Sen. Craig asks to withdraw guilty pleaby Elizabeth Stawicki, Minnesota Public Radio,
Joshua Freed, Associated Press
The Idaho senator at the heart of a sex sting operation at the Minneapolis St. Paul airport says he struck a plea deal out of fear -- not guilt. Larry Craig asked a Hennepin County court Monday to throw out his guilty plea in connection with his airport arrest in June.
Minneapolis — Sen. Larry Craig says in court papers that he pleaded guilty to prevent the Idaho Statesman newspaper from printing "lies" about his sexuality. He contends the paper hounded him over an investigation into his private life.
The paper was investigating rumors that Craig routinely cruised restrooms for anonymous sex. Craig had run on a staunch conservative platform, particularly against gay rights.
Vicki Gowler, the Statesman's editor and vice president, says no one ever hounded or harassed Craig or the people in his inner circle. But, she adds, reporters did have to seek out the truth.
"Investigations that involve allegations such as these are sensitive. We took great care in how we brought up the topic and how we talked about it, but we did have to talk to people in order to do the investigation," says Gowler.
After several requests for information by the newspaper, Craig agreed to meet with one of the paper's reporters. He denied the rumors and that he was gay. From that meeting, the motion says, Craig felt the paper would hold off on a story unless it had proof.
Shortly after this meeting, an undercover police officer arrested him at the Minneapolis airport as part of a sex sting. The court motion says Craig feared the paper now had its proof.
The police officer arrested him for peeping into another stall and using hand and foot signals to solicit sex. The officer offered Craig a deal -- plead guilty to a lesser charge of disorderly conduct, and the officer wouldn't tell anyone about Craig's arrest.
In a "state of intense anxiety" following his arrest, Craig "felt compelled to grasp the lifeline offered to him by the police officer" and plead guilty to the disorderly conduct charge.
University of Minnesota law professor Steve Simon says Craig's argument is weak, since he was arrested in early June and sent his guilty plea by mail in early August.
"He had two months to contemplate this. He was 2,000 miles away from the prosecutor," says Simon. "His concern about he pleaded guilty because the Idaho Statesman was nipping at his heals makes no sense, because had he not pled guilty, they would have had less objective facts to proceed with the article."
Simon says Craig's motion to withdraw his guilty plea should have focused on a defect in the plea agreement he signed.
That plea petition has no reference to Craig waiving his right to an attorney, an important constitutional right. It's a reference that's common language in most plea agreements. But Craig's motion gives this only a fleeting reference.
A prosecutor who works with the Metropolitan Airports Commission will argue against Craig's withdrawal.
"We do feel we have a strong case, and he's already made his plea, and it's been accepted by the court," says MAC spokesman Patrick Hogan says. "From our standpoint, this is already a done deal. Mr. Craig was arrested and signed a guilty plea, and from our standpoint, this case is already over."
When his guilty plea became public, Craig came under intense pressure from Senate Republican leaders and other colleagues in Washington to resign. He first announced he would resign Sept. 30, then said he was reconsidering that decision.
A spokesman later said Craig had dropped virtually all notions of trying to finish his third term, unless a court moves quickly to overturn the conviction, unlikely before the end of the month.
Craig's three-page guilty plea includes acknowledgments that, "I understand that the court will not accept a plea of guilty from anyone who claims to be innocent," "I now make no claim that I am innocent...," and, "I did the following: Engaged in conduct which I knew or should have known tended to arouse alarm or resentment ... ." Craig signed the bottom of each page.
Craig was sentenced to pay $575 in fines and fees and was put on unsupervised probation for a year, with a stayed 10-day jail sentence.
To reverse his guilty plea Craig would have to convince a judge that there was a "manifest injustice" in case. Often that includes sentences that were harsher than the one anticipated in the plea bargain, but that didn't happen in Craig's case.
Legal experts have said such motions are rarely brought, and when they are they are rarely successful.
Motions to withdraw a guilty plea are usually heard by the same judge who heard the original case, usually at least two weeks after they're requested, court officials have said.
In exchange for Craig's plea, the prosecutor dropped a gross misdemeanor charge of interference to privacy.
If he is allowed to withdraw his guilty plea, the prosecutor would have the option to re-file the dropped gross misdemeanor interference with privacy charge, which stemmed from an allegation that Craig peered into the bathroom stall occupied by the undercover police officer.
A conviction on that gross misdemeanor charge could bring a jail sentence of up to a year, although it would be unusual for a defendant to receive the maximum sentence.
Many Republicans have urged Craig to say for sure that he will resign. That would spare the party an ethics dilemma and the embarrassment of dealing with a colleague who had been stripped of his committee leadership posts. It also would negate the need for a Senate ethics committee investigation, which GOP leaders had requested.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)
- All Things Considered, 09/10/2007, 5:24 p.m.