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Craig Hearing Set for Sept. 26 Before Judge Accused of Bias

Larry Craig will have his day in court - Sept. 26 -- and it has been scheduled quickly enough that he might meet his self-imposed deadline for resolving his criminal fight so he can return to the Senate and complete his term. And just to add to the drama of this political scandal, the hearing has been slated before a judge who last week was accused of bias toward a murder suspect by the top Twin Cities prosecutor.

Craig was arrested June 11 in a Minneapolis airport as part of an undercover gay-sex sting operation. The police report said that Craig eyed the undercover police officer through the crack in a bathroom stall door, then sat in an adjacent stall and tapped his foot "as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct." On Aug. 8, he pleaded guilty to the disorderly-conduct charge and paid a $500 fine.

Yesterday, Craig's legal team filed papers formally requested to withdraw Craig's disorderly conduct guilty plea, arguing that the senator was unduly influenced by the undercover officer's promise of privacy should he just plead guilty. In addition, his lawyers argued that his actions added up to nothing illegal, although police say those are signals often used by men looking for anonymous sexual encounters in public restrooms.

This afternoon, Hennepin County District Court announced that Judge Charles Porter will hear Craig's request to withdraw his guilty plea. The hearing is set for 1:30 pm CDT, Sept. 26.

Prosecutors for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which oversee the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport police, vowed to "strenuously" fight Craig's motion, contending that the police used "standard investigative procedures" in the arrest and interview, according to spokesman Patrick Hogan.

What's stunning about the court hearing is the timing, a turnaround of barely two weeks from his initial request for an oral argument. If a ruling in Craig's favor were to come down by the end of that week or into the weekend, the senator would at least partially have met the goal he set out for his return to the Senate. Craig has said that if by Sept. 30 he can resolve his legal situation satisfactorily, he would return to the Senate and serve out the remainder of his third term through 2008. He would not seek re-election, aides have said.

Craig's return would be much to the dismay of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the GOP leader, and other Republicans who would prefer Craig never set foot in the Capitol again.

In statements from his aides, Craig has indicated that if he is "cleared" of the guilty plea he would return to the Senate and then deal with the Ethics Committee investigation into his airport incident, a probe that was prompted by a request from McConnell and the GOP leadership.

But Craig's aides have pointedly declined to address what Minnesota legal experts say is the best-case scenario for the senator - that a judge could toss out his guilty plea and then set a trial date for later this year or early next year. Under this scenario he could return to the Senate next month and fight both the criminal case in Minnesota and the Ethics Committee investigation.

Andrew S. Birrell, a criminal defense lawyer Capitol Briefing spoke with yesterday, said that overturning guilty pleas is very difficult but that he believes a ruling on the matter could come by the end of the month. After that, Birrell said, Craig would then plead not guilty and likely request a "speedy trial", which under Minnesota rules would require a trial to begin within 60 days of the new Craig plea.

Porter, the judge on the case, was in the news last week when Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman - considered the state's most prominent prosecutor and a perennial statewide Democratic candidate - accused Porter of bias in favor of murder trial suspect. Freeman asked the state Supreme Court to remove Porter from the retrial of the accused murderer of an 11-year-old girl, telling the justices there was "nothing fair or appearing to be fair" in how Porter handled the first trial.

By Paul Kane  |  September 11, 2007; 7:00 PM ET
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What is frightning is, if one agrees that Senator Craig was so thoroughly intimidated by the police that he privately entered a guilty plea many weeks after his arrest, and wasn't thinking straight, and that (in his lawyer's words) ...the motions also argue that Craig is not a lawyer and so his plea was "not knowingly and understandingly made," that he is a rancher, is how he can vote in Congress on issues without being intimidated. He has served on the Senate Judiciary Committee, which has oversight of the federal judiciary and criminal procedures; and he doesn't know enough about the law to think it worth having a lawyer after his arrest? Not until, that is, it was publicly revealed that he had been arrested? If he is not knowledgeable about this little of the law, to think he, a sitting U.S. Senator, might need a lawyer, how can he contemplate such issues as the war in Iraq? Voting for significant economic or medical legislation? Major transportation issues or in favor of (or against) Supreme Court Justices? How could he, as a non-lawyer, have taken part in the possible criminality of former president Clinton? If Senator is that unable to think rationally enough to obtain a lawyer, and to, weeks after his arrest, plead guilty despite being advised that it is criminal to plead guilty if you are not, then how can this man legitimately or competently serve in the Senate?

Posted by: Dungarees | September 11, 2007 8:12 PM | Report abuse

I agree with the comment above. And do people realize the power a U.S. senator has by virtue of the office?
I look forward to a public trial for several reasons, mainly to see if Craig can top the old Twinkie defense. I bet somehow he can. Maybe the Super Tuber:

Posted by: Bill Dunn | September 11, 2007 11:02 PM | Report abuse

Run, Larry, run !!

