Top 50 Stories: 2007 - Larry Craig restroom arrest

An officer's allegation of a sexual advance helped end a 28-year congressional career

dpopkey@idahostatesman.comJune 27, 2014 

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Sen. Larry Craig stood to break the Idaho record for longevity in Congress had he been re-elected in 2008.

But in August 2007, news broke that he pleaded guilty to misdemeanor disorderly conduct after undercover Sgt. Dave Karsnia accused Craig of soliciting sex by tapping his feet and nudging Karsnia's shoe in a men's room stall at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

Craig was arrested at the airport on June 11, 2007, as he changed planes on the way back to Washington. Hoping to keep the arrest quiet, he entered a guilty plea Aug. 8, with a postal money order to pay his fine. He said he told no one - not his wife, Suzanne, not any attorney.

But the news leaked and Roll Call published a story on Aug. 27. The Statesman published a story from its own five-month investigation the same day. The next day, Craig held a Boise news conference with his wife, telling a live cable news audience: "I am not gay. I never have been gay."

Craig, who consistently voted against gay rights, quit as Senate co-chair of Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. Fellow Republicans - led by Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, of Kentucky - pressed him to resign or face public hearings.

On Sept. 1, Craig appeared to relent, telling a second nationally televised news conference that his continued service "would be an unwanted and unfair distraction of my job and for my Senate colleagues."

He said he was confident that Gov. Butch Otter would appoint a capable successor to "take my place at William E. Borah's desk" - the lawmaker who served a record 33 years.

In a last-minute alteration of his prepared remarks, Craig added the phrase "it is my intent" to resign Sept. 30. President George W. Bush phoned Craig afterward, saying the senator had made a difficult but correct decision. But Craig soon shocked Idaho by reversing himself and saying he would complete the final 15 months of his term.

Craig later fought to withdraw his guilty plea, only to lose in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

The Statesman published subsequent stories, including accounts of four named men who said that they'd had sex with Craig or that he made a sexual advance or paid them unusual attention. A fifth man, who declined to have his name published, said Craig solicited him for sex in a restroom at the Denver airport.

In a rare public letter in February 2008, a unanimous Senate Ethics Committee admonished Craig for "improper conduct."

Craig attempted to "evade legal consequences" by trying to keep the arrest secret and seeking to withdraw his plea only after it became public, the bipartisan committee said. The committee also said Craig broke a Senate rule by failing to seek permission before spending more than $200,000 in leftover campaign money on lawyers.

In a case still pending in federal court, the Federal Election Commission wants Craig to repay $216,000 to his campaign fund and $140,000 in fines. Craig opposes the sanctions, saying he acted in good faith and can't afford to repay the money.

Craig completed his term in January 2009. He has since worked as a lobbyist for the timber and energy industries. Craig lives in Eagle and was elected as a delegate to the recent Idaho GOP convention.

In 2008, the Statesman's coverage of Craig was one of three finalists for the Pulitzer Prize in breaking news, the only such honor for an Idaho newspaper. The Washington Post won the prize for its coverage of the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech.

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