Craig Offers Regrets to GOP for ‘Distraction’

Posted September 12, 2007 at 6:39pm

As Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) presses ahead to reverse his guilty plea in an airport bathroom sex sting, he also is trying to restore his reputation among his Republican Senate colleagues by sharing with them his latest legal filings and apologizing for any distraction he has caused.

Craig filed a formal motion in Minnesota District Court on Monday to withdraw his guilty plea for lewd conduct in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. That same day, Craig sent a copy of his appeal to his fellow GOP Senators, along with a personally signed letter of regret and an offer to provide further information as his case moves ahead.

The embattled Senator, who has said he intends to resign on Sept. 30 unless he is able to have his guilty plea thrown out, wrote to Senators: “I regret the distraction this situation has caused at a time when the attention of the Senate, and the nation, should be on the war and other serious policy issues.

“Nevertheless, should you be interested in the facts of my case and the efforts I am making, I encourage you to review the enclosed,” Craig continued in the brief memo. “If you would like any additional information, please don’t hesitate to contact me personally, or my office.”

Craig, who has maintained his innocence, has yet to return to the Senate since the news of the arrest hit the headlines. He was arrested on June 11 and pleaded guilty last month to the disorderly conduct charges stemming from the bathroom sex- solicitation incident, which in Monday’s motion he argued were baseless. A hearing on Craig’s motion has been scheduled for Sept. 26 in Hennepin County District Court.

Asked whether Craig was correct to keep Senators in the loop as his case unfolds, Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), one of Craig’s few Senate defenders, said Wednesday: “Of course it’s appropriate. It’s a free country.”

Specter, the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, also noted he believes it will “marginally” aid Craig as he looks to restore his reputation among his Republican Senate colleagues, many of whom were quick to call for his resignation in the wake of the scandal.

A senior GOP Senate aide said it appears Craig wants Senators to know “he is fighting the charges against him.” And, this staffer added, “he has nothing left to lose” in trying to save face with a party that has shown him little support in recent weeks.

Craig, however, is keeping quiet, and his attorneys had little comment Wednesday as to why he opted to provide his Republican colleagues with their own copies of the appeal. Judy Smith, spokeswoman for Craig’s legal team, would only say Senators were provided the documents to “keep them informed of the state of the legal issues.”

(While he may not be in Washington, D.C., Craig did post a statement on his Senate Web site Tuesday reacting to the Congressional testimony of U.S. commander in Iraq Gen. David Petraeus and U.S. Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker. The posting marked the first time since the Minnesota story broke that Craig put up a public statement that was not related to the bathroom controversy.)

It’s no secret that Senate Republican leaders would like the scandal to extinguish entirely. After all, it was just hours after news broke of the incident that the leadership called for an ethics inquiry into Craig’s arrest. GOP leaders also worked swiftly to pressure the veteran Idaho Senator to step aside and put to bed broader questions about the party’s ongoing ethical lapses and charges of corruption.

Another Senate GOP aide said, despite Craig’s latest outreach, most Senators still feel “the story is done, the door is closed. This is not about people not liking or liking him. This was business.”

Those sentiments appear to be widespread, and several Republican Senators privately suggested Wednesday that even as Craig looks to save face both legally and personally, they simply would rather put the matter behind them. Some even expressed frustration that Craig — by waging what could become a highly publicized legal fight — continues to keep the controversy alive.

“I can see trying to clear his name … but he pled guilty and I don’t see how you pull back from that,” one Republican Senator said, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

This lawmaker also said that at this point, most Members hope not to have the case linger on for months as the legal process plays out. If Craig’s motion to withdraw his guilty plea were to go to trial, the Senator said it would certainly reignite the media frenzy that has dogged Craig since Roll Call broke the original story on Aug. 27.

“I think we were all real happy to have the Craig thing in the rearview mirror, and to have it keep coming up again and again just isn’t a good situation,” the Senator said, adding, “What happens if he does get this thing overturned?”

In his appeal, Craig argued that he entered the guilty plea amid fears that the charges would go public and further fuel an ongoing investigation by the Idaho Statesman newspaper into his sexuality. Craig also declined to bring in an attorney.

Craig has adamantly denied being a homosexual, and in the motion his lawyers argue that “despite Senator Craig’s denial of any inappropriate behavior, he was panicked that such allegations would be made public and that they would provide the Idaho Statesman with an excuse to publish its baseless article.”

The motion adds: “While in this state of anxiety, Senator Craig felt compelled to grasp the lifeline offered to him by the police officer; namely that if he were to submit to an interview and plead guilty, then none of the officer’s allegations would be made public.”