The officer who arrested Sen. Larry Craig in a police undercover operation at an airport men’s room accused the senator of lying to him during an interrogation afterward, according to an audiotape of the arrest.
On the tape, released Thursday by the Minneapolis Airport Police, the Idaho Republican senator, in turn, accuses the officer of soliciting him for sex.
“I’m not gay. I don’t do these kinds of things,” Craig told Sgt. Dave Karsnia minutes after the two men met in a men’s room at the airport on June 11.
“You shouldn’t be out to entrap people,” Craig told the officer. “I don’t want you to take me to jail.”
Karsnia replied that Craig wouldn’t be going to jail as long as he cooperated.
The two men disagreed about virtually everything that had occurred minutes earlier, including whether there was a piece of paper on the floor of the stall and the meaning of the senator’s hand gestures. At no time did Craig admit doing anything wrong, although weeks later he pleaded guilty to a reduced misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.
“You’re not being truthful with me. I’m kind of disappointed in you, senator,” Karsnia told Craig during the interrogation.
GOP lawmakers distance themselves
Meanwhile, more of Craig’s Republican colleagues moved away from him Thursday in the wake of his guilty plea earlier this month to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct in the undercover police operation aimed at sex solicitors.
Sen. John Ensign of Nevada, who chairs the GOP’s senatorial campaign committee, stopped short of calling on Craig to resign but suggested strongly that he should.
“I wouldn’t put myself hopefully in that kind of position, but if I was in a position like that, that’s what I would do,” Ensign told The Associated Press in his home state. “He’s going to have to answer that for himself.”
Sens. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, each turned over to charity $2,500 campaign donations they had received from Craig’s political action committee. Coleman and Collins both face potentially tough races for re-election next year.
Coleman and several other Republicans — including Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz. — have called for Craig to resign his seat in the Senate. Craig already has agreed to a request by Republican leaders to give up his ranking status on the Veterans Affairs Committee and appropriations subcommittees.
Vague ethics standard
Craig said Tuesday he had committed no wrongdoing and shouldn’t have pleaded guilty. He said he had only recently retained a lawyer to advise him in the case, which threatens to write an ignominious end to a lifetime in public office.
GOP Senate leaders said they did not act lightly in asking Craig to give up his leadership posts temporarily. But they said their decision was “in the best interest of the Senate until this situation is resolved by the ethics committee.”
The ethics committee must judge Craig on an intentionally vague standard.
In the mid-1960s, when the Senate approved the current language on improper conduct, the drafters “did not attempt to delineate all the types of conduct” that would be improper, the code explains. The three Democrats and three Republicans on the current ethics committee will have to figure that out.
Craig could face a censure resolution or even expulsion, a decision for the full Senate.
The drafters explained bad behavior as that “so notorious or reprehensible that it could discredit the institution as a whole, not just the individual.”
Differing accounts of incident
On the tape, Craig and the arresting officer can be heard arguing over what happened in the men’s room minutes earlier. Craig acknowledges that the men’s feet bumped, but says nothing improper happened.
“Did we bump? Yes, I think we did. You said so. I don’t disagree with that,” Craig said.
But Craig disputes the officer’s account that he swept his hand under the stall next to him in an apparent effort to advance the encounter. They even disagree whether Craig used his right hand or his left hand.
Craig said he was merely trying to pick up a piece of paper — an account the officer disputes.
“I’m telling you that I could see, so I know that’s your left hand. Also I could see a gold ring on this finger, so that’s obvious it was the left hand,” Karsnia tells Craig.
“Well we can dispute that,” Craig says. “I’m not going to fight you in court. I reached down with my right hand to pick up the paper.”
Karsnia said in a police report that he recognized Craig’s hand gesture as a signal aimed at initiating sex.
“It should be noted that there was not a piece of paper on the bathroom floor, nor did Craig pick up a piece of paper,” he said in the report.
Meanwhile, Idaho Republican Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter told CNN that Craig’s loss of his committee leadership posts was “problematic,” adding: “I’m sure Larry and his family are going to take those things into consideration as they go forward with their decisions.”
Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, said that “like most Idahoans, I was shocked by the allegations against Larry and by his guilty plea. However, I tend to judge people by the totality of their career and Senator Craig has been a dedicated public servant who has been an asset for Idaho for almost 30 years. At this time, I will not pass judgment on this matter.”