Saturday, September 1, 2007

Craig says he made 'mistake' in guilty plea

Craig says he made 'mistake' in guilty plea
By Kathy Kiely, USA TODAY

Sen. Larry Craig said Tuesday he "made a mistake" in pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge involving a June 11 arrest in a Minneapolis airport restroom, saying he made the plea "in hopes it would go away."

"Let me be clear. I am not gay. I never have been gay," Craig, an Idaho Republican, said in a brief appearance with his wife in Boise. He entered the guilty plea earlier this month, several weeks after an undercover officer arrested him at the airport and filed a complaint that said the three-term senator had engaged in actions "often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct." The plea first became widely known Monday.

The senator also disclosed that he hid the guilty plea from his wife and friends, and said he had retained counsel to advise him on legal options. He said he would decide by next month whether to seek re-election to his seat.

Craig made the statement minutes after Senate Republican leaders called for an ethics review of the events surrounding his guilty plea. Republican leaders also are "examining other aspects of the case to see if additional action is required," Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and other top GOP lawmakers said in a written statement.

Craig, 62, a three-term senator up for re-election in 2008, first denied any improper behavior in a statement released by his office on Monday.

Earlier Tuesday, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a complaint with the Senate Ethics Committee seeking an investigation into whether Craig violated Senate rules by engaging in disorderly conduct.

Craig has stepped down as Senate liaison for Mitt Romney's presidential campaign, according to Matt Rhoades, communication director for the Romney campaign.

"This definitely makes the race more competitive," Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee spokeswoman Hannah August said.

Craig's seat was considered among the safest of 20 Republican Senate seats up in next year's election.

Craig's likely Democratic opponent, Larry LaRocco, a former member of Congress, said Monday he wouldn't comment on Craig's troubles but insisted he can beat the senator based on issues such as veterans' assistance, immigration and Iraq.

"There are a lot of vulnerabilities regardless of what happened," LaRocco told USA TODAY in a phone interview from Coeur d'Alene.

The Idaho Statesman reported that Mike Crapo, Idaho's other Republican senator, told reporters he spoke to Craig on Monday and takes Craig at his word that he did nothing inappropriate.

"I was very concerned," Crapo said. "I made a phone call and visited with Larry, and he explained to me as he has to everyone. I take him at his word."

When asked whether Craig should run for re-election, Crapo said: "That is really Larry's decision. He has been deciding whether to run already. This is a very tough decision to make under any circumstance. Whatever Larry decides, I will support."

The Statesman, the biggest newspaper in Idaho, carried a lengthy story Tuesday describing its investigation of alleged homosexual activity by Craig. In the story, which the newspaper said was inconclusive, Craig vigorously denied engaging in homosexual activity.

In the hour-long interview with the newspaper, conducted on May 14, Craig was accompanied by his wife, Suzanne.

The Statesman article said its reporter played Craig an audiotape of a man claiming that he and Craig had sex in the Union Station restroom in Washington, D.C. Like the Minnesota airport restroom, the Union Station restroom is known as a place where men can find anonymous sex.

Craig denied the man's account. "I am not gay and I have never been in a restroom in Union Station having sex with anybody," he said. "There's a very clear bottom line here. I don't do that kind of thing. I am not gay, and I never have been."

Likewise, Craig, in his statement Monday, also denied any inappropriate behavior connected with the arrest in Minneapolis.

"At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions," he said in the statement. "I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct."

Craig said he regrets his guilty plea. "I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter," he said. "In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously."

Although the police report of the incident is titled "lewd conduct," a Hennepin County court docket showed Craig pleaded guilty only to a charge of disorderly conduct, and the court dismissed a charge of gross misdemeanor interference to privacy, according to the Associated Press.

The docket said Craig paid $575 in fines and fees and was put on unsupervised probation for a year. A sentence of 10 days in the "county workhouse" was stayed.

The report, filed by Sgt. Dave Karsnia, said he was working a "plainclothes detail involving lewd conduct" in the airport restroom when the incident occurred. Roll Call, a Capitol Hill newspaper, broke the story Monday.

Karsnia said he made the arrest after an encounter in which he was seated in a stall next to a stall occupied by Craig. He described Craig tapping his foot, which the officer said he "recognized as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct."

After the arrest, the report said, Craig handed the officer a business card that identified him as a member of the Senate. "What do you think about that?" Craig said, according to the report.

Eleven days later, according to a second police report, Craig returned to the airport police center in Minneapolis to find out the status of his case.

The officer on duty, Adam Snedker, said Craig appeared "agitated and demeaning" and explained that he had been involved in an incident where he was "drug down to this office" and was handcuffed, fingerprinted and interviewed. Craig was directed to call Karsnia, the arresting officer.

In a subsequent report, Karsnia said he gave Craig an update on the case and provided contact information on the attorney assigned to the case. Karsnia also said that "contrary to what Craig stated" he had not handcuffed Craig during the initial incident, even though he was under arrest.

Contributing: Douglas Stanglin and Randy Lilleston in McLean, Va.; Associated Press.

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