Larry Craig

Craig reacted to arrest by trying to keep it a secret, but reporter got anonymous tip

WASHINGTON — U.S. Sen. Larry Craig carried the lonely burden of his arrest and guilty plea privately, without telling his staff or consulting a lawyer — or ever showing up in court.

As Craig apologized Tuesday afternoon for "the cloud placed over Idaho," he also acknowledged that he had told no one about his June 11 arrest, when an undercover police officer said Craig made sexual advances toward him in a men's room at the Minneapolis airport.

But 11 days later, on June 22, Craig revisited the Minneapolis airport to complain about how he'd been treated by police and ask for someone with whom his lawyer could speak, according to police records.

In his news conference Tuesday, Craig said he "overreacted and made a poor decision," even as he insisted that he is not gay and blamed his misstep on the stress of an Idaho Statesman investigation into his sexual orientation.

"I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in hopes of making it go away," he said at a news conference in Boise. "I did not seek any counsel either from an attorney, staff, friends or family. That was a mistake, and I deeply regret it. Furthermore, I should not have kept this arrest to myself, and I should have told my family and friends about it."

Until the news of his arrest came out Monday in a Washington, D.C., political newspaper, Craig told no one, not even Senate leaders.

Court and arrest records released Tuesday show that Craig negotiated his plea over the telephone, then signed and returned it to the courts in the mail, much like a traffic ticket.

In his plea, signed and dated Aug. 1, but not recorded until Aug. 8, Craig agreed that by handling the matter through the mail, he was giving up a trial and his right to be present at the time of sentencing.

Judge Gary Larson, who handled Craig's case in Hennepin County, would not comment on the senator's plea. A spokesman for the judge told McClatchy Newspapers that since Craig remains on probation, Larson considers the case open and doesn't consider it ethical to discuss what happened until the case is fully resolved.

Craig's encounter with airport police began at noon June 11, when an undercover police officer entered an airport bathroom to investigate complaints of lewd conduct.

Police reports detail a humiliating ordeal for a man used to the trappings of the U.S. Senate. He was photographed, fingerprinted and questioned by police after he tapped his right foot under the door of the bathroom stall, a signal "often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct," according to the criminal complaint against Craig.

The airport restroom was so well known it was featured on an adult Web site that offers information about where men can link up for romantic encounters in both public and private locations.

After his arrest, Craig revisited the Minneapolis airport June 22 to complain about how he had been treated by police. His spokesman said he was on his way to Idaho from Washington, D.C., a trip he takes through the Minneapolis airport most Fridays when Congress is in session.

He stopped at the police operations center and told the officer on duty, Adam Snedker, that it had been more than a week since his arrest and that no one had contacted him. According to the police, the senator told the officer that "he was involved in an incident where he was ‘drug down to this office' where he was handcuffed, fingerprinted and interviewed."

He wanted information about whom to contact so his lawyer could speak with someone, according to the report.

The on-duty officer patched him through to the arresting officer, Sgt. Dave Karsnia, who told Craig the name and phone number of the prosecutor assigned to the case.

"It should be noted that contrary to what Craig stated to Officer Snedker, I did not handcuff Craig on the date of the offense, even though he was under arrest," Karsnia wrote in his report.

Snedker wrote in his report that "even though I did the best to answer his questions," Craig "appeared agitated and demeaning."

The arrest stayed a secret for 2› months. The arrest was for a minor misdemeanor of an out-of-state senator with a less-than-famous name. Roll Call, a Washington newspaper, broke the story Monday after spending a week pursuing an anonymous tip, finding it difficult to unearth the records from the airport bureaucracy, said John McArdle, the reporter who wrote the story.

In the original arrest report, Karsnia said Craig offered him a business card showing that he was a U.S. senator, and said, "What do you think about that?" Yet the probable-cause complaint offered to the court makes no mention of Craig being an elected official.

Jim Hammerand in Minneapolis contributed to this report. Erika Bolstad: (202) 383-6104.