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Sen. Larry Craig says he may still fight for his Senate seat, a spokesman says — if the lawmaker can clear his name with the Senate Ethics Committee and a Minnesota court where he pleaded guilty after his arrest in an airport men’s room sex sting.
Since announcing Saturday he intended to resign on Sept. 30, the Republican lawmaker who has represented Idaho for 27 years has hired a prominent lawyer to investigate the possibility of reversing his guilty plea.
“It’s not such a foregone conclusion anymore that the only thing he could do was resign,” Sidney Smith, Craig’s spokesman in Idaho’s capital, told The Associated Press on Tuesday.
“We’re still preparing as if Senator Craig will resign Sept. 30, but the outcome of the legal case in Minnesota and the ethics investigation will have an impact on whether we’re able to stay in the fight — and stay in the Senate,” Smith said.
In Washington, D.C., Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell’s spokesman and the senatorial campaign committee had no immediate comment on Craig reconsidering.
On Aug. 1, Craig, 62, pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of misdemeanor disorderly conduct following his June 11 arrest at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
But Craig, who remained in Idaho on Tuesday as the Senate reconvened following its summer break, contended throughout last week he had done nothing wrong and said his only mistake was pleading guilty.
“It was a little more cut and dried a few days ago,” Smith said. “There weren’t many options. He was basically going to have to step aside. Now, there’s a little more to it.”
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.
Craig has hired a high-powered crisis management team including Billy Martin, the lawyer for Atlanta Falcons quarterback Michael Vick in his dogfighting case, and Washington attorney Stan Brand, a former general counsel to the U.S. House. Martin is looking into the Minnesota guilty plea; Brand, who represented Major League Baseball in the congressional investigation into steroid use, will handle any Senate Ethics Committee probe.
Craig’s third six-year term in the Senate expires in January 2009.
Before Craig announced his intent to resign at month’s end, McConnell called Craig’s actions “unforgivable,” while the White House termed the situation disappointing. Republican Senate colleagues John McCain of Arizona and Norm Coleman of Minnesota said Craig should resign.
Dana Perino, White House deputy press secretary, said she had heard news reports that Craig was reconsidering his resignation.
“I don’t think that our views have changed,” she said, “but of course this is the senator’s decision, the senator’s seat.”
Republican Idaho Gov. C.L. “Butch” Otter has not named Craig’s successor and hasn’t said when he will.
Craig has won support from his family, including his three children, whom he adopted after marrying their mother, the former Suzanne Scott, in 1983. Jay Craig, 33, told The Associated Press that he, his brother, Michael Craig, 38, and his sister, Shae Howell, 36, spoke candidly with their father about what happened in Minnesota.
“Our conclusion was there was no wrongdoing there,” Jay Craig said. “He was a victim of circumstance, in the wrong place at the wrong time when this sting operation was going on.”
Associated Press writers Matthew Daly and Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.