Minn. Prosecutor Argues Sen. Craig Understood Plea

By Paul Kane
washingtonpost.com Staff Writer
Monday, September 24, 2007 5:56 PM

Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) should not be allowed to withdraw his guilty plea to charges of disorderly conduct because he fully understood the legal process leading up to the deal, the Minnesota prosecutor who handled the case contended in legal documents filed today.

In a 41-page motion that seeks to preserve Craig's guilty plea to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges, prosecutor Christopher P. Renz charged that Craig was upset with the political results of his plea but has no legal grounds to overturn it.

"The real basis for the defendant's motion -- displeasure with the outcome -- is not an appropriate basis for relief sought," wrote Renz, who noted that he spoke with Craig three times over a six-week period before the plea. "The court should also deny the defendant's motion as untimely because it was sought only as a political reaction."

Craig is expected to resign from the Senate this week unless he can overturn his plea to disorderly conduct charges stemming from his June 11 arrest in a sting in a restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Police said the undercover operation was prompted by complaints of lewd conduct in the restroom stalls.

Craig, who faced condemnation from Senate Republicans and former conservative allies after the case became public last month, tried at first to keep his arrest from his family, friends and colleagues by quietly pleading guilty without seeking legal advice. He made his plea through the mail, without a judge's involvement.

A hearing is set for Wednesday afternoon in Hennepin County District Court, where under Minnesota law, Craig's lawyers must prove that a "manifest injustice" has occurred in order to withdraw the guilty plea. Legal experts say that is a very high bar to clear, but Craig's attorneys have filed motions saying that the senator was "deeply panicked" about a home-state newspaper investigation into his sexuality and pleaded guilty only after the arresting officer promised he would not tell the media of the arrest.

Had a judge been involved in the plea process, he would not have accepted it because Craig's behavior was not illegal, according to Billy Martin, Craig's lead attorney.

Craig was arrested after allegedly peering into the restroom stall where an undercover officer awaited, entering the stall next to him, tapping his feet and bumping the foot of the officer in the other stall, then running his hand under the partition. The prosecution contends those are well-known signals among men seeking to have sex in restroom stalls.

Renz is a private attorney who, under the county's system, was hired as prosecutor for the Metropolitan Airports Commission. In his filing today, he rejected the notion that Craig was "panicked" during the process and was desperate to shield himself from the public stigma of fighting the arrest charge. Renz said that in at least three phone conversations the senator "seemed calm, intelligent and methodical in his questions" leading up to his early August guilty plea.

In their second conversation after the arrest, in mid-July, Craig explained that he was in "a difficult situation" because of "his position as a United States Senator," Renz said in an affidavit. The prosecutor said he told Craig it was "a situation regarding which he should seek advice from an attorney."

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