WASHINGTON - Idaho's senior Republican congressman called on Senator Larry Craig yesterday to make it clear he will leave his seat by Sept. 30, as GOP leaders sought to remove any doubt that the embattled senator will resign within weeks.
Craig's chief spokesman said Craig had dropped virtually all notions of trying to finish his third term, which ends in early 2009. But prominent Republicans in Washington and Idaho wanted a firm deadline in hopes of putting the controversy behind them.
Craig pleaded guilty in August to disorderly conduct following a sting operation in a men's bathroom at the Minneapolis airport, but he said this week he hoped to withdraw the plea. He also hinted he was rethinking his weekend announcement that he intended to resign by month's end.
Representative Mike Simpson of Idaho said in an interview that Craig should make his resignation unequivocal so Governor C.L. "Butch" Otter, also a Republican, can choose a replacement.
"If there is no vacancy there, he really doesn't know what to do," Simpson said. "This can't go on for very long."
Craig's spokesman, Dan Whiting, said Craig remains intent on clearing his name and hopes to be able to withdraw the guilty plea he entered after a police report alleged he had solicited sex from a male officer at the Minneapolis airport in June. Legal scholars say it is difficult, but not impossible, to have a judge reconsider a guilty plea.
Whiting said Craig also wants the ethics committee to consider his arguments while he is still in office. Craig's lawyer, Stanley Brand, asked the bipartisan panel this week not to pursue a complaint because the events in Minneapolis were "wholly unrelated" to the senator's official duties.
Committee action eventually would lead the Senate down a path of dealing with "a host of minor misdemeanors and transgressions," Brand's letter said.
The ethics panel's members said Wednesday they would continue to review the complaint so long as Craig remained in office.
An ethics committee member, who spoke yesterday on background because of confidentiality rules, said it would be virtually impossible to conduct an investigation in a few weeks, and therefore the panel will not act if Craig resigns soon.