Playing the Washington scandal game

Idaho Sen. Larry Craig isn’t sticking to the script about how Washington sex scandals play out. In fact, he’s following it backwards.

The rich history of powerful figures accused of misbehavior shows they tend to deny it indignantly, try to ride the storm with tortured explanations, then give in to contrition if they’re cornered.

Not Craig. First came an admission of guilt — and now the defiant protestation of innocence.

His declaration Tuesday that “I did nothing wrong” came weeks after he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct in the men’s room at Minneapolis airport. He vowed to tough it out even as his party’s leaders called for a Senate ethics investigation.

Eric Dezenhall, a crisis-management consultant, has seen many follow this unwritten rule when fighting to save their career from scandal: “If you’re guilty, repent; if you’re innocent attack.”

That could prove tough in Craig’s case, in light of his plea. The Hennepin County, Minn., court docket said he paid $575 in fines and fees and was put on unsupervised probation for a year. A 10-day sentence in the county workhouse was stayed.

The undercover office who arrested Craig in the men’s room alleged he had engaged in actions “often used by persons communicating a desire to engage in sexual conduct.”

There’s no clear road map to surviving the revelation of unsavory behavior — what works for one figure sinks another.

Gary Hart saw his presidential ambitions dashed by his “fool mistake” while Bill Clinton overcame multiple “bimbo eruptions” to win the presidency, then survived impeachment in the Monica Lewinsky scandal to leave office with high ratings.

Now, Capitol Hill is again looking into misconduct by one of its own, with memories still fresh of the explosive page scandal a year ago.

That episode led to the swift resignation of Florida Republican Rep. Mark Foley, months of recrimination during the election campaign over the stewardship of young people serving as congressional pages, and a criminal investigation that continues in Florida over whether Foley tried to seduce underage boys.

A scandal sampler:

  • President Clinton gave evasive and misleading testimony under oath and publicly denied having sexual relations with “that woman,” former intern Lewinsky, only to be forced into a humiliating reversal. He was impeached and then acquitted in a 1999 Senate trial.
  • Barack Obama, now running for the Democratic presidential nomination, found his entry into national politics eased when his Republican opponent in the 2004 Illinois Senate race, Jack Ryan, dropped out. Divorce papers filed by his wife alleged he had taken her to “bizarre clubs” and asked her to have sex in front of other people. Ryan denied that. He acknowledged only that they went to one avant-garde club in Paris where they both felt creepy. Obama easily defeated Ryan’s late replacement, Alan Keyes, in what had been a GOP seat.
  • Rep. Bob Livingston, R-La., was on the verge of becoming House speaker in 1998 when he acknowledged straying in his marriage. He resigned from Congress in a couple of months.
  • Sen. Hart, D-Colo., was the favorite for the Democratic presidential nomination in 1987, three weeks into his campaign, when The Miami Herald reported he had spent a night and a day with a young woman while his wife was away. Hart, who had challenged the press to check on rumors of philandering, initially denounced the report as preposterous. But his liaison with Donna Rice, who had also been photographed sitting on his lap near a yacht named “Monkey Business,” sank his campaign.
  • Sen. Bob Packwood, R-Ore., resigned in 1995 amid allegations he made unwanted sexual advances to 17 female employees and colleagues, solicited jobs from lobbyists for his former wife and altered his personal diaries to obstruct an ethics investigation.
  • Rep. Gary Condit, D-Calif., lost re-election in 2002 after the disappearance of his former intern, Chandra Levy. Her remains were found in May 2002 in a Washington park and no one has been charged in her death. Condit reportedly told police that he and Levy had had an affair, although he swore in a deposition that they were just friends. He denied involvement in her disappearance.
  • Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass., was reprimanded by the House in 1989 for using his influence on behalf of prostitute Stephen Gobie. Frank admitted paying Gobie for sex, hiring him with his own money as an aide and writing a letter on his behalf. A repentant Frank faced constituents at a meeting until they ran out of questions, acknowledging, “I did not handle the pressures of having a public life, of being a closeted gay man, nearly as well as I should have.” He won their acceptance — and re-election ever since.


  1. douin

    Obviously, none of the posters have any young sons, cousins,etc. that use the men’s room at the Airports in this country. Does that mean that only Adult men use those facilities ? Since there had been complaints about that kind of perverse sexual behavior occuring there, it most assuredly needed to be checked out by an undercover detective.

    How would you like it if your young son went into any men’s room, Airport or anywhere else, and discovered two homosexuals making out ? There may be not be a law in some states against Consensual sex between two adult males…but there certainly is a law against Public Indecency. The morals in this country have sunk to rock bottom if so few can see the wrongness of what is going on here.

