Sen. Larry Craig is reconsidering his decision to resign after his arrest in a Minnesota airport sex sting and may still fight for his Senate seat, his spokesman said Tuesday evening.
“It’s not such a foregone conclusion anymore, that the only thing he could do was resign,” Sidney Smith, Craig’s spokesman in Idaho’s capital, told The Associated Press.
“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,” Smith said.
Craig, a Republican who has represented Idaho in Congress for 27 years, announced Saturday that he intends to resign from the Senate on Sept. 30. But since then, he’s hired a prominent lawyer to investigate the possibility of reversing his plea, his spokesman said.
Craig was a no-show Tuesday as Congress reconvened after a summer break and it wasn’t clear whether he’ll return at all since deciding to resign over his guilty plea in a sex sting this summer at the Minneapolis airport.
Another spokesman, Dan Whiting in Washington, said Tuesday that Craig was expected to spend the week in Idaho as the Senate votes on spending bills for veterans and other programs. Whiting did not rule out Craig’s returning to Washington before the end of the month.
Specter urges Craig to fight
A telephone call Craig received last week from Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., urging him to consider fighting for his seat is affecting Craig’s decision to reconsider his resignation, Smith said.
“It was a little more cut and dried a few days ago,” Smith said. “There weren’t many options. He was basically going to have to step aside. Now, there’s a little more to it.”
On Tuesday, Specter, senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Craig’s GOP colleagues who pressured him last week to resign should re-examine the facts surrounding his arrest June 11.
“The more people take a look at the situation, there may well be second thoughts,” said Specter, a former prosecutor. If Craig had not pleaded guilty in August to a reduced charge and instead demanded a trial, “I believe he would have been exonerated,” Specter said.
Craig gave up his senior positions on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Appropriations veterans subcommittee last week, at the request of Senate Republican leaders. The Senate began debating the veterans spending bill Tuesday.
Craig came under a steady drumbeat of criticism from Republicans in the days before he announced that for the good of the people of Idaho, he would step down Sept. 30.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell called Craig’s actions “unforgivable” after the White House termed the situation disappointing. Republican Senate colleagues John McCain of Arizona and Norm Coleman of Minnesota said Craig should resign.
With Republicans defending nearly twice as many seats as Democrats in 2008, Nevada Sen. John Ensign, chairman of the Senate GOP’s election effort, said he would resign if he were in Craig’s circumstances but stopped short of saying the Idahoan should give up his seat. Craig’s third six-year term in the Senate expires in January 2009.
Republican Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has not named Craig’s successor and has not said when he will. Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, also a Republican, is considered the front-runner for the job.
Billy Martin, one of Craig’s lawyers, said the senator’s arrest in an undercover police operation in a men’s room of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport “raises very serious constitutional questions.”
Martin, who represents Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in his dogfighting case, said Craig “has the right to pursue any and all legal remedies available as he begins the process of trying to clear his good name.”
Senator denies charges
Craig contended throughout last week he had done nothing wrong and said his only mistake was pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge.
Craig has hired a high-powered crisis management team that includes Martin; communications adviser Judy Smith; Washington 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.
McConnell disputed that there was a double standard in how GOP leaders reacted to Craig’s case and to the admission in July by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that his telephone number showed up in 1999, 2000 and 2001 phone bills of an escort service that federal authorities say was a prostitution ring.
In Vitter’s case, “there have been no charges made,” McConnell said, adding that the alleged wrongdoing occurred before Vitter was a senator.
Craig, by contrast, pleaded guilty to a crime, McConnell said. “The legal case was, in effect, over. At that point, the question was for the Republican leadership, what would be our reaction to it,” he said.
Craig's children support him
All three of Craig’s adopted children said Tuesday they believe their father’s assertions he is not gay and did nothing to warrant his arrest.
Jay Craig, 33, told The Associated Press that he, his brother, Michael Craig, 38, and his sister, Shae Howell, 36, spoke candidly with their father about the June 11 arrest.
“Our conclusion was there was no wrongdoing there,” Jay Craig said. “We understood the direction he was taking (by pleading guilty) and there was nothing illegal that happened there that would even convince somebody what he was doing was illegal. He was a victim of circumstance, in the wrong place at the wrong time when this sting operation was going on.”
In a separate interview on Tuesday, with ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Michael Craig used similar language about his father.
Larry Craig adopted Michael and his two siblings after marrying their mother, the former Suzanne Scott, in 1983. Craig has worked in the Senate to promote adoption.