WASHINGTON — Sen. Larry Craig was a no-show today as Congress reconvened after a summer break that ended with the three-term Republican deciding to resign after the disclosure of his guilty plea in a restroom sex sting.
Craig, who has represented Idaho in Congress for 27 years, announced Saturday that he intends to resign from the Senate on Sept. 30.
His spokesman, Dan Whiting, said today that Craig was expected to spend the week in Idaho as the Senate votes on spending bills for veterans and other programs. Whiting did not rule out Craig returning to Washington before the end of the month.
Craig gave up his senior positions on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee and the Appropriations veterans subcommittee last week, at the request of Senate Republican leaders. The Senate began debating the veterans spending bill today.
Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter, senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Craig’s GOP colleagues who pressured him last week to resign should re-examine the facts surrounding his arrest June 11.
“The more people take a look at the situation, there may well be second thoughts,” Specter, a former prosecutor, said today. If Craig had not pleaded guilty in August to a reduced charge and instead demanded a trial, “I believe he would have been exonerated,” Specter said.
Another spokesman for Craig, Sidney Smith, said the senator has no plans to withdraw his resignation.
“I suppose there’s the remote chance but …the intent is to resign still, and ensure an orderly transition,” Smith said.
Republican Idaho Gov. Butch Otter has not named Craig’s successor and has not said when he will. Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, also a Republican, is considered the frontrunner for the job and would be expected to seek a full term of his own in 2008.
Billy Martin, one of Craig’s lawyers, said the senator’s arrest in an undercover police operation at a Minneapolis airport men’s room “raises very serious constitutional questions.”
Martin, who represents Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in his dogfighting case, said Craig “has the right to pursue any and all legal remedies available as he begins the process of trying to clear his good name.”
Craig contended throughout last week he had done nothing wrong and said his only mistake was pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge.
Craig has hired a high-powered crisis management team that includes Martin; communications adviser Judy Smith; Washington attorney Stan Brand, a former general counsel to the U.S. House, and Minneapolis attorney Tom Kelly.
Brand, who represented Major League Baseball in the congressional investigation into steroid use, will handle any Senate Ethics Committee investigation of Craig, while Kelly will assist the legal case in Minnesota.
Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell denied a double standard in how GOP leaders reacted to his case and the admission in July by Sen. David Vitter, R-La., that his phone number was among those called several years ago by an escort service that federal authorities say was a prostitution ring.
Some Democrats have accused GOP leaders of using a double standard in punishing Craig while remaining silent on Vitter.
In Vitter’s case, “there have been no charges made,” McConnell said, adding that the alleged wrongdoing occurred before Vitter was a senator.
Craig, by contrast, pleaded guilty to a crime, McConnell said. “The legal case was, in effect, over. At that point, the question was for the Republican leadership, what would be our reaction to it,” he said. Two of Craig’s three adopted children said in an interview this morning on ABC’s “Good Morning America” they believe their father’s assertions he is not gay and did nothing to warrant his arrest.
Michael Craig said his father was simply “a victim of circumstance” and “in the wrong place at the wrong time.” He said he and his sister, Shae Howell, asked their father “what exactly happened in that bathroom …, all the tough questions.”
Larry Craig adopted Michael and his two siblings after marrying their mother, the former Suzanne Scott, in 1983. Craig has worked in the Senate to promote adoption.
Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman in Washington and John Miller in Boise contributed to this story.