    Senator Craig was clearly ‘seining’ for homosexual sex or he would have gone to the VIP Lounge..not the more public men’s room. He was hoping to not be recognized…or caught. What a pity to be so ruled by one’s genitals. This is the sort of person the American people have to trust to do the right thing for our country ? A man that does not even have control over his own body ! Pathetic, isn’t it ?

    His poor wife must really be feeling betrayed, embarrassed and ashamed..even if Senator Craig isn’t.

  2. SEAL

    If the airport complains their bathrooms are being used for illegal activities, the police should put an undercover officer in them to catch the lawbreakers. What the cop did wrong was arrest a man who was not breaking the law. He should have said not thanks and continued looking for drug dealers and other bad guys. Or, if the senator hooked up with someone and proceeded to commit the act in the bathroom he could then arrest him.

    As to the example of your 10 year old, I can’t imagine a parent dumb enough to not go in the head with them at any airport, bus terminal, train station, football stadium, or any other places such as those. And I certainly had no problem when our 4 young children happened to see mom and I having sex and they all did. Of course, we didn’t deliberately “do it” in front of them and were private like any other parents, but kids will be kids and open the door wanting something they can’t wait for. However, they never had anything hidden from them and already knew what it was all about. We made sure of that. Education is the parents responsibility, not the governments. Please don’t get me started on the schools.

    We home schooled our daughter because the schools could not keep up with her. She has a doctorate in Math and has invented something I do not understand that caused her to be given a grant to teach it all over the world. Two of the boys made it through High school with additional help at home and the last we had to home school to prevent them from turning him into a criminal for arguing with them all the time. All are successfull at their choices and happy with their lives. All because they had parents who cared and the greatest mom in the world. Dad was gone a lot.

    It is very odd that our country with the most guaranteed rights is, also, the most sexually repressed by law outside the muslim world.

  3. douin

    Seal, I ask you in all sincerity. How in all reasonableness do you expect a mother to Escort her 10 year old Son into any men’s restroom ? Why are you not admitting that some actions are just beyond the pall and certain urges should be controlled until more appropriate circumstances ? It is a shame that more real men are not recognizing the lack of moral restraint that any moral person should just normally practice.

    As for your own kid walking into your bedroom while you and your wife were having sex, did it not occur to you to lock the door because you knew you had children in the house ? Or teach them to Knock first ? Seems a reasonable precaution to me. But then again, with some people that have not learned to control themselves I guess that would be too much to expect of them.

    It has nothing to do with being ‘sexually repressed.’ Just a matter of common respect for others.

  4. gene

    If you believe this guy I have some beautiful land in Florida I need to talk to you about.

    Just been waiting for the right sucker to come along, is it you?

  5. Elmo

    It is very difficult to lend credence to his claim that he “just wanted to make it go away”. After all, if there was nothing there, why would you want to make it “go away”?

    But why are we talking about this when there is Michael Vick to concentrate upon. And are we really sure that we know who the father of Anna Nicole’s baby is? I’m so tired of hearing about politicians’ peckers. Why aren’t we hearing more about Paris, Nicky, Lindsay, and Britney?

  6. bjiller

    Give him credit. This is WAY BETTER than a long drawn out court proceeding. He pled guilty to a lesser, non-sex-related charge, then claims that it was all a big misunderstanding. He avoids the spectacle of a trial, hasn’t admitted anything “gay,” and can claim, with a straight face, that it is all a big misunderstanding. No jury will ever decide guilty or not guilty.

    He still may go down (pun intended), but he’s got a much better chance of holding onto his seat (again) with this strategy than with a big ugly criminal proceeding being splashed all over the front pages for months.

  7. allan hirsh

    mr. hirsh
    I say what happens in an airport men’s room stays in an airport men’s room. Long live the nutty conservative!

  8. allan hirsh

    mr. hirsh
    note 2: seems to me if you are a Senator, you travel first class, and since each airline has its own VIP lounge which also must have its own men’s room…why would you go out of your way to a regular men’s room. Plus, the VIP lounge must have more amenities.

  9. SEAL

    The real point here is that if a woman offers a man a free sex there is no crime. What most people don’t know that the recent supreme court decision in Lawernce v Texas abolished all state laws against sodomy and established the right to private consensual conduct for all. Therefore, there is no crime if a man offers another man a free blow job or any other type of sex. In either case the sex act must be conducted in private or it would be a criminal misdomeanor.

    Even if the senator was offerring the cop, he commited no crime. Any lawyer could have gotten the case dismissed. Calling it disorderly conduct would not fly when they described what the conduct was. The charge as wriiten would not constitute a crime. The senator is right. He should not have plead guilty and claimed it was a misunderstanding by the cop that was straightened out. No harm no foul.

  10. adb8917

    Before everybody goes off on the notion that he “didn’t really do anything wrong,” and that the local airport authorities ought to be chasing “real criminals,” let’s keep a healthy sense of perspective.
    1. The cop was doing a stake out precisely because of complaints of lewd and disruptive behavior in a public toilet. This didn’t target Craig, or for that matter “homosexuals” per se. Ask yourself if you’d mind if your 10-year old son or elderly grandfather was so accosted, how you’d feel? What if it was just a “garden variety” female prostitute or a drug addict/dealer, etc.? Police enforcement to prevent an incident is just as legitimate as arresting a perp after the fact.
    2. In a world where notions of privacy are being eroded by the government, industry, and our own damned indifference to each other, being able to quietly take a dump without being bothered is a luxury. Craig should have been discrete. He wasn’t and he’s got his head on the block because of his own failings.
    3. Sexual preference in private is nobody’s business. However, when a public persona makes those preferences known, especially if they’re in contradiction to another public position, that makes an event newsworthy and it is in the public’s interest to be so informed. If the Senator wanted to stay in the closet then he should have stayed there!
    4. The disposition form says specifically that the courts will not let an innocent person plead guilty. If the Senator is arguing differently now, then he should have retained counsel, or at least asserted his claim to innocence rather than pleading it out.
    5. I find it most unusual that his GOP cronies aren’t circling the wagons. In fact they’re leading the charge for an Ethics Committee investigation, and have already forced him to surrender his committee responsibilities. The speed with which his GOP colleagues are encouraging his prompt departure says that maybe the “old fruit” had this one coming.

    I confess a certain “schadenfreude” as yet another of the hypocrites is exposed, but nuanced or not, Craig’s behavior should cost him his public office.


  11. keith

    Granted, this whole incident has called the Senator’s judgment into question.

    However, as SEAL has most eloquently pointed out, what’s even more of a concern to me is that it now appears our growing “police state” in this country considers it quite acceptable to “troll” public bathrooms in an attempt to entrap people engaging in consensual adult behavior.

    There would not have been any “misconceptions” or “inappropriate conduct” had the officer not been specifically looking for it. And just who decided that what the Senator MIGHT have been doing (something that still isn’t at all clear) in that bathroom stall was “inappropriate”?

    Quite frankly, it’s none of the stupid government’s business WHAT people do in public bathrooms just as long as it harms no one. That appears to be the case here.

    Moreover, doesn’t Minneapolis’ finest have BETTER things to do with their officers than have them hanging around bathrooms at airports looking to nab “offenders” under such horrendously obsolete and distressingly obscure “vice” laws? Could it be the REAL reason for such foolishness has absolutely NOTHING to do with keeping public order, but, rather, has EVERYTHING to do with raising revenue?

    In either case, mark my words, folks, our bedrooms are next!

  12. keith


    I sincerely hope you never have to explain to your OWN 10 year old what you and your spouse (or significant other) are doing when they walk in on you during “the act”.

    And since when did “police enforcement to prevent an incident” become the norm for law enforcement in this country? Sadly, this sounds FAR too much like President Bush’s arrogant and imperialistic concept of “preemptive war” to suit me.

    Like most other civilized nations on the planet have already done, I keep wondering when our OWN country is going to (finally!) accept the notion that sex (in all its many forms) between consenting adults is a normal and healthy part of being human and stop (officially) peddling ignorance about it.

    That is, outwardly, we remain a nation of prudes. Buy yet, when a so-called “sex scandal” hits the airwaves, we all can’t seem to get enough of every lewd detail.

    And, true to form, the media circus now surrounding Senator Craig’s supposed “inappropriate conduct” in a Minneapolis airport bathroom has been no exception.

    I’ve also found it fascinating that (officially at least) various politicians continue trying to “protect” our pubescent children from access to any enlightening information relating to their own (or other’s) human sexuality by consistently legislating what I have come to call the “mushroom” approach to sex…that is…”let’s keep them all in the dark and feed them garbage”.

    And then, in the next breath, these same clowns have the collective audacity to wonder why our nation has one of the highest (if not THE highest!) unwed birth rates of any civilized nation on the planet.

    What a bunch of hypocrites!