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
September 18, 2007; 6:00 PM ET
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