Sen. Larry Craig: 'I am not gay'
Boise, Idaho — (AP) Under fire from leaders of his own party, Idaho Sen. Larry Craig on Tuesday said the only thing he had done wrong was to plead guilty after a complaint of lewd conduct in a men's room. He declared, "I am not gay. I never have been gay."
"I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport," he said at a news conference with his wife, Suzanne, at his side.
Craig's defiant news conference came as Senate Republican leaders in Washington called for an ethics committee review into his involvement in a police sting operation this summer in the airport men's room.
"In the meantime, the leadership is examining other aspects of the case to see if additional action is required," Sen. Mitch McConnell and other top GOP lawmakers said in a written statement.
Earlier, the private group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics filed a complaint with the ethics committee seeking an investigation into whether Craig violated Senate rules by engaging in disorderly conduct.
Craig entered his plea several weeks after an undercover police officer in the Minneapolis arrested him and issued a complaint that said the three-term senator had engaged in actions "often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct."
The airport incident occurred June 11. Craig signed his plea papers on Aug. 1, and word of the events surfaced Monday. The senator issued a statement Monday night that said, "In hindsight, I should have pled not guilty."
He repeated that assertion at the Idaho news conference. "In June, I overreacted and made a poor decision," he said. "I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in hopes of making it go away."
Craig was at times defiant, at others apologetic.
"Please let me apologize to my family, friends and staff and fellow Idahoans for the cloud placed over Idaho," he said. "I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport. I did nothing wrong, and I regret the decision to plead guilty and the sadness that decision has brought on my wife, on my family, friends, staff and fellow Idahoans."
The conservative three-term senator, who has represented Idaho in Congress for more than a quarter-century, is up for re-election next year. He said he would announce next month whether he would run again.
Craig, who has voted against gay marriage, finds his political future in doubt in the wake of the charges, which have drawn national attention.
Craig, 62, has faced rumors about his sexuality since the 1980s, but allegations that he had engaged in gay sex have never been substantiated. Craig has denied the assertions, which he calls ridiculous.
The scandal had already taken a political toll. On Monday, Craig resigned from a prominent role with Republican Mitt Romney's presidential campaign. He had been one of Romney's top Senate supporters, serving as a liaison for the campaign since February.
Asked about Craig, Romney said, "He's disappointed the American people."
"Yeah, I think it reminds us of Mark Foley and Bill Clinton. I think it reminds us of the fact that people who are elected to public office continue to disappoint, and they somehow think that if they vote the right way on issues of significance or they can speak a good game, that we'll just forgive and forget," Romney said on CNBC's "Kudlow & Company."
Foley is a former Republican lawmaker who resigned nearly a year ago after being confronted with the computer messages he sent to male teenage pages who had worked on Capitol Hill. Clinton is the former president accused in congressional impeachment proceedings of lying about an affair with a White House intern.
According to a Hennepin County, Minn., court docket, Craig pleaded guilty to a disorderly conduct charge on Aug. 8, with the court dismissing a charge of gross misdemeanor interference to privacy.
The court docket said Craig paid $575 in fines and fees and was put on unsupervised probation for a year. A sentence of 10 days in the county workhouse was stayed.
According to the prosecutor's complaint, obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press, airport police Sgt. Dave Karsnia, who was investigating allegations of sexual conduct in airport restrooms, went into a stall shortly after noon on June 11 and closed the door.
Minutes later, the officer saw Craig gazing into his stall through the crack between the stall door and the frame.
After a man in the adjacent stall left, Craig entered it and put his roller bag against the front of the stall door, "which Sgt. Karsnia's experience has indicated is used to attempt to conceal sexual conduct by blocking the view from the front of the stall," said the complaint, which was dated June 25.
The complaint said Craig then tapped his right foot several times and moved it closer to Karsnia's stall and then moved it to where it touched Karsnia's foot. Karsnia recognized that "as a signal often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct," the complaint said.
Craig then passed his left hand under the stall divider into Karsnia's stall with his palms up and guided it along the divider toward the front of the stall three times, the complaint said.
The officer then showed his police identification under the divider and pointed toward the exit "at which time the defendant exclaimed `No!"' the complaint said.
The Aug. 8 police report says that Craig had handed the arresting officer a business card that identified him as a member of the Senate.
"What do you think about that?" Craig is alleged to have said, according to the report.
Craig joins other GOP senators facing ethical and legal troubles.
Sen. Ted Stevens, R-Alaska, is under scrutiny for his relationship with a contractor who helped oversee a renovation project that more than doubled the size of the senator's home.
Sen. David Vitter, R-La., acknowledged that his phone number appeared in records of a Washington-area business that prosecutors have said was a front for prostitution.
Craig, a rancher and a member of the National Rifle Association, lives in Eagle, Idaho, near the capital of Boise. He was a member of the House for 10 years before winning election to the Senate in 1990. He was re-elected in 1996 and 2002.
Last fall, Craig called allegations from a gay-rights activist that he's had homosexual relationships "completely ridiculous."