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Senate ethics
committee continues with Craig review

Senate ethics
committee continues with Craig review


To the dismay of fellow Republicans, Sen. Larry Craig launched a determined drive to save his seat on Wednesday, vowing to stay in office if allowed to withdraw his guilty plea in a men's room sex sting.

To the dismay of fellow Republicans, Sen. Larry Craig launched a determined drive to save his seat on Wednesday, vowing to stay in office if allowed to withdraw his guilty plea in a men's room sex sting.

Craig's campaign suffered an instant setback, however, when the ethics committee refused to set aside a complaint lodged against him. ''Pending Sen. Craig's resignation, the committee will continue to review this matter,'' the committee's senior senators wrote.

The decision to deploy his legal team marked a reversal of his pledge to resign on September 30 and raised the possibility of a protracted legal and political struggle, much of it playing out in public, with gay sex at its core.

''I thought he made the correct decision, the difficult but correct decision to resign'' over the weekend, said Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky after he and Craig spoke by telephone. ''That would still be my view today.''

Craig made no public statements during the day, although he met privately in Boise with Idaho governor C.L. Otter, who has the authority to fill any vacancy in the state's Senate delegation.

''We are proceeding based on the assumption that there is going to be a transition at the end of the month,'' said Jon Hanian, Otter's spokesman. ''The senator's staff is going to work with ours to that end.''

But McConnell heard something different when he talked with his longtime Senate colleague. He said Craig had told him he now intended to remain in Congress if he is permitted to withdraw his guilty plea by September 30. ''If he is unable to have that disposed of prior to September 30, it is his intention to resign from the Senate as he expressed last Saturday,'' he said.

The GOP leader spoke hours after Craig's attorney, Stanley Brand, asked the ethics committee not to investigate a complaint because events were ''wholly unrelated'' to official duties.

Committee action eventually would lead the Senate down a path of dealing with ''a host of minor misdemeanors and transgressions,'' Brand added in a letter that was hand-delivered.

In a written reply several hours later, the panel's chairman and senior Republican wrote that Senate rules give the committee authority to investigate lawmakers who engage in ''improper conduct, which may reflect upon the Senate.''

''The committee has reached no conclusions regarding the matter,'' wrote senators Barbara Boxer, a California Democrat, and John Cornyn, a Texas Republican. ''Pending Sen. Craig's resignation, the committee will continue to review this matter.''

A second attorney for Craig, Tom Kelly, was in Minnesota, evidently preparing to file papers seeking to have the senator's guilty plea withdrawn.

Lawyers not involved in the case have said Craig faces a difficult challenge, pointing to Minnesota Rules of Criminal Procedure requiring that a defendant show a ''manifest injustice'' to withdraw a guilty plea.

In Craig's case, he voluntarily signed a plea agreement that included a provision stating that the court would not accept such a confession of guilt from anyone who believed himself innocent.

The legal fine points aside, Craig's turnabout was the subject of a lengthy closed-door discussion among Senate Republicans during the day. One participant said McConnell's concerted effort to prod Craig to quit Congress drew widespread support. Only a few members of the rank and file expressed concern that the leadership was acting in haste, added this lawmaker, who spoke on condition of anonymity because the meeting was private.

There was other evidence of the discomfort his case has caused fellow conservatives.

A dozen conservative activists attending a press conference on one of President Bush's judicial nominees declined to answer questions about Craig, including whether they wished to see him resign or remain in office.

They included Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council; David Keene, president of the American Conservative Union; Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform; and Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America.

White House chief of staff Joshua Bolten said on PBS's NewsHour With Jim Lehrer that he thinks Craig will conclude that his announcement that he intends to resign ''remains the right decision.''

For his part, McConnell turned away questions about Craig's situation. Asked whether fellow Republicans could embrace Craig if he disposed of the case and returned to Washington, the GOP leader said he would not answer hypothetical questions.

Asked if Craig had been disingenuous when he told him on Friday he intended to resign, McConnell declined to say.

And when asked whether Republican senator Arlen Specter of Pennsylvania had been helpful in resolving the controversy, McConnell said, ''You'll have to talk to Senator Specter about his views.''

Specter said Sunday he would like to see Craig ''seek to withdraw the guilty plea, and fight the case.'' Specter, a former prosecutor, said he believes the Idaho lawmaker could be vindicated.

He declined to elaborate further when asked during the day.

Craig drew one expression of support, from fellow Idaho Republican senator Mike Crapo.

''I support whatever Larry does,'' said Crapo. ''Everybody has a right to try to vindicate themselves.''

Several officials have said Crapo played a key role in last week's events, serving as an intermediary of sorts between his home state colleague and Republicans in Washington eager to see Craig resign.

The Republican leadership moved aggressively when word of Craig's guilty plea first surfaced, asking the ethics committee to investigate, then prevailing on him to step down from his committee and subcommittee leadership positions.

While Craig is only the latest in a series of Republican senators to become drawn into controversy, he is the only one to have drawn widespread calls for his resignation. McConnell and other critics have denied that their decision to prod him to leave stemmed from the allegation that he had solicited gay sex. They said Craig's case was the only one in which a guilty plea had been entered. (David Espo, AP)

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