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Idaho senator pleads guilty to misdemeanor

GOP's Craig ends his role as a Romney cochairman

WASHINGTON -- Senator Larry E. Craig pleaded guilty earlier this month to misdemeanor disorderly conduct charges stemming from his June arrest by an undercover police officer in a men's restroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport, a court spokeswoman and the senator's office said yesterday.

Craig issued a statement confirming his arrest and guilty plea, which were reported in the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. But the Idaho Republican maintained that he had not engaged in any "inappropriate conduct" and that the airport police misunderstood his behavior.

"At the time of this incident, I complained to the police that they were misconstruing my actions. I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct," Craig said. "I should have had the advice of counsel in resolving this matter. In hindsight, I should not have pled guilty. I was trying to handle this matter myself quickly and expeditiously."

Now in his third term, Craig, 62, has been a member of Senate Republican leadership and ran unsuccessfully in 2002 to become the GOP whip, the number two leadership job. He has been a prominent figure on gun rights and Western lands issues, and he resigned yesterday as Idaho chairman of the presidential campaign of Mitt Romney.

Craig had been one of the former Massachusetts governor's biggest supporters in the US Senate. But last night, within hours after news of Craig's plea had broken, Romney's campaign announced that Craig had resigned as its Senate cochairman.

"Senator Craig has stepped down from his role with the campaign. He did not want to be a distraction and we accept his decision," the campaign said in a statement.

In February, Romney announced that Craig and Robert Bennett of Utah would serve as his Senate liaisons, praising their "strong conservative records" and saying that they had "a unique perspective of the new generation of challenges confronting our nation."

In May, Romney's campaign also announced that Craig would be cochairman of the Romney for President Idaho Leadership Team, a group of business and community leaders.

"Our government is in need of a proven leader like Governor Romney, who will put in place benchmarks and streamline our government using proven conservative principles," Craig said in the Romney campaign's announcement.

Last night, the Romney campaign restricted public access to a YouTube video in which Craig also praised Romney.

Craig is the third person to resign from Romney's campaign to avoid becoming a distraction. Last month, aide Jay Garrity stepped aside amid allegations that he had posed as a state trooper and had used fake badges so he and other members of Romney's advance staff could gain access to closed areas.

And earlier this month, a fund-raiser for Romney's campaign resigned from his volunteer post after being indicted in Maryland for allegedly defrauding companies of $32 million.

Alan B. Fabian, 43, a Maryland businessman who cochaired the national finance committee for Romney's campaign, was indicted by a grand jury on 23 counts of mail fraud, money laundering, bankruptcy fraud, perjury, and obstruction of justice, according to the US attorney in Baltimore.

Roll Call, citing a copy of a report by airport police, said that officers had been conducting a sting operation inside the men's room because of complaints of sexual activity there. The police report gives this account of the arrest:

The undercover officer was monitoring the restroom at noon on June 11. A few minutes later, Craig entered and sat in the stall next to him. Craig began tapping his right foot, touched his right foot to the left foot of the officer in the stall next to him and brushed his hand beneath the partition between them. He was then arrested.

While he was being questioned, Craig gave police a business card showing that he is a US senator. "What do you think about that?" Craig asked the officer, according to the report obtained by Roll Call.

Airport police declined to comment last night.

Foon Rhee of the Globe staff contributed to this report.

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