Posted by: TeddySanFran | September 12, 2007 12:10 AM | Report abuse

Ain't it fun? They grow 'em REAL dumb out in Idaho!

Posted by: tom | September 12, 2007 1:39 AM | Report abuse

Senator Craig, no one is going to swallow any more of your excuses.

Posted by: Peter Cox | September 12, 2007 2:30 AM | Report abuse

As a hardcore Green Bay Packers fan living & working in Idaho, I have to say that the most regrettable thing about this whole Bathroomgate debacle is that it reinforces the image of gay Americans as sketchy, untrustworthy, deceptive people. Larry notwithstanding, most gay Americans I know are outstanding citizens, worthy of precisely the respect and equal treatment which Larry, during his time as US Senator, actively sought to deny them.

Posted by: Idaho Packer Fan | September 12, 2007 2:45 AM | Report abuse

Idaho Packer/Dungarees - you've got it!

I wish Craig would quit trying to restore his dignity and move on and out of DC.

I for one care less if someone is gay, and more whether they are honest.

Posted by: RoseG | September 12, 2007 6:32 AM | Report abuse

Wow, that was an intersting story. I've heard about this on the news but who knew the issue was so much more deeper? I honestly feel that people who are higher up in the job field feel that they are invinceable, and thats not right. They need to know that they are people just like everyone else and that no one or anything should be above the law, I mean come on. They help make the law their input goes in so why would they break it? Do they need attention or something? hmmmm makes me wonder.... And by the way, his court date September 26 is my BIRTHDAY!

Posted by: Ausharei | September 12, 2007 10:42 AM | Report abuse

Excellent comments above from Dungarees.

Posted by: gerimay | September 12, 2007 11:15 AM | Report abuse

Excellent reporting. Mr Kane is the only one covering this issue that has made note of the jduge in this case. Being a Minneapolitan, I can tell you that Judge Porter is held in the lowest esteem in the local legal community, and not just for messing up the murder case already cited. Look at his cases that have been overturned if there is any question about his professionalism or his integrity. Judge Porter's erratic and injudiciousness makes it much more likely that justice will not be served in the Craig matter.

Posted by: otterscrubber | September 12, 2007 11:38 AM | Report abuse

Another good Republican hypocrite bits the dust!

Posted by: Anonymous | September 13, 2007 2:10 AM | Report abuse

What is even more amazing is that his lawyer's rationale for overturning the guilty plea is that he was oversold by the officer as to the amount of 'privacy' - i.e, he expected that no one would ever know that a sitting Senator of the USA had pleaded guilty to a crime.


Posted by: billybob-joe-jim | September 13, 2007 10:35 AM | Report abuse

and Craig has supported the tactics used in Guantanomo as not overly coercive...but HE was intimidated into - if he is to be believed - committing perjury...what a putz. He should leave DC and take Vitter and Lyndsey Graham (also "closeted") with him.

Posted by: wtf II | September 13, 2007 5:58 PM | Report abuse

I'm 'only' in favor of him having his guilty plea overturned because it will make Mitch 'lemon-face' McConnell squirm. And how he deserves it. How amazing is it, one moment Craig is a friend and colleague, and the next moment they abandon him like so much trash. With friends like these Craig may as well be a Democrat. Yeah Mitch ol boy you 'deserve' this problem to stick around.

Posted by: breakspear | September 13, 2007 10:11 PM | Report abuse

Horray for the REP. party. This ought to make the upcoming election more exciting. cant wait for HILARY to win by a landslide.

NEED to make some drastic changes in this country and its policies, foreign or domestic!

Posted by: Richard fo | September 14, 2007 9:19 PM | Report abuse

My questions are these:

First, Sen. Craig swears he's not gay, and perhaps that's true -- gay usually means an exclusive interest, sexual or otherwise, in a person of the same sex. But has anybody asked him if he's bisexual? If he is bi, meaning having sex with both women (presumably his wife) and men, then he can truthfully claim that he is not gay, but that obviously misses the point that people are concerned about or accusing him of. So my first question is: Sen. Craig, are you or have you ever been bisexual???

Second, if Sen. Craig now says it was not true that he was guilty, as he signed the court guilty plea document saying he was, isn't he open to a charge of perjury -- lying to the court in a signed affidavit? Considering that he had nearly two months to think things thru, is certainly of sound mind and knowingly and purposefully pleaded guilty by signing a legal, court document, under oath, which he now says was false, doesn't it make sense that he just might be vulnerable to a perjury charge for lying about his guilt, in writing, in a sworn statement?. Hmmmmmm!

Posted by: ASF | September 27, 2007 2:22 AM | Report abuse

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