will finish out his term if he is able to overturn his guilty plea to a disorderly conduct charge in the next three weeks.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told reporters that he spoke with Craig this morning. Craig told him that if he could "dispose" of the guilty plea he made last month after being accused of soliciting sex in a Minnesota airport men's room, "it would be his intention to come back to the Senate and deal with the Ethics Committee case . . . and to try to finish his term."

"He is going to try to get the case in Minneapolis dismissed," McConnell added.

The 62-year-old Idaho conservative was arrested in a men's room at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on June 11 by an undercover police officer conducting a sting after complaints of sexual activity in the restroom. In his report and an interview released by the airport police, the officer said Craig used signals employed by men seeking sex.

Craig has denied the accusations, but he pleaded guilty in August to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge and paid a $500 fine. On Saturday, after nearly a week of pressure from lawmakers and others, he announced he intended to resign on Sept. 30.

Declining to comment on how Craig would be received by his colleagues, McConnell said he stood by earlier comments that Craig should resign. "I thought he made the difficult but correct decision," McConnell said.

McConnell said Craig told him he wanted to "dispel . . . any confusion" about reconsidering his decision to step down that may have been created by comments from his staff in the last 24 hours.

Craig's office said today that if he serves out his term, which ends in 2009, he will not seek reelection next year.

In another development today, Craig's attorney told the Senate Ethics Committee in a letter that the case should be closed without sanction against Craig. In an interview, attorney Stanley Brand said that the committee generally does not reprimand senators for misdemeanors or sanction them for behavior that does not involve their official conduct.

"They have not done it with respect to private conduct that does not rise to that level," Brand said.

But the Ethics Committee sent a letter to GOP leaders late today saying it can investigate all forms of misconduct by senators and would conduct an inquiry unless Craig resigns. A copy of the letter was given to the Washington Post.

News that Craig was reconsidering his decision to resign surfaced Tuesday night.

Republican leaders, who leaned hard on Craig last week to resign, said they had put the matter behind them, with McConnell declaring Tuesday: "The episode is over."

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 public 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. Dan Whiting, Craig's Washington spokesman, 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 said in a statement he had been retained to work on Craig's defense. 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 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 about Craig's guilty plea.

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

The guilty plea prompted McConnell and his GOP leadership team to call for an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. The committee has made no statement about Craig's case, but if he resigns there will be no Senate investigation.

The National Republican Senatorial Committee reasserted Tuesday night that it would offer Craig no political support in a 2008 run for reelection.

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

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