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Craig's Return: From Legal Briefings to Ag Amendment Backgrounders

(This is a combined reporting effort of Capitol Briefing and The Sleuth.)

Trying to behave as if nothing had happened, Larry Craig (R-Idaho) returned to the Capitol and went about his senatorial business today: He made every roll-call vote, chatted up his colleagues to get updates on issues he had been working on with them and attended the weekly GOP luncheon.

According to aides and a senator present in the lunch, the politically radioactive Craig briefly addressed his colleagues about his sex-sting conviction, telling them he was "hopeful" he could convince a Minnesota court to overturn his August guilty plea to disorderly conduct in an airport restroom. Craig said his legal team, headed by Washington lawyer Billy Martin, is working hard, but didn't specifically address his June 11 arrest by a police officer conducting a surveillance in the men's room of the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, according to one senator in attendance who requested anonymity to speak about the internal dynamics of the lunch. Craig also did not apologize to his colleagues, the senator said.

Both before and after the GOP lunch, Craig briefly engaged reporters and left the circumstances of his political future as confusing as ever. The Post's Elizabeth Williamson was part of a pack of reporters who caught this exchange with the senator after he left the luncheon:

Q: Are you definitely leaving on Sept. 30 or are you considering staying longer than that?
A: "We're working that out now."
Q: So it's an open question then?
A: "No. I said I intend to by the 30th, that's what we're working on now."

Craig has said he intends to resign at the end of the month unless he can clear up the guilty plea, which he contends he made in a misguided effort to keep the arrest out of the public limelight. At the time of the arrest, a home-state newspaper was pursuing allegations that he had secretly engaged in homosexual activity for years -- something the senator has adamantly denied. It remains unclear whether Craig will remain in the Senate if a Hennepin County District Court judge decides to overturn his guilty plea after a preliminary hearing next week. If the guilty plea is thrown out, then Craig most likely would face a criminal trial later this year on the the original charges from the restroom bust.

This was the third time in as many months that the closed-door weekly Republican luncheon in the ornate Mansfield Room has been transformed into something resembling a witness stand. First came Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), who confronted his colleagues a week after publicly admitting his "sin" with the DC Madam. Then came Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who briefly defended his honor in late July after the FBI raided his Alaska home as part of its expanding corruption probe into Frontier State politics.

Craig was seated today at a table for about 90 minutes with Stevens, Orrin Hatch (Utah), Pat Roberts (Kansas), Jim Inhofe (Okla.), Bob Corker (Tenn.) and Wayne Allard (Colo.), according to one luncheon attendee.

After being pressured by his very own GOP leadership to step down, Craig's return today clearly brought some anxious moments. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), the presidential candidate who was one of the first to call for Craig's resignation, rebuffed questions about whether he thought it was appropriate for Craig to return.

One senator who attended the luncheon said that everyone in the room was "totally silent, no one said anything." Finally, a handful of senators quietly gave "polite applause" to end the awkward silence.

But Hatch emerged as a defender of Craig, noting that just this morning he read the legal brief filed by Craig's lawyers arguing that the guilty plea should be overturned.

"If you read that, I don't think there's any underlying crime," Hatch, the former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, told reporters. (Craig's team contends that even if true, his actions - tapping his feet, bumping one foot into the foot of the officer, swiping his hand under the restroom stall - were not crimes. The police say that those are well known signals for solicitation of gay sex in men's restrooms.)

Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) said afterward that he greeted Craig in no particular fashion. "I shook his hand and said hello to him," Alexander said.

Finally, shortly after the final roll was called at 2:30 p.m. today, Craig cast his third vote of the day - each one with his fellow Republicans. His final vote sided with GOP leaders opposing a bill that would have given the District of Columbia a voting member of the House of Representatives, along with an extra member added to Utah.

The outcast senator chatted up various senators, before pulling Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) aside for a long chat. What about? Feinstein said later that Craig wanted an update on their "ag jobs" amendment, which was supported by the farm industry during the now-stalled immigration debate. "So I was giving him a sort of back-grounder," Feinstein said.

He gave her no indication if he intended to be in the Senate long enough to get the legislation signed into law.

-- Paul Kane and Mary Ann Akers

By Paul Kane  |  September 18, 2007; 6:00 PM ET
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Even if he gets the plea overturned, it ignores the fact that this happened and he had hoped it would never come up. He didn't tell his fellow Senators and he didn't tell the people of Idaho about this arrest and admission of guilt. Why should he remain, even if he eventually gets off on a technicality?

Posted by: Micah | September 18, 2007 6:15 PM | Report abuse

This whole story is so surreal. Its as if Sen. Craig is driven by some sad desperation to act as if he isn't mortally wounded. "a mere flesh wound..."

I agree with Micah that this is no longer about what happened in the restroom.

I do wonder, though, how things would have played out had he fought this from the very start. I also wonder how he might have acted differently towards the charges had he not been aware of journalists already looking into his sexual orientation.

