Police tape reveals officer thought Craig was lying, but senator's answers remain consistent

ghahn@idahostatesman.comAugust 31, 2007 

The undercover officer who arrested Sen. Larry Craig in an airport men's room never accepted Craig's claim of innocence in an interrogation immediately after the arrest.

But at least one expert in these matters said Craig's answers were detailed and consistent — two indicators that they could be true.

In a taped interview lasting less than 10 minutes, Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport Police Sgt. Dave Karsnia repeatedly accused Craig of lying about what he did and intended to do in that men's room June 11.

"I guess I'm gonna say I'm just disappointed in you, sir. I just really am. I expect this from the guy that we get out of the hood. I mean, people vote for you," Karsnia said in the tape and transcript of the interview, released Thursday by the police.

"I don't disrespect you, but I'm disrespected right now, and I'm not trying to act like I have all kinds of power or anything, but you're sitting here lying to a police officer," he said.

Early in the interview, Karsnia offered Craig a choice: Plead guilty to a charge where "you won't have to explain anything," or go to court. Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct — without consulting a lawyer, he said — and a charge of "interfering with privacy" was dropped.

The interrogation was at times combative. Karsnia called Craig "sir" or "senator" but raised his voice at times. Craig did not but said the police "shouldn't be out to entrap people."

"You solicited me," Craig said.

The audiotape captivated television and radio news Thursday afternoon, and most stations discussed it with analysts.

CNN's legal specialist said he wasn't sure what difference the tape would make to Craig's legal or political state, since Craig already has pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.

"The good news for Larry Craig is, I don't think there's anything in this tape that makes the situation worse," Jeffrey Toobin said. "The bad news is, his situation is terminal anyway. So, this really just doesn't make any difference."

The interview heats up

One major dispute was whether Craig reached into Karsnia's stall with his left hand — with gold wedding band — or his right hand, which would have been closer. The police report said hand motions are part of the signals men send to each other if they want to have a sexual encounter.

"OK. Then it was your left hand," Karsnia said. "I saw it with my own eyes."

"All right," Craig responded, "you saw something that didn't happen."

"Embarrassing, embarrassing," Karsnia said. "No wonder we're going down the tubes."

Craig said their feet touched, but accidentally, and that he reached down to grab a piece of paper — not to send a signal that he wanted sex.

"So I go into the bathroom here as I normally do. I'm a commuter here, too," Craig said.

"Your foot came toward mine, mine came toward yours. Was that natural? I don't know," Craig said. "Did we bump? Yes. I think we did. You said so. I don't disagree with that."

Craig said he hesitated outside Karsnia's stall while he waited for another to open up. In the police report, the officer had written that Craig watched him through the crack for two minutes.

Signs of veracity

But Craig's details — that he spread his legs to keep his suit pants from sagging to the floor, for example — can be a sign of veracity, said Michael J. Perrotti, a Yorba Linda, Calif., psychologist who works as an expert witness.

If Craig was there to solicit anonymous sex, though, that's compulsive behavior, Perrotti said. That makes it harder to interpret Craig's comments in the interview.

Craig said he travels through the airport "almost weekly" and visits the bathroom often, but not for what the officer accused him of. That admission — that he frequents a bathroom apparently frequented by "cruisers" — is not something a guilty person would be expected to say, Perrotti said.

But Craig's persistent denials sound more defensive, he said.

"I don't, ah, I am not gay," Craig said. "I don't do these kinds of things."

"It doesn't matter," Karsnia said. "I don't care about sexual preference or anything like that. Here's your stuff back, sir. Um, I don't care about sexual preference."

Gregory Hahn: 377-6425. Staff writer Bill Roberts contributed to this report.

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