WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Larry Craig's high-profile interview with NBC won't air until Tuesday night, but the Idaho Republican's efforts to use the prime-time exposure to clear his name and restore his credibility are already off to an uncertain start.
One of Craig's most steadfast supporters, Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo, suggested it might be best for Idaho if his Republican colleague were to have a lower profile.
In excerpts of the interview released Monday, Craig told Matt Lauer that his GOP colleagues have been guilty of "gladiator politics." And Craig lashed out at presidential candidate Mitt Romney, who dropped him as one of his top campaign volunteers within hours of learning of Craig's arrest during a sex sting in the men's room of the Minneapolis airport.
Craig told Lauer that he was "very proud of my association with Mitt Romney" and that he was stunned by how the former Massachusetts governor treated him after his hard work on the campaign.
"And he not only threw me under his campaign bus, he backed up and ran over me again," Craig said.
A Romney campaign spokeswoman said Monday that his opinion hasn't changed since the news first broke that Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct. The campaign wouldn't comment directly on what Craig said in the interview.
"Gov. Romney simply believes that a public office is a public trust," said Sarah Pompei, a spokeswoman for the former Massachusetts governor. "He believes when a public official enters a guilty plea, they have broken that public trust and should step aside for the sake of their constituents."
Crapo stopped short of criticizing Craig for agreeing to the interview, saying only that the decision was "a call for Larry to make." But the state's junior Republican senator is eager to move beyond the scandal.
"My first reaction is that Idaho could do without the increased intensity of the spotlight that these interviews will bring to the state," Crapo said, after reading snippets of the interview. "I think it's time for us to move forward."
Last week, Crapo endorsed Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who announced he would seek Craig's seat in 2008. Crapo's rare pre-primary endorsement and the backing of state GOP Chairman Kirk Sullivan served as a signal that the state's Republican establishment was wholeheartedly behind Risch — and intent on keeping a Republican in the seat.
"I'm hopeful that we can begin looking forward," Crapo said.
Craig's public-relations campaign moves his effort to clear his name into two courts — the court of public opinion, and the Minnesota Court of Appeals.
Craig filed notice Monday with the appeals court that he intends to appeal a lower court's decision to uphold his guilty plea to disorderly conduct. On Oct. 4, a Minnesota judge turned down Craig's effort to withdraw his Aug. 1 guilty plea. Throughout the NBC interview, Craig maintained his innocence and said he was a victim of profiling when an undercover police officer said Craig tried to solicit sex from him in the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport men's room.
The interview also features Craig's wife, Suzanne. The two were interviewed in the Craig home in Eagle on Sunday.
U.S. Sen. John Ensign, chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee and one of the loudest voices calling for Craig to step down, had no comment Monday on the interview. A spokesman for Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he wasn't sure if the Senate minority leader had seen excerpts of the interview yet.
Craig reconfirmed he will not resign before his term ends in January 2009. Craig told Lauer resigning is "the easy way out. You've talked about my history and my record. You know I'm a fighter…I don't just walk away from a fight. This is the toughest fight of my political life."
Erika Bolstad: (202) 383-6104