January 27, 2008 in City

No news from ethics probe

Erika Bolstad McClatchy
 

WASHINGTON – With just a year remaining in Larry Craig’s Senate term, there’s little indication that the Senate ethics committee is doing much about the Idaho Republican’s controversial arrest last summer.

Craig, who said he would step down at the end of his term, is under investigation by the ethics committee in connection with his arrest in the men’s room of the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport. He was cited on a disorderly conduct charge in a sex sting.

No one on the tight-lipped Senate committee will say how far along any investigation is or whether they expect it to yield any findings.

“Preliminary inquiries are always conducted behind closed doors,” said Natalie Ravitz, a spokeswoman for the co-chair of the committee, Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif. “There’s a lot of latitude in terms of what the committee can do during that time period. There’s no set timeline on preliminary inquiries. They can last a few days and they can last many, many months.”

Senate Republican leaders asked the committee to investigate Craig’s conduct just one day after news broke last summer of his arrest. An undercover officer who was investigating complaints of sex acts in the airport restrooms arrested Craig in June after the senator tapped his feet and ran his hand under the bathroom stall, signals that the officer interpreted as expressing interest in sex. Without consulting a lawyer, Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in August and now is trying to overturn his plea in the Minnesota Court of Appeals.

Craig’s office had no comment about the status of his investigation. Stan Brand, the lawyer who’s handling Craig’s ethics complaint, didn’t return a phone call.

Although many Republicans distanced themselves from Craig and he initially said he would step down, he held on to his seat, sometimes by his fingernails. Republican Senate leaders stripped him of his committee leadership posts pending the outcome of the ethics committee investigation, and even President Bush criticized him. It was a blow to Craig’s clout and standing among fellow senators, but his perseverance paid off. Five months after the scandal broke, he carries on publicly more or less as though nothing ever happened.

It may be that he’ll finish his term quietly, because there’s little indication of an ethics committee investigation.

No one with the committee has asked to speak with anyone connected with Craig’s arrest or asked for more information about it, said Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport

“I don’t what they’re doing, but they have not contacted us,” Hogan said.

One of the groups that filed an independent ethics complaint against Craig, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said it also hadn’t heard anything from the committee. But it generally doesn’t, spokeswoman Naomi Steiner said.

“They don’t tell us anything. They sort of leave us in the dark,” Steiner said. “It’s kind of a toothless committee.”

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics, which frequently files complaints about badly behaving senators, never hears from the committee itself about whether its complaints are under investigation, Steiner said.

Occasionally, though, it does hear third-hand. Recently, a lawyer for Sen. Pete Domenici, R-N.M., asked the Federal Elections Commission whether the senator could use campaign money to fight off an ethics complaint that Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics had filed in connection with his role in the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. The FEC filed a public opinion in response, and Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics learned that the Senate committee was investigating its complaint.

Senate Republican leaders who asked for the Craig investigation also have heard nothing, said Don Stewart, a spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the Senate minority leader. That’s not surprising, though, Stewart said.

“I don’t think (the ethics committee) ever talks about what they’re doing until they have something to announce,” Stewart said. “It’s all internal.”


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