Craig Fights to Clear His Name, Keep Senate Seat

Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) has asked the Senate ethics committee to dismiss an ethics complaint against him. Last Saturday, Craig said it was his intention to resign in the midst of the scandal over his men's room arrest. But now his lawyers say if Craig can clear his name, he will try to stay in the Senate.

Craig has hired celebrity lawyer Billy Martin to find a way to get rid of the guilty plea he made in Minnesota last month. His plea was for disorderly conduct, a lesser charge than what he might have faced. Ron Meshbesher, a veteran criminal attorney based in Minneapolis, thinks Craig might have a shot. Meshbesher says he won a post-conviction proceeding in a felony case last year, but he has never seen anyone do it in a misdemeanor case.

"It usually isn't worth the effort," Meshbesher says.

But given what's at stake, it may be worth the effort for Craig to try to reverse this misdemeanor. Even if he can't win in court, he'll persuade the Senate to back off. He has hired Stan Brand, a D.C. attorney who specializes in congressional ethics cases.

"Jaywalking is a misdemeanor in some places," Brand says. "The Senate has expelled people for high crimes and misdemeanors, for bribery, for treason. ... It's never taken notice of one of these."

The leaders of Craig's own party are behind the ethics investigation. They also pressured him last week to step down. On Saturday morning, it appeared he had relented. Craig stood before a microphone and made what sounded very much like a resignation speech.

"It is with sadness and deep regret that it is my intent to resign from the Senate effective September 30," Craig announced.

But just minutes before saying those words, Craig left a voicemail apparently intended for his lawyer on the wrong phone. The message was obtained by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.

In the voicemail, Craig said, "We've reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign September 30."

He went on to tell the lawyer to come out swinging in the media.

Craig's continued defiance is an unpleasant surprise for those who wanted him to quit, such as Bryan Fischer, leader of a socially conservative activist group called Idaho Values Alliance. Fischer was there Saturday to listen to what he thought was Craig's resignation.

"That's the way I interpreted it," Fischer says. "And it's a little disconcerting, because the senator now is starting to parse his words the way President Clinton did."

In Washington, Republican leaders are also coming to terms with the possibility that Craig is not going away. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he has been on the phone with Craig about his situation.

"My view remains for what I said last Saturday," McConnell says. "I thought he made the correct decision, difficult but correct decision to resign. That will still be my view today."

Could Craig stay on without the support of Republican leaders? John Fremuth, a political science professor at Boise State University, says he finds it hard to imagine, but it might win Craig some points back home.

"I think a lot of us feel, whether we be analysts or partisan, that the senator was thrown out of the bus real quickly, almost unheard of," Fremuth says. "And there's some sympathy there for the plight he was in."

Fremuth says he doubts that under these circumstances, Craig could get much done in the Senate. But the symbolism of his refusal to leave would be hard to miss.

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