Larry Craig Takes Wide Stance on Quitting
U.S. Sen. Larry Craig says he might reconsider his decision to resign if he clears his name in his arrest for disorderly conduct in a restroom sex scandal. That’s why Craig chose his words carefully during his resignation speech Saturday in Boise, according to a voice mail message he mistakenly left on a stranger’s phone. In the message obtained by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, Craig tells a man named “Billy” that his choice of language is deliberate because it leaves the door open for him to stay in office.
Craig made the call just minutes before his speech. “We have reshaped my statement a little bit to say it is my intent to resign on Sept. 30,” Craig said. “I think it is important for you to make as bold a statement as you are comfortable with this afternoon, and I would hope you could make it in front of the cameras. I think it would help drive the story that I’m willing to fight, that I’ve got quality people out there fighting in my defense, and that this thing could take a new turn or a new shape, it has that potential.”
The recording was offered for sale to the Idaho Statesman, which turned it down because the newspaper’s ethics policy precludes it from paying for information from sources. A Roll Call editor said that publication wouldn’t pay either, but managed to obtain the recording without charge.
The voice is indeed Craig’s, spokesman Dan Whiting said. Whiting would not say who “Billy” is. Later that day, Craig announced that he had hired high-profile criminal defense lawyer Billy Martin, whom Craig hired to help him unravel the guilty plea Craig filed last month.
Whiting confirmed in an e-mail that his boss “intends to resign on Sept. 30th. However, he is fighting these charges, and should he be cleared before then, he may, and I emphasize may, not resign.”
Craig’s move stunned even supporters. Most political insiders believed Craig had finally gotten the message from national Republican leaders, who saw his guilty plea to a humiliating sex-related charge as a blemish on the party’s reputation and its prospects for the 2008 election. “We didn’t know anything about this,” said a spokesman for Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who stood with Craig during the resignation announcement. Otter, a congressman until his election as governor last fall, will pick Craig’s successor.
Craig’s hedging may play poorly even among Idaho supporters who believe Craig was railroaded, observers said. “I’m not sure how Idahoans will take it if they feel like they were misled by his statement on Saturday,” said Jim Weatherby, a retired political scientist at Boise State University. “He was playing a word game, apparently, with us.”
Craig’s latest move was a surprise to Sen. Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, who told reporters earlier today that Republicans had moved swiftly to condemn Craig because he had pleaded guilty to a crime. “I think this episode is over,” said McConnell, R-Ky. “We’ll have a new senator from Idaho, and we’ll move on.”
In the message, Craig mentions that he has the support of Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a backer who Craig saw as pivotal for giving his efforts political legitimacy. The day after Craig’s resignation speech, Specter went on Fox News Sunday. “I’d still like to see Senator Craig fight this case,” Specter said. “He left himself some daylight, when he said he “intends” to resign in 30 days. I’d like to see Larry Craig go back to court, seek to withdraw his guilty plea and fight the case.”
AP’s John Miller has more on the Specter angle:
A telephone call Craig received last week from Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., urging him to consider fighting the guilty plea — and for his seat — affected Craig’s decision to reconsider his resignation, Smith said.
On Tuesday, Specter, senior Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, suggested Craig’s GOP colleagues who pressured him last week to resign should re-examine the facts surrounding his arrest. “The more people take a look at the situation, there may well be second thoughts,” said Specter, a former prosecutor. If Craig had not pleaded guilty to a reduced charge and instead demanded a trial, “I believe he would have been exonerated,” Specter said.
And if wishes were horses, then beggars would ride. The fact of the matter is that Craig did plead guilty. Granted, it was to a misdemeanor and got him out of the more serious public lewdness charges, but that’s not fooling anybody. Specter’s role here is so bizarre that even Josh Marshall and his readers are baffled.
(And am I the only one who thinks it’s amusing that he’s hired Michael Vick’s lawyer to defend him?)