WASHINGTON -- The likelihood that U.S. Sen. Larry Craig would resign at month’s end after all grew today as the prospect of a timely legal defense dimmed.
Right now, it looks as though he will step down Sept. 30, Craig’s spokesman Dan Whiting said today.
“Larry Craig expects to resign. That’s the most likely scenario,” Whiting said. “But he’s definitely leaving a door open. It’s a very, very small door, very slightly ajar.”
Craig announced Saturday that he would resign from the U.S. Senate Sept. 30, but backed away from that announcement this week by saying he would resign only if he wasn’t able to clear his name first.
The three-term Idaho Republican is trying to withdraw his guilty plea to disorderly conduct, a charge that stems from his June 11 arrest for lewd conduct in the men’s room of the Minneapolis airport. Craig hopes to undo that charge as well as stop an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee.
So far, Craig’s lawyers haven’t filed anything in Minnesota courts to withdraw his plea.
Craig has hired some of the most expensive lawyers and communication experts in Washington, and Whiting said the senator is looking into establishing some sort of a legal defense fund. He has not yet done that, Whiting said.
However, Federal Elections Commission rules for using campaign contributions to pay legal bills are fairly broad. The only requirement is that the spending be related to legal bills connected to their role as an elected official, and FEC official said.
And it’s very common for lawmakers who are in legal hot water to use their campaign accounts to pay for attorneys, said Stan Brand, the lawyer advising Craig on the ethics complaint against him. Many of his past clients have done so.
“It arises from him being a candidate and from his being an officeholder,” Brand said. “I’ve represented scores of elected officials. Many have been career public servants, and the only means they have to defend themselves is campaign funds.”
Craig has a sizeble campaign account. As of June 30, he had about $549,125 in the account, plus $29,907 in the separate account of his political action committee, Alliance for the West. He uses the PAC to help other candidates.
Craig and Gov. Butch Otter met face to face at 10:45 a.m. Wednesday. Afterward, Otter's press secretary, Jon Hanian, and Whiting said staffs of both offices would proceed on the assumption that Craig would resign at the end of the month.
Otter had just told reporters he hoped to appoint Craig's successor a couple of weeks before Craig's Sept. 30 resignation so the successor could "hit the ground running." He said the appointment's timing was critical so Idaho could retain as much of its clout as possible.
"We are working with the Senate staff to ensure the transition is made in an orderly fashion," Hanian said.
The 30 days Craig gave for the transition makes a seamless change possible, Whiting said. Policy staffers are preparing briefings for Craig's successor. Craig's constituent services staff is continuing to resolve disputes Idahoans have with federal agencies, he said. The staff also is organizing so the casework can be transferred to the next senator's staff.
Part of Craig's power came from his membership on subcommittees of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Idaho's other senator, Mike Crapo, is not on that committee. In the House, Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, is a member of two appropriations subcommittees, and freshman Rep. Bill Sali, R-Idaho, is not on the committee. That means only Simpson is left to defend appropriations Craig earmarked for Idaho in Senate appropriations bills that eventually will be sent to conference committees for reconciliation.
"He will defend them as his own," said Simpson's press secretary, Nikki Watts. But Simpson he will need Crapo's and Sali's help, she said.