Sen. Larry Craig fought back Wednesday, moving to have a Senate ethics complaint dismissed and relaying word that he will resign his seat only if he is unsuccessful in withdrawing a guilty plea that stems from his arrest in a Minneapolis vice sting.
Craig's attorneys asked the Senate ethics committee to reject a complaint based on the Idaho Republican's guilty plea to a disorderly conduct charge. They maintained the events were "wholly unrelated" to Craig's official duties.
"Assertion of jurisdiction over this matter by the committee would be literally unprecedented and would create deleterious consequences for the Senate as a whole," the lawyers wrote.
But late Wednesday the Senate Ethics committee rejected Craig's request, saying it will review complaint against him pending a resignation.
Craig pleaded guilty last month to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct following his June arrest by an undercover police officer in a men's bathroom at the Minneapolis airport. The officer said Craig behaved like a man soliciting sex.
Craig has steadfastly denied that he is guilty of anything, but said he regretted pleading guilty in the case.
"He said he is going to try and get the case in Minnesota dismissed," said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate Republican leader.
Craig announced Saturday that he intended to resign effective Sept. 30, but later decided to fight to clear his name and keep his Senate seat.
Craig spokesman Sidney Smith said the senator was encouraged to fight the ethics and legal charges by Sen. Arlan Specter (R-PA) in a telephone call last week.
On Tuesday, Specter suggested that Craig's GOP colleagues should re-examine the facts surrounding the arrest.
"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 to a reduced charge and instead demanded a trial, "I believe he would have been exonerated," said Specter, who is a senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Craig has since hired two prominent attorneys to handle the ethics probe and the case in Minnesota.
On Wednesday, McConnell twice declined to answer when asked whether he believes Craig should quit his seat.
"My view remains what I said last Saturday. I thought he made the difficult, but correct decision to resign. That would still be my view today," he said.
McConnell told reporters that Craig had told him that if he fails to have his guilty plea dismissed by Sept. 30, "it is his intention to resign from the Senate."
If he does win the dismissal of the guilty plea, "it would be his intention to come back to the Senate to deal with the ethics committee case ... and try to finish his term."
It was not clear when Craig's attorneys intended to file papers in Minnesota to have his plea withdrawn. The senator pleaded guilty to a charge of disorderly conduct on Aug. 1.
McConnell and the rest of the Republican leadership last week asked the ethics committee to look into Craig's case, and many GOP leaders said outright that Craig should resign.
From NPR reports and The Associated Press