BOISE – U.S. Sen. Larry Craig may not resign after all – if he can clear his name by Sept. 30, his office said Tuesday evening.
Craig’s communications director, Dan Whiting, said, “I think you’ll probably see stuff in the ethics committee moving very quickly.” The committee, he said, “has never considered action against a U.S. senator based on a misdemeanor, and to do that would set a dangerous precedent. I doubt that Larry Craig is the only senator with a misdemeanor on his record.”
Craig announced Saturday that he would resign effective Sept. 30, after pleading guilty to misdemeanor charges in early August as part of a restroom sex-solicitation sting at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. Craig kept the case quiet until a Washington, D.C., newspaper reported it last week. He maintains he did nothing wrong and that his guilty plea was a mistake, but national GOP leaders pressured the longtime senator to resign, stripped him of committee leadership posts and called for an ethics investigation.
“It’s not such a foregone conclusion anymore that the only thing he could do was resign,” said Sidney Smith, Craig’s spokesman in Boise. “We’re still preparing as if Sen. Craig will resign Sept. 30, but the outcome of the legal case in Minnesota and the ethics investigation will have an impact on whether we’re able to stay in the fight – and stay in the Senate.”
Craig, a Republican who has represented Idaho in Congress for 27 years, has hired a prominent lawyer to investigate the possibility of reversing his plea. Noted criminal defense attorney Billy Martin also represented Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in his dog-fighting case and White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Martin said he thinks Craig’s arrest in an undercover police operation at an airport men’s room “raises very serious constitutional questions.”
Craig’s crisis management team also includes communications adviser Judy Smith; Washington, D.C., attorney Stan Brand, a former general counsel to the U.S. House; and Minneapolis attorney Tom Kelly. Brand, who represented Major League Baseball in the congressional investigation into steroid use, will handle any Senate Ethics Committee investigation of Craig, while Kelly will assist the legal case in Minnesota.
Whiting said Craig is leaving open only a slight possibility “as far as the wheels of justice working quickly enough that he could clear his name by Sept. 30.”
He added that Craig, “doesn’t want to completely close that door.”
The U.S. Senate started its post-Labor Day session Tuesday without Craig, who remained at home in Idaho.
Whiting said Craig was “very much engaged” and working, in part on lining up other senators to carry the banner for some of his top priorities, from Craig-Wyden payments for timber counties to the AgJobs immigration bill.
“He’s just not here working,” Whiting said Tuesday. “I talked to him like four times yesterday, and he was very apologetic, since it was a federal holiday.”
Whiting said Craig was swayed by support from Pennsylvania Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, who called him last week and spoke out publicly Sunday, saying that he believed Craig should have fought the charge. Specter, a former prosecutor, told Fox News Sunday the evidence against Craig was “flimsy.”
“I’d still like to see Sen. Craig fight this case,” Specter said. “He left himself some daylight, when he said he ”intends’ to resign in 30 days. I’d like to see Larry Craig go back to court, seek to withdraw his guilty plea and fight the case. I’ve had some experience in these kinds of matters since my days as Philadelphia district attorney, and with the evidence, Sen. Craig wouldn’t be convicted of anything.”
However, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, said at a Tuesday morning press conference in Washington, “I think the episode is over. We’ll have a new senator from Idaho in the next month or so, so we’re going to move on.”
McConnell denied any double standard regarding how the GOP dealt with Craig as opposed to Sen. David Vitter, R-Louisiana, who’s embroiled in a sex scandal involving the so-called “D.C. madam.” Vitter has faced no party calls to resign.
McConnell said Craig, unlike Vitter, pleaded guilty to a crime.
Gov. Butch Otter has no timetable for naming Craig’s replacement, his press secretary, Jon Hanian, said Tuesday. Last week, in the midst of the brouhaha over Craig, Otter interviewed four finalists for an Idaho Supreme Court vacancy, a position he may fill first. The court position opened Tuesday with the retirement of Justice Linda Copple Trout.
Whiting said it was a “media circus” Tuesday at Craig’s office, where news crews including about eight TV cameras waited outside the office. “Some of them left when I told them that he was definitely not going to be here today,” Whiting said.
Neighboring offices to Craig’s on the fifth floor of the north wing of the Hart Senate Office Building include Vitter’s, Whiting said, which is two doors down to the right, and Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens’, which is next door to the left. Stevens is embroiled in a corruption probe that included an FBI raid of his home in Alaska.
So the office corridor has seen plenty of news crews of late. “They will sit there for, like, an entire week waiting for a glimpse of this person – it’s kind of amazing,” Whiting said. “CBS, Fox, CNN, all those guys.”
Whiting said Craig has been working on assuring that his top legislative priorities will be continued if he departs, both by whoever succeeds him in the Senate seat and by other Republicans in the Senate. Craig still will resign on Sept. 30 unless “he reaches a point where he can clear his name,” Whiting said. “He’s going to be making sure Idaho’s taken care of.”