Larry Craig

Staff: Craig likely to resign

The likelihood that U.S. Sen. Larry Craig would resign at month's end grew Thursday as the prospect of a timely legal defense dimmed, and no new supporters emerged.

Craig expects to step down Sept. 30 after all, spokesman Dan Whiting said.

"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 on 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 hopes to withdraw his guilty plea to disorderly conduct, a charge that stems from his June 11 arrest 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.

But Craig's hopes of resolving the ethics complaint by his self-imposed Sept. 30 deadline dimmed Wednesday when the Ethics Committee said it would pursue the case until Craig quits. And so far, his lawyers haven't filed anything in Minnesota courts to withdraw his plea.

Craig told his staff he wouldn't run for re-election next year even before news of the arrest and guilty plea broke last week, Whiting said.

Now his colleagues in Idaho and Washington are planning for a future without him, said U.S. Sen. Mike Crapo, Idaho's junior senator.

Both Crapo and the man who will appoint Craig's replacement, Gov. Butch Otter, said they're operating under the assumption that Craig will leave. But Crapo said Thursday in an interview with the Idaho Statesman that he "stands beside" his Republican colleague and supports whatever decision Craig makes — even if that means giving Craig more time to sort things out in court.

"I'm working very closely with Larry, and Larry's staff is working very closely with mine, to make sure that the legislative work, the representation here on projects for Idaho, and all of the other initiatives and activities in the various committees in the Senate continue," Crapo said. "We're not missing a beat in terms of the representation of Idaho here in the Senate or in the House."

Part of Craig's power came from his membership on subcommittees of the Senate Appropriations Committee. 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 spending 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.

Crapo dispelled rumors that there had been horse-trading in the Senate for him to swap his seat on the Finance Committee for one on Appropriations.

For one, Crapo said, he doesn't have the seniority in the Senate to land a position on Appropriations.

He said he's better positioned to help Idaho on the Finance Committee, which writes tax legislation and bills concerning Medicare, Social Security and other entitlement programs. "Being on Finance is, in my opinion, a better position to be in," he said.

Crapo said he played a small role as an intermediary between Senate GOP leaders and Craig by carrying out Minority Leader Mitch McConnell's request last week to explain to Craig the political realities facing Craig in Washington.

Craig announced his retirement in a speech Saturday morning.

Crapo said he was surprised when Craig reversed course Tuesday and said he would try to clear his name before he resigned.

Crapo said he thought Saturday's announcement was Craig's final word.

Erika Bolstad: (202) 383-6104