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Sen. Larry Craig resigns in storm over sex sting

Sunday, September 2, 2007

(Photo)
Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, announced his resignation from the Senate on Saturday at the Boise Depot train station in Boise, Idaho, where he was joined by Idaho Gov. "Butch" Otter, left, family members and other supporters.
(Greg Kreller ~ Idaho Press-Tribune)
Craig was arrested June 11 in a police undercover vice operation in a men's room at the Minneapolis airport.

BOISE, Idaho -- Idaho Sen. Larry Craig resigned Saturday over a men's room sex sting, bowing to pressure from fellow Republicans worried about a scandal dimming their election prospects.

"I apologize for what I have caused. I am deeply sorry," Craig said, his wife Suzanne at his side.

Craig's resignation completed a stunning downfall that began Monday with the disclosure that he pleaded guilty to a reduced charge following his arrest during a sex sting in a Minneapolis airport men's room.

Although leading members of his own party had called for him to step down, Craig steadfastly resisted resigning for days, contending he had done nothing wrong and that his only mistake was pleading guilty Aug. 1 to a misdemeanor charge.

President Bush called Craig from the White House after the senator's announcement and told him he knew it was a difficult decision to make, said White House spokesman Scott Stanzel.

"Senator Craig made the right decision for himself, for his family, his constituents and the United States Senate," Stanzel said.

Craig was arrested June 11 in a police undercover vice operation in a men's room at the Minneapolis airport. The arresting officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia, said in his report that the restroom is a known location for homosexual activity.

"I am not gay. I never have been gay," Craig said defiantly after a news conference Tuesday. He said he had kept the incident from aides, friends and family and pleaded guilty "in hopes of making it go away."

He said Saturday he will pursue legal options to clear his name, but added that the effort "would be an unwanted and unfair distraction from my job and for my Senate colleagues.

"The people of Idaho deserve a senator who can devote 100 percent of his time and effort to the critical issues of our state and of our nation," Craig said. "I have little control over what people choose to believe. But clearly my name is important to me, and my family is so very important also."

Craig announced later Saturday that he has retained Billy Martin, a Washington lawyer who represented Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in his dogfighting case, to pursue his legal options. Washington lawyer Stan Brand will represent Craig before the Senate ethics committee, said spokesman Dan Whiting.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said of Craig's resignation that Craig "made a difficult decision, but the right one."

"It is my hope he will be remembered not for this, but for his three decades of dedicated public service," McConnell said. McConnell had been one of Craig's harshest critics, calling his actions "unforgivable."

He and other GOP leaders asked Craig to give up his senior positions on Senate committees on Wednesday, a day after they asked the Senate ethics committee to investigate his actions.

Craig spokesman Sidney Smith said he didn't know if Craig would return to Washington.

"We haven't decided that yet, whether he's going to return or not," Smith said.

Craig, 62, represented Idaho in Congress for more than a quarter-century and was up for re-election next year. He had not said if he would run for a fourth term in 2008 and had been expected to announce his plans this fall.

"It is with sadness and deep regret that I announce it is my intent to resign from the Senate effective Sept. 30," Craig said, with his wife again at his side and Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter standing behind him.

"For any public official at this moment in time to be standing with Larry Craig is in itself a humbling experience," Craig said.

Craig was arrested June 11 in a police undercover vice operation in a men's room at the Minneapolis airport. The arresting officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia, said in his report that the restroom is a known location for homosexual activity.

"I am not gay. I never have been gay," Craig said at a news conference here Tuesday, a day after his guilty plea became public.

Republicans, worried about the scandal's effect on next year's election, suffered a further setback Friday when veteran Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia announced he will retire rather than seek a sixth term. Democrats captured Virginia's other Senate seat from the GOP in the 2006 election.

Otter said Saturday he has not chosen a replacement, although several Republicans familiar with internal deliberations said he favored Republican Lt. Gov. Jim Risch. He called speculation that he has made a choice "dead wrong."

Otter declined to say when he would fill the seat.

Craig opposes gay marriage and has a strong record against gay rights. He was a leading voice in the Senate on gun issues and Western lands. Craig chaired the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and was a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, where he was adept at securing federal money for Idaho projects.

A fiscal and social conservative, Craig sometimes broke with his party, notably on immigration, where he pushed changes that many in his party said offered "amnesty" to illegal immigrants. Much of the impetus behind Craig's push to ease bureaucratic hurdles to immigrant farm workers stemmed from his background as a rancher and the state's large rural, farming community.

Craig has faced rumors about his sexuality since the 1980s. He has called assertions that he has engaged in gay sex ridiculous.


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