February 14, 2008 in Nation/World

Senate ethics panel admonishes Craig

Paul Kane Washington Post

WASHINGTON – Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, was rebuked Wednesday by the Senate Ethics Committee over his conviction for disorderly conduct in an airport men’s restroom, with the panel concluding that he committed the offense and citing him for actions that have “reflected discreditably on the Senate.”

Craig was “publicly admonished” in a letter that closed the case without any formal punishment or a public inquiry into the allegations. Despite calls from fellow Republicans for his resignation, Craig has said he will serve out his term and retire in January.

Craig said Wednesday night, “I am disappointed and strongly disagree with the conclusions” of the committee, adding that he “will continue to serve the people of Idaho.”

Craig initially welcomed the Ethics Committee investigation and suggested that it would help him disprove the misdemeanor charge, stemming from his arrest at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by an undercover police officer working a sex sting.

But the committee instead concluded that Craig’s efforts to withdraw his guilty plea were an attempt to duck fallout after the arrest and subsequent guilty plea were reported in late August.

“It appears you are attempting to withdraw your plea in significant part because your initial calculation that you could avoid public disclosure of, and adverse public reaction to, this matter by pleading guilty proved wrong. … We consider your attempt to withdraw your guilty plea to be an attempt to evade the legal consequences of an action freely undertaken by you – that is, pleading guilty,” the committee wrote in a letter signed by all six senators on the panel.

The senators also cited Craig for using $213,000 from his campaign committee to pay legal expenses in the case without getting permission from the Ethics Committee.

Craig was arrested June 11 while on his way to Washington after, the undercover officer said, he entered a restroom stall and gave several signals that indicated a desire to have sex. Those included tapping his feet and running his hand under the stall partition.

After his arrest, Craig showed his business card to the undercover officer and asked, “What do you think about that?” The Ethics Committee reprimanded Craig for that, finding that he was trying to use his “position and status as a United States senator to receive special and favorable treatment.”

Craig pleaded guilty by mail in August, an action he later described as an effort to keep the matter quiet because of a Boise newspaper’s investigation into allegations that he had had homosexual affairs. Craig has repeatedly said he has never had sex with a man and that he is not gay.

Once the case became public, Craig announced plans to resign, but he changed his mind shortly thereafter and instead returned to the Senate. The former member of the Senate Republican leadership has quietly gone about his work since.

He also began a legal bid to repeal the plea and have a full trial, while the Ethics Committee – at the request of GOP leadership – began its own investigation. On Oct. 4, a Minnesota judge found Craig’s plea was “accurate, voluntary and intelligent.” Craig appealed the ruling; the case is pending.

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email