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A federal judge has refused to dismiss a suit in which former Sen. Larry E. Craig is accused of improperly using campaign funds in a quest to vacate his guilty plea in a Minnesota airport bathroom sting.
The Federal Election Commission contends the Idaho Republican violated federal law by using $200,000 in campaign funds for his legal defense. After CQ Roll Call revealed in 2007 that he had been arrested and pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct, Craig attempted to change his plea. He also ended up retiring from Congress as a result of the scandal.
The judge didn’t buy Craig’s contention that his travel to the airport restroom was a part of his official duties because he was en route to his state, and therefore he was entitled to use his campaign account.
“While it may be that Sen. Craig had cause to pass through the airport in connection with his duties as an office holder, and even to visit the restroom as a necessary incident to that trip, whether the travel was in connection with his duties is not the relevant inquiry,” Judge Amy Berman Jackson wrote. “Whether being in the men’s room was in connection with his duties is not even the relevant inquiry. The issue is whether the expenses were incurred in connection with the duties of the office holder — and indeed, whether they were ‘ordinary and necessary’ expenses incurred in connection with those duties.”
Jackson noted that one did not need to be a senator to have violated Minnesota state law in the bathroom, and therefore his actions — and his defense in those actions — were not an admissible campaign expense.
“The charge did not relate to his conduct as a legislator, but only actions undertaken in the privacy and anonymity of a restroom stall,” the judge wrote.
The judge said the case was analogous to a drunken driving case, which the FEC previously ruled would be treated as personal and not eligible for the use of campaign funds.
The judge also noted that Craig himself, in his defense before the Senate Ethics Committee, claimed the case was “purely personal” and “unrelated to the performance of official Senate duties.”
The judge also noted that the expenses came not at the time of the travel nor were they necessitated by the travel; they came two months after the trip, when the senator had second thoughts about his guilty plea.
The parties were ordered to file a report by April 19 and attend a scheduling conference on April 26 in the case of Federal Election Commission v. Craig for U.S. Senate, et al.
Jackson has a history with federal cases involving disgraced members of Congress. She was a member of the legal team working for former Rep. William Jefferson, D-La., during his 2009 corruption trial.
Niels Lesniewski contributed to this report.