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Craig is expected to resign from Senate after sex sting

September 01, 2007|Richard Simon | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — Sen. Larry E. Craig (R-Idaho) is expected to announce today that he will give up his Senate seat, transforming in less than a week from a leading voice on Western issues to political pariah after it emerged that he had pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in a men's restroom sting.

Craig scheduled a Boise news conference for 10:30 a.m. to announce his plans.

Greg Smith, an Idaho pollster who has worked for Craig, said Friday that he expected the senator to resign. "He is a team player," Smith said. "He has that 'R' next to his name and wears it proudly." If he believes he is hurting the Republican Party, Smith said, he will bow out.

The Associated Press reported that state and national GOP officials confirmed Craig had planned to resign, effective Sept. 30. Craig's office declined to comment.

GOP colleagues in Idaho and Washington, D.C., heavily pressured Craig -- whose term expires in January 2009 -- to give up the seat. The scandal has threatened the party as the 2008 campaign for control of Congress is getting underway.

Idaho Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter, a Republican, said late Friday that he did not know whether Craig would resign. "I have not made any decision on who's going to be the next United States senator from Idaho because it's not an empty seat," Otter said. "And until it's any empty seat, I'm not going to entertain a bunch of speculation."

Idaho political analysts consider GOP Lt. Gov. James E. Risch the most likely successor.

Craig had hoped to salvage a 33-year legislative career after Monday's disclosure that he was arrested in June at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport by an officer investigating lewd-conduct complaints in a men's restroom. The officer said Craig used signals -- tapping his foot and sliding his hand under the stall divider -- to indicate a desire for sex. In early August, Craig paid $575 in fines and fees and was given one year's probation.

At a Boise news conference Tuesday with his wife at his side, Craig denied doing anything inappropriate, repeatedly insisted that he was not gay, and said he had "overreacted and made a poor decision" by pleading guilty.

But while Craig disappeared from public view, the embarrassment didn't.

The story played over and over on TV news shows. And the audiotape of his questioning by the arresting police officer aired repeatedly Thursday.

Sens. John McCain (R-Ariz.) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) called for him to resign, and other GOP lawmakers condemned his alleged behavior. Senate Republicans called for an investigation by the ethics committee and stripped Craig of his ranking positions on key committees.

He received no support from the White House, with Press Secretary Tony Snow saying: "The story is certainly a disappointment."

Idaho's largest newspaper, the Statesman, which had published a lengthy front-page story on other sexually related accusations against Craig, called for him to step down "for the good of a state he loves."

"This is such a personal tragedy," said Sheila Olsen, an Idaho GOP activist.

Craig, 62, was elected to the Idaho Senate in 1974, the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980 and the U.S. Senate in 1990.

He has supported a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage and opposed extending a federal hate-crime law to cover violent acts based on a victim's sexual orientation.

Craig, a board member of the National Rifle Assn., has been among the leading advocates of gun rights in Congress. He helped win passage of a bill that shields gun makers and sellers from lawsuits arising from misuse of their weapons.

He also has tangled with environmentalists over land issues.

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richard.simon@latimes.com

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