Thursday, September 06, 2007

Craig's Intent: Serve Out His Term, Leave 'Quietly'

Roll Call ($) reports that Larry Craig's 'intent' to resign is conditional on his being unable to rescind his guilty plea in Minnesota:

Embattled Sen. Larry Craig (R-Idaho) said Wednesday that his stated intent to resign later this month is conditional and that he will only proceed if he fails to have his guilty plea in a Minnesota court rescinded.

Although it is a long shot, Craig has hired a high-powered legal team to try to reverse his plea before the end of the month. Craig tried unsuccessfully on Wednesday to forestall a GOP leadership request to have the Ethics Committee investigate his arrest in a Minnesota airport and subsequent guilty plea, the first of what likely will be many moves in a pricey legal chess match involving all three branches of government.

“It’s an admittedly uphill battle,” Craig spokesman Dan Whiting said of his boss’s chances of serving out the remainder of his Senate term. “But a small door has been left ajar that this could be cleared up in the next three and a half weeks.”

But even if he is successful in vacating his guilty plea, he will not seek re-election:

In the unlikely event that Craig does finish his third term, Whiting said Craig would not run for re-election in 2008, leaving an open Senate seat in a solid Republican state that the GOP should have no trouble retaining.

Roll Call then engages in a lengthy discussion about the Senate Ethics Committee's decision to continue to investigate the matter, and a debate over whether Craig may legally use his campaign cash to pay for the litigation.

And the litigation could go on for some time. If Craig succeeds in rescinding his plea, he would presumably face prosecution for the incident in the bathroom. Democratic partisans would relish the show; other liberals might even set aside partisan gains to support Craig's effort:

Had Craig shown the good sense to get a lawyer after his arrest, he could have marshaled some lofty First Amendment defense arguments that might have helped not just him but an untold number of men whose lives have been devastated by these kinds of undercover sting operations. As in most states, the Minnesota statute on which Craig's arrest was based defines disorderly conduct as engaging in indecent or obscene conduct that someone knows or has reason to believe will cause alarm in another person. Foot tapping alone isn't likely to alarm anyone, especially not someone who's already indicated that he's open to the invitation, as the cop did in Craig's case. The last thing most gay men want, in fact, is to hit on a straight guy who's not interested. The foot tapping and other hand signals are designed specifically to avoid a scene.

Civil libertarians have been making these arguments in entrapment cases for more than 40 years, though without much success. (For a stellar legal history on this subject, check out Courting Justice: Gay Men and Lesbians v. the Supreme Court, by Joyce Murdoch and Deb Price.) Back in the 1960s, a New York Civil Liberties Union attorney asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case involving an undercover cop who'd let a man in a gay bar rub his thigh without objection and then later arrested him for disorderly conduct. Morton P. Cohen argued that his client's conduct, and that of others like him, hardly met the legal definition of "disorderly." "The majority of homosexual solicitations are made only if the other individual appears responsive and are ordinarily accomplished by quiet conversations and the use of gestures and signals having significance only to other homosexuals," he said.

The Hill meanwhile, adds a lengthy discussion about whether Craig's treatment would have been the same if he had been soliciting a woman, with comments from Craig supporters emphasizing that Craig has always been a 'team player,' and merited better:

Craig supported Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott (R-Miss.) during his 2002 struggle after controversial comments on segregation and backed Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) in his battle with conservative activists over the Judiciary Committee chairmanship. In 2004, Craig relinquished his seat on the committee so GOP leaders could add conservative Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.).

Lott has refrained from calling for Craig’s resignation and Specter has become the Idahoan’s most ardent backer, urging Craig to fight for his seat and speaking about the scandal during Wednesday’s policy luncheon.

Craig allies also are stung by what they see as the hypocrisy of the GOP leadership. For example, a former Craig staffer noted that Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) was met with applause when he attended the weekly GOP Senate lunch after he admitted to seeing a prostitute...

Several senators refused to comment on their missing colleague, including Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska), who is grappling with a federal investigation, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who directed questions on Craig to the Republicans.

“There’s a court of law and a court of public opinion,” Sen. Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) said. “I fully understand his plans to clear his name in the court of law, but I fear for him in … the court of public opinion.”

Added Smith, who faces a tough campaign in 2008: “If this story doesn’t get smaller, it will get bigger.”

Smith speaks for a lot of his colleagues. The last thing that any DC Republican wants is for this spectacle to continue. Their preference would be for Craig to quietly disappear, and not resurface until after the next election. It will be enough of an embarrassment for him to still be in office in November 2008, while his potential GOP successor is seeking election. If he succeeds in vacating the verdict, he could go on trial. And who knows how long that would take?

While Larry Craig has been much admired by his colleagues and by conservatives during his tenure in DC, all politicians know that at some level, getting elected is like joining the Cosa Nostra. You are a loved and honored member of the family as long as you follow the rules and contribute to the family's success. But when that changes, and you become a burden -- you're out.

And it's nothing personal; it's strictly business.

No comments: