Larry Craig

Craig interview: Senator says he made 'a very big mistake'

NBC reporter Matt Lauer, center, speaks with Larry Craig and Suzanne Craig during an interview during the weekend that will be broadcast Tuesday.
NBC reporter Matt Lauer, center, speaks with Larry Craig and Suzanne Craig during an interview during the weekend that will be broadcast Tuesday.

WASHINGTON -- In the first major interview with U.S Sen. Larry Craig since his arrest in a sex sting in the Minneapolis airport, the Idaho Republican tells NBC’s Matt Lauer that he “made a big mistake” when he chose not to consult a lawyer or tell his family that he had pleaded guilty to the crime.

When she learned of the news, it was “like the floor was falling out from under me,” Craig’s wife, Suzanne, told Lauer in the interview, which was conducted in the Craig home in Eagle over the weekend.

The hour-long interview is set to air Tuesday night on NBC’s “Matt Lauer Reports,” which provided excerpts to the Idaho Statesman.

Craig also was interviewed by NBC affiliate KTVB, which is set to interview a separate interview before Lauer’s.

Suzanne Craig tells Lauer in the interview that when her husband told her that the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call was going to write about his arrest, the news felt “almost like I was going down a drain for a few moments.”

Craig told Lauer his decision not to tell anyone was a “tough call,” and ultimately, the wrong one: “I was very, very embarrassed about it,” Craig said in the NBC interview. “I wrestled with it. I didn’t want to embarrass my wife, my kids, Idaho and my friends. And I wrestled with it a long while. I sought no counsel. I made a very big mistake. I should have told my wife. I should have told my kids. And most importantly, I should have told counsel.”

Craig tried in September to withdraw his guilty plea, but his efforts failed.

On Oct. 4, a Minnesota judge turned down Craig’s effort to withdraw his Aug. 1 guilty plea, saying that the Idaho Republican’s claim that he didn’t know what he was doing when he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct was “illogical.”

Craig said Sunday he would appeal a judge’s refusal to let him withdraw the plea. Throughout the NBC interview with Lauer, 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.

Craig also has harsh words for the treatment from his Senate GOP colleagues -- what he refers to as “gladiator politics.”

Craig has the harshest words for presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who had tapped Craig as his congressional fundraising co-chairman.

Romney condemned Craig’s behavior and dropped him from the presidential campaign within hours of Roll Call’s scoop about Craig’s arrest. Craig told Lauer that he was “very proud of my association with Mitt Romney.”

“I'd worked hard for him here in the state.” Craig said. “I was a co-chair of his campaign on Capitol Hill. And he not only threw me under his campaign bus, he backed up and ran over me again.”

In the interview, Craig also discusses his decision to stay in the Senate -- one that peeved many of his colleagues, who have said they think he broke his word. Craig initially said Sept. 1 that it was his “intent” to resign, a public announcement that most colleagues -- including fellow Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo -- interpreted that as a resignation, given that Craig also said Idaho needed a senator who could devote full time to legislative work.

In the interview, Craig reconfirmed he will not resign before the end of his term at the beginning of 2009.

Craig told Lauer that 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.”