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Idaho Sen. Craig to resign today in storm over sex sting at an airport men's room

Saturday, September 1, 2007

GOP lawmakers stripped Craig of leadership posts on Wednesday.

BOISE, Idaho -- Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig will resign from the Senate amid a furor over his arrest and guilty plea in a police sex sting in an airport men's room, Republican officials said Friday.

Craig will announce at a news conference in Boise today morning that he will resign effective Sept. 30, four state GOP officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

The announcement follows by just five days the disclosure that he had pleaded guilty Aug. 1 to a reduced misdemeanor charge arising out of his arrest June 11 at the Minneapolis airport.

The three-term Republican senator had maintained he did nothing wrong except for making the guilty plea without consulting a lawyer. But he found almost no support among Republicans in his home state or Washington.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter appeared Friday to have already settled on a successor: Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, according to several Republicans familiar with internal deliberations.

Craig's spokesman, Dan Whiting, had said earlier that the senator would announce his career plans today. The spokesman would not say whether Craig intended to resign.

Craig has been out of public view since Tuesday, when he declared defiantly at a Boise news conference: "I am not gay. I have never been gay." But Republican sources in Idaho said he spent Friday making calls to top party officials, including the governor, gauging their support.

There has been virtually none publicly.

Asked Friday at the White House if the senator should resign, President Bush said nothing and walked off stage.

Republican officeholders and party leaders maintained a steady drumbeat of actions and words aimed at persuading Craig to vacate his Senate seat.

GOP lawmakers, hoping to get the embarrassment to the party behind them quickly, stripped Craig of leadership posts on Wednesday, one day after they called for an investigation of Craig's actions by the Senate Ethics Committee. Craig complied with the request.

With his wife, Suzanne, at his side, he said he had kept the incident from aides, friends and family and later pleaded guilty "in hopes of making it go away."

Craig, 62, has represented Idaho in Congress for more than a quarter-century and was up for re-election next year.

Republican officeholders and party leaders wanted Craig to give up his seat in the Senate as soon as possible. Their preference, according to several officials, was for a successor to be selected and ready to take the oath of office when the Senate returns from its summer vacation next week.

Republicans, worried about the scandal's effect on next year's election, suffered a further setback Friday when veteran Virginia Sen. John Warner announced he will retire rather than seek a sixth term. Democrats captured Virginia's other Senate seat from the GOP in the 2006 election and have sought to line up former Gov. Mark Warner to run if the seat became open.

The contest for control of the next Senate was already tilted against Republicans, who must defend 22 of 34 seats on the ballot next year, before the Craig scandal and Warner's announcement.

With a GOP candidate other than Craig, Republicans would stand a much better chance of keeping his Idaho seat in 2008.

Idaho is one of the nation's most reliably Republican states. The GOP controls the statehouse and all four seats in Congress, and Bush carried the state in 2004 with 68 percent of the vote.

Risch, the lieutenant governor, served for seven months as governor last year after former Gov. Dirk Kempthorne was named interior secretary. Risch had said earlier he was interested in Craig's Senate seat if Craig did not seek re-election in 2008.

Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, also had been mentioned as a possible replacement for Craig, but the officials, speaking on condition of anonymity because Craig has not resigned, said Otter would choose Risch.

"We've made no promises or guarantees to anyone," said Otter spokesman Jon Hanian. "We don't have a successor to name yet. We're not going to deal in hypotheticals."

Craig served in the House before winning his first Senate term in 1990 and compiled a strongly conservative voting record.

On Thursday, the Minneapolis airport authorities released a tape recording of Craig's interrogation minutes after he encountered a plainclothes officer in an adjacent stall in an airport restroom.

Craig and airport police Sgt. Dave Karsnia disagreed about virtually everything that had occurred -- including whether there was a piece of paper on the floor of the stall and the meaning of the senator's hand gestures.

Craig denied that he had used foot and hand gestures to signal interest in a sexual encounter.

"I'm not gay. I don't do these kinds of things," Craig told the officer. "You shouldn't be out to entrap people."

Karsnia accused Craig of lying and grew exasperated with his denials.

"Embarrassing, embarrassing. No wonder why we're going down the tubes," Karsnia said.


Daly reported from Washington. Associated Press writers Todd Dvorak in Boise and David Espo and Liz Sidoti in Washington contributed to this report.


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