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NEWS: Senate Ethics Committee Admonishes Larry Craig

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Senate Ethics Committee Admonishes Larry Craig


WASHINGTON ? Senator Larry E. Craig was admonished by his colleagues on Wednesday for conduct that reflected poorly on the Senate as the result of his arrest and guilty plea last summer in an undercover sex sting in a men?s bathroom at the Minneapolis airport.

The reprimand handed down by the Senate Ethics Committee said that Mr. Craig?s conduct in the bathroom was improper and that his actions after his arrest appeared to be an effort to evade the legal consequences in violation of the code of ethics for government service.

Committee members also raised questions about Mr. Craig?s conversion of over $200,000 in campaign money to pay legal fees, noting that he had not cleared that action as required with the committee. The panel said it would consider further use of campaign money without approval as showing a continuing disregard for ethics rules.

The committee finding stopped short of recommending a more serious punishment, like expulsion, but it was another public blow to Mr. Craig, an Idaho Republican. His political career has been shattered ? and his case has become a staple of late-night television comics ? since disclosure of his arrest by an officer who claimed Mr. Craig had solicited him for sex from an adjoining bathroom stall.

Mr. Craig, who has said he is not gay, has denied any wrongdoing, saying the undercover officer misconstrued his actions. He sought unsuccessfully to have his guilty plea withdrawn.

Although he initially said he would leave Congress, he decided to serve out this term, his third, but he will not seek re-election.

After the disclosure in August of his June arrest and later guilty plea to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge, Senate Republican leaders called for the ethics inquiry. They urged Mr. Craig to resign immediately and raised the threat of public hearings.

But the three-page letter based on the ethics panel?s preliminary inquiry into Mr. Craig?s case appeared to foreclose that possibility. Mr. Craig did not testify before the committee, which based its conclusion on the facts of the criminal case, his public statements and his lawyer?s responses to committee inquiries.

?The Select Committee on Ethics resolves this matter through your public admonition so that, on behalf of the United States Senate, it may make known clearly that the conduct to which you pled guilty, together with related and subsequent conduct discussed in this letter, is improper conduct which has reflected discreditably on the Senate,? said the letter, signed by three committee Republicans and three Democrats.

Aides to Mr. Craig said they learned of the ethics findings only when the letter was posted on the committee?s Web site. In a statement released by his office, Mr. Craig said: ?While I am disappointed and strongly disagree with the conclusions reached by the Senate Ethics Committee, from the outset I have encouraged the committee to act in a timely fashion and they have done so. I will continue to serve the people of Idaho.?

While the committee took no action beyond the public rebuke, public admonishments of senators are somewhat rare and considered serious. Senator Robert G. Torricelli, Democrat of New Jersey, left office after he was admonished in 2002 in a case involving gifts from a supporter.

Mr. Craig has been treated coldly by some colleagues since his return as he tried to restore a sense of normalcy to his service. The committee said in its letter that it accepted as true all the elements of his guilty plea, adding, ?in our view, you committed the offense to which you pled guilty.?

?Your claims to the court, through counsel, to the effect that your guilty plea resulted from improper pressure or coercion, or that you did not, as a legal matter, know what you were doing when you pled guilty, do not appear credible,? the panel said.

The committee also chastised Mr. Craig for showing the arresting officer a business card that identified him as a senator, saying that action could be viewed ?as an improper attempt by you to use your position as a United States senator to receive special and favorable treatment.?

Lawyers for Mr. Craig had questioned whether the committee had jurisdiction over the case since it did not directly relate to his Senate duties, but the panel dismissed that, noting that it had wide-ranging authority over the behavior of senators.

Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republican leader who had called for Mr. Craig?s resignation and for the ethics inquiry, had no comment on Wednesday night.

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