August 31, 2007 in Idaho

Craig, officer clash on audiotape

Betsy Z. Russell Staff writer


“Suzanne Craig stands by her man./A9

“Craig’s demotion could cost state of Idaho millions./A8

BOISE – Sen. Larry Craig told his arresting officer “you solicited me” and complained of entrapment while denying he made a sexual advance in an airport men’s room, according to an audiotape recording of the senator’s interview by airport police.

The recording, released and aired widely across the nation Thursday, also reveals the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport police officer growing angry with Craig and accusing him of lying after the senator contradicted the officer’s version of the alleged offense.

Craig’s office said Thursday it was receiving mostly favorable calls after the recording was released. “Sen. Craig has maintained all along that he didn’t do anything wrong, and I think it’s clear on the tape that there’s quite a bit of disagreement between him and the officer, not only about if anything wrong happened, but actually what happened,” spokesman Sid Smith said. “I think the audiotape supports what we’ve been saying.”

The audio provides new details on Craig’s version of the events leading up to his arrest in a restroom-sex solicitation sting and later guilty plea on misdemeanor charges. It also features a heated exchange between the senator and the officer over Craig’s truthfulness.

And while calls for Craig to resign from GOP members of Congress continued to grow, Smith said Craig plans to be back in Washington, D.C., Tuesday when the Senate reconvenes after its August break. Craig was arrested June 11 in an airport men’s room. He pleaded guilty Aug. 8 to disorderly conduct, paying more than $500 in fines and receiving a year’s probation and a stayed 10-day jail term.

An undercover officer in the bathroom stall next to Craig said the senator used a foot-tapping, hand-gesturing ritual to solicit sex. Craig was one of 40 men snared in the undercover investigation since May, according to police reports, and most used near-identical signals. Some of the suspects admitted soliciting sex, while others denied it.

On the recording, which picks up after Sgt. Dave Karsnia and Craig apparently already had been talking, Craig tells the officer, “You solicited me.”

Karsnia doesn’t respond and instead advises Craig about possible pleas and reads him of his Miranda rights. Karsnia then asks Craig to tell his side of the story.

Craig says, “Well, I go into the bathroom here, as I normally do – I’m a commuter through here. I sit down to go to the bathroom, and ah, you said our feet bumped. I believe they did, uh, because I reached down and scooted over, and, the next thing I knew, under the bathroom divider comes a card that says ‘Police.’ Now, um, (sigh) that’s about as far as I can take it, I don’t know of anything else. Your foot came toward mine, mine came towards yours, was that natural? I don’t know. Did we bump? Yes. I think we did. You said so. I don’t disagree with that.”

Craig then adds, “I am not gay, I don’t do these kinds of things.”

Craig has strenuously denied being gay and maintained that the officer misconstrued his actions in the restroom. In the interview, the officer responds, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t care about sexual preference or anything like that.”

Craig responds, “I know you don’t. You’re out to enforce the law,” and Karsnia answers, “Right.” Craig then adds, “But you shouldn’t be out to entrap people either.”

“This isn’t entrapment,” Karsnia says, to which Craig responds, “All right.”

The officer then questions Craig further, at one point raising his voice and accusing Craig of lying when Craig disputes the officer’s account of the hand gestures. Karsnia then says he’s “disappointed” in Craig, adding, “I mean, people vote for you.”

At the end of the interview, Karsnia comments, “Embarrassing, embarrassing. No wonder why we’re going down the tubes.”

Craig told no one about the arrest or conviction until the Washington, D.C., newspaper Roll Call broke the news on Monday.

Meanwhile, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney said Thursday that Craig’s conduct was “disappointing and disgraceful” but stopped short of calling for the Idaho Republican to resign. Several Republican lawmakers, including Romney’s presidential rival John McCain, have said the three-term senator should step down.

Romney said he would not tell Craig what to do. “I’m not going to insert myself between him and his conscience,” Romney said.

Until Monday afternoon, when news of the arrest and guilty plea broke, Craig was the co-chairman of Romney’s campaign in Idaho and a prominent Romney backer in the U.S. Senate.

Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, who chairs the GOP’s senatorial campaign committee, stopped short of calling on Craig to resign but suggested that he should. “If I was in a position like that, that’s what I would do,” Ensign said.

Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, each turned over to charity $2,500 in campaign donations they had received from Craig’s political action committee.

On Wednesday, the GOP Senate leadership stripped Craig of his ranking Republican status on three key Senate committees while an ethics investigation is under way

“Obviously there’d be a little bit of disappointment there,” said Smith, Craig’s spokesman. “But he understands that the leadership is exercising due diligence as the ethics investigation goes forward.”

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