Craig may not be resigning

Times Staff Writer

In a surprise twist, Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) has left open, albeit slightly, the possibility that he will not resign from the Senate if he succeeds in his fight to clear his name of allegations that he solicited sex in a Minnesota airport restroom in June.

“Sen. Craig still intends to resign,” his spokesman, Dan Whiting, said in an interview Tuesday night. “That being said, Sen. Craig wants it clear he’s fighting these charges, both in Minneapolis and in the Senate Ethics Committee, and if the wheels of justice are able to turn quick enough, meaning before Sept. 30, he may -- and I emphasize may -- not resign.

“At this point, it’s a very small door that he’s left open,” Whiting added.

Craig pleaded guilty last month to disorderly conduct, a misdemeanor. He was arrested in June by an undercover police officer investigating complaints of lewd conduct in a men’s restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.


On Saturday, he announced that he intended to resign his Senate seat by the end of the month, to the relief of fellow Republicans who feared that the scandal would hurt the party in next year’s elections.

But Craig, who has denied that he did anything wrong and has said he regretted his guilty plea, has hired lawyers to see whether he can reopen the case, withdraw the plea and clear his name.

Earlier Tuesday, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) had expressed relief that “the episode is over.”

“We’ll have a new senator from Idaho at some point in the next month or so, and we’re going to move on,” he said, eager to put the focus on other subjects of importance to Republicans.


McConnell said he had spoken to Craig last week, before the Idaho senator made his resignation statement, and believed it to be a “firm decision.”

In announcing his resignation, Craig, 62, said his fight to clear his name would be an “unwarranted and unfair distraction of my job and for my Senate colleagues.”

But on Sunday he received encouragement from one of those colleagues.

“I’d like to see him fight the case because I think he could be vindicated,” Sen. Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said on “Fox News Sunday.”


Specter, a former district attorney in Philadelphia, said that if Craig had sought a trial instead of pleading guilty to a reduced charge, “I believe he would be exonerated.”

The undercover officer said Craig used signals -- tapping his foot and sliding his hand under the restroom stall divider -- that indicated a desire for sex. Along with pleading guilty to disorderly conduct, Craig paid $575 in fines and fees and was given one year’s probation.

If he remains in the Senate, Craig would face an embarrassing Senate Ethics Committee investigation. Additionally, Senate Republicans have stripped him of his leadership positions on several committees.

Craig, who has represented his state in the House and the Senate for 27 years, did not return to the Capitol on Tuesday to cast votes on Congress’ first day back from its summer recess.


He has hired two prominent Washington lawyers -- Stanley Brand, a former House counsel who frequently represents legislators in ethics matters, for the Senate investigation, and Billy Martin, who represented NFL quarterback Michael Vick in his recent dog-fighting case as well as former White House aide I. Lewis “Scooter” Libby and former White House intern Monica S. Lewinsky, in the efforts to reopen the Minnesota court case.

Whiting said the senator was preparing to file papers with the ethics committee contending that it was “unprecedented” for the panel to consider a complaint based on a misdemeanor.

On Tuesday morning, two of Craig’s three children appeared on ABC’s “Good Morning America” to defend their father.

His daughter, Shae Howell, said many of Craig’s colleagues “made their decision and formed their opinion about it without even talking to my dad.”


Mike Craig added: “We know who he is, and we stand behind him.”