Larry Craig

Craig hired lawyer months before his arrest

WASHINGTON — Four months before his arrest in a men's room sex sting, Sen. Larry Craig hired a criminal lawyer for advice on whether he could sue the Idaho Statesman over its investigation into longstanding rumors that he engaged in gay sex, a spokesman said Wednesday.

But Craig didn't tell the lawyer — Washington, D.C. criminal attorney Billy Martin — when he was arrested June 11, nor of his decision to plead guilty in August to a charge of disorderly conduct, spokesman Dan Whiting told the Associated Press.

"He never talked to counsel. He never talked to staff. He never talked to his wife. He didn't talk to anyone," Whiting said."I absolutely guarantee it. I would bet my life on it."

Craig hired Martin and public relations consultant Judy Smith in February for advice on how to handle the paper's inquiry — not for advice in his criminal case, Whiting told the Spokesman-Review in Spokane.

Craig's most recent campaign finance report shows that Craig paid $37,350 to Martin's firm July 9, a month after his arrest in the men's room of the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport. The high-profile attorney has been representing Craig in his efforts to withdraw his guilty plea to disorderly conduct.

The payment was first reported Wednesday by the Spokesman-Review.

The report does not indicate whether Craig consulted Martin when he was arrested or before he mailed in his guilty plea for disorderly conduct. From the day that news broke Aug. 27 of his arrest, Craig has maintained that he told no one of his legal troubles.

In an interview with the Statesman on May 14, Craig was asked why he hadn't sued blogger Mike Rogers, who first reported in October 2006 that he'd spoken with men who said they had sex with Craig. Craig seemed to say he consulted his long-time staffer, Brooke Roberts, a lawyer. Roberts flew from Washington, D.C., to Eagle to accompany Craig at the interview. Craig's wife, Suzanne, was also at the interview.

But Craig also suggested he may have spoken with another lawyer about suing the Statesman and reporter Dan Popkey.

"I did consult with an attorney," Craig told Popkey. "Brooke Roberts in another life was a trial attorney. How in the hell does a public official sue? They don't. How do I sue you? I was told by an attorney if I were nonpolitical I could get a restraining order against you for what you've done. But I can't. I'm a public person."

Craig said he'd learned he had to endure the Statesman's reporting on allegations he'd had sex with men. He told Popkey, "You've done more in your due diligence to spread a false rumor than anybody I have ever known — because of your phone calling, even to people who had never heard the rumor. So, do I put up with it? I have to. It's where I live, it's what I do. Do I like it? Hell no, I don't like it. But that's the way it is, OK?"

On June 7, Roberts wrote to Statesman publisher Mi-Ai Parrish and asked that the newspaper "refrain from publishing any article stemming from Dan Popkey's investigation into Senator Craig's personal life or his interview of Senator and Suzanne Craig on May 14, 2007. We also request that Mr. Popkey be required to stop any further activities in this matter, and that the Statesman and Mr. Popkey individually submit letters of apology to the Senator and to his wife Suzanne."

Four days later, Craig was arrested in the Minneapolis airport.

The Statesman had made no decision on the Craig story before the June 7 letter, as the paper pursued more information. But the paper and Popkey did not write letters of apology or agree not to write an article about Craig. After news of Craig's guilty plea was broken by another newspaper on Aug. 27, the Statesman published a 3,800-word story by Popkey on Aug. 28.

"We've been aware of Sen. Craig's beliefs regarding the coverage," Parrish said Wednesday. "We have pursued this story in a professional manner. We acted appropriately and published when we felt it was appropriate to publish."

Erika Bolstad: 202-383-6104. Statesman columnist Dan Popkey contributed to this report.