Posted by: Patrick Huss | September 18, 2007 8:10 PM | Report abuse

this is a sick man. I don't care if he's gay or not, he's mentally deranged.

For a 62 year old man with a wife and children, who are not his, to seek sex in a public bathroom is disgusting and sickening.

He spent 8 minutes in the bathroom peering into another man's stall, then touched him with his feet.

He claims he was picking up toilet paper off of the floor. A) there was nothing on the floor, and B) he didn't actually use the toilet or need to flush.

Get the F out of here you sicko pervert

Posted by: pv | September 18, 2007 8:19 PM | Report abuse

As he entered the luncheon did all of his Republican friends give him room because of his "wide stance"?

Posted by: reporter1 | September 18, 2007 11:26 PM | Report abuse

"Oh, and Senator, one more thing." Exactly when did a game of footsie in an airport become a crime? If Larry Craig had engaged in exactly the same behavior with a pretty lady in the lounge instead a handsome man in the rest room, and the pretty lady had led him on as much the handsome man did, he might have had some explaining to do for his wife, but no one would suggest a law had been violated. Senator Craig may be sexually conflicted, but if what he did was criminal, then we are all in trouble.

Posted by: Larryman | September 19, 2007 4:24 AM | Report abuse

And the real question is not the Wide Stance Defense that might have taken place in the lunch room, but rather the dynamic in the men's room after the lunch.

Posted by: Larryman | September 19, 2007 4:54 AM | Report abuse

It seems that what many press reports, Larryman and the ACLU all seem to be ignoring is that Craig was peeping through the stall door at another person for quite some time, before he entered the adjoining stall and began engaging in the 'protected speech' of toe-tapping and divider-gripping.

If I'm in the airport loo, don't I have a reasonable expectation of privacy while I'm behind that door?

Larryman, if Sen Craig had been peeping on a lady in a bathroom stall, would you be so quickly rising to his defense? I suspect not.

My guess is that Sen Craig, if he gets the guilty plea retracted, will find himself facing charges of invasion of privacy, or whatever they charge the peeping toms with, in addition to those to which he's already pled guilty.

Posted by: bsimon | September 19, 2007 10:22 AM | Report abuse

Senator Craig's behavior, both the tawdry affair in the Minneapolis Men's Bathroom, in which he CLEARLY solicited sex from an undercover police officer in the adjoining stall (aren't Republican's BIG on the whole Law and Order thing? Is Sen. Craig really suggesting that an officer of the Law, in a locality where he has no political pull, would actually fabricate such a lewd series of behaviors from a man that he did not know from Adam?)
What makes Craig's behavior, and solicitation for sex from another man so despicable, is his past history of being quite homophobic in his public utterances, according to numerous accounts, some from Gay oriented sources, others from numerous Newspapers, including, apparently, at least one in his Homestate of Idaho. When he thought that a "quickie" of another type than the original one he was seeking, as in a guilty plea to a reduced charge of "disorderly conduct", in the hope that by doing so it would make reporting of his actions in the Men's Room magically disappear (a sign of a truly conflicted conscience/thought process), and it failed to produce the desired results, he did the only thing conceivably left to him - and with the urging of his Republican colleagues in the Senate - announced his intention to resign at the end of the month. But now, hoping for more magic, this time courtesy of our Legal System (calling it a Justice System, when it is so verifiably discriminatory against the poor, largely comprised of minorities, is a misnomer), he wants the court to erase, or forget, the fact that he pleaded guilty to these generously reduced charges, so that he could just get the H*** out of Dodge, or Minnesota, in this particular case. I just hope that he has been using condoms when he has been exploring his sexual identity, which ever sex he may be engaging with at the time. Perhaps he has heard of something called AIDS....which, is not a virus that gives "prefential infection" to ANY population, as such Family Values "Men of God" such as Jerry Falwell, and Pat Robertson so vigorously proclaimed, (I, like Ryan White, am a Hemophiliac, so I am somewhat familiar with the disease, in addition to working for about seven years in the field with ALL types of people stricken by this virus that does NOT discriminate according to sexual orientation, but DOES discriminate against Ignorant or Confused individuals who exhibit the "it won't happen to me " mentality when engaging in sex)in Airport bathrooms, or Union Station (was that in the Men's Room, too?), or maybe just across the River, in Rosslynn, VA, at the site of the famous Iwo Jima Statue/Memorial, another famous Gay "pick-up" spot for those who can't afford to be seen in the Gay establishments around Dupont Circle, due to the fact that they are publicly Gay bashers. As Sen. Joseph McCarthy was asked, "At long last, have you no shame, sir?". For once, do the right thing. Stick to your resignation announcement, and let us get back to the important issues favoring our bitterly divided Country....

Mike Gaver
Reston, VA

Posted by: Mike Gaver | September 20, 2007 7:38 AM | Report abuse

He's a standup now.

Posted by: Philip V. Riggio | September 21, 2007 3:16 PM | Report abuse

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