MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Idaho senator Larry Craig's colleagues are reacting angrily to news that he may not be quitting after all. His intention to resign now seems to rest on whether Craig can clear his name in the wake of a men's room arrest. He vows to stay in office if he can withdraw his guilty plea.
Meanwhile, the Senate Ethics Committee said today it's going ahead with the review of the complaint against Craig over his objections.
NPR's Martin Kaste reports.
MARTIN KASTE: Craig has hired celebrity lawyer Billy Martin to find a way to get rid of the guilty plea he made in Minnesota back in August. His plea was for disorderly conduct, a lesser charge than he might have faced after his arrest in that men's room. And Ron Meshbesher, a veteran criminal attorney based in Minneapolis, thinks Craig might have a shot.
Mr. RON MESHBESHER (Criminal Lawyer): There are post-conviction proceedings -he won one the last year. It was a felony case. I've never seen anybody do it in a misdemeanor case; it usually isn't worth the effort.
KASTE: But it may be worth the effort to reverse this misdemeanor given what's at stake. Even if Craig can't win in court, he'll try to convince the Senate to back off. He's hired Stan Brand, a D.C. attorney who specializes in congressional ethics cases.
Mr. STAN BRAND (Congressional Ethics Lawyer): You know, jaywalking is a misdemeanor in some places. The Senate has expelled people for high crimes and misdemeanors, for bribery, for treason. It's never taken judicial notice of one of these.
KASTE: The threat of a Senate ethics investigation came from the leaders of Craig's own Republican Party, who pressured him all last week to step down. He finally relented, or seemed to relent, on Saturday morning with something that sounded like a resignation speech.
Senator LARRY CRAIG (Republican, Idaho): Therefore, it is with sadness and deep regret that I announce that it is my intent to resign from the Senate effective September 30th.
KASTE: But just minutes before saying those words, Craig left a voicemail for his lawyer or at least he tried to. It apparently went to the wrong phone and has now surfaced on the Web site of the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call.
(Soundbite of voicemail recording)
Sen. CRAIG: We've reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on September 30.
KASTE: And he goes on to tell his 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 on Saturday to listen to Craig's resignation or what he thought was a resignation.
Mr. BRYAN FISCHER (Executive Director, Idaho Values Alliance): Well, that's the way I interpreted it. And I think it's a little disconcerting, you know, because the Senator now is beginning to parse his words like President Clinton did.
KASTE: In Washington, Republican leaders have been coming to terms with the possibility that Craig is not going away after all.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell says he's been on the phone with Craig about the situation.
Senator MITCH McCONNELL (Republican, Kentucky; Senate Minority Leader): My view remains with what I said last Saturday. I thought he made the correct decision - the difficult, but correct decision to resign. That would still be my view today.
KASTE: Could Craig stay on without the support of Republican leaders?
John Freemuth, a political science professor at Boise State University, says he finds it hard to imagine, but he says it might win Craig some points back home.
Dr. JOHN FREEMUTH (Political Science, Boise State University): I think a lot of us feel, whether we be analysts or partisan, that the senator was kind of thrown out of the bus real quickly, almost unheard of. And there's some sympathy there, anyway, for the plight he was in.
KASTE: But Idaho Republicans may be losing patience with Craig now, too. This morning, Governor Butch Otter discussed the names of four possible replacements for Craig. An Otter staff says the governor will announce his choice before September 30th. Larry Craig may be forced to decide whether he really wants to hold on to his job even as his replacement is waiting in the wings.
Martin Kaste, NPR News.