Debra J. Saunders

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, is going back on his word again. In August, Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after he was apprehended for soliciting sex from an undercover cop on June 11 in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. Craig signed a statement that acknowledged he made "no claims to be innocent." But when the "wide-stance"-in-the-stall story broke, Craig claimed that, despite the document he signed, he was not guilty.

One month ago, Craig announced that he would resign from office effective Sept. 30. On Oct. 4, Craig went back on that promise and released a statement that he plans to serve out his term, as "I have seen that it is possible for me to work here effectively."

No wonder so many American voters have such a dim view of Washington politicians.

It's not just that Craig has gone back on his word -- and I don't know why any judge or jury would believe any statement Craig might make in a court of law -- it's that he has shown low regard for the Senate. If he cared about the institution, he would get out without further soiling it.

Besides, it is a disgrace for a U.S. senator to ask for a guilty-plea do-over. A senator's job is to draft laws under which the rest of us must live. He shouldn't try to open the door to frivolous appeals by criminals who have second thoughts about their plea agreements. And he shouldn't play dumb, or claim to be a victim-underdog, in order to overturn a misdemeanor conviction that is the result of a guilty plea that he freely made.

I've often wondered how pundits -- that is, how I -- would have written about the Craig arrest if he had fought charges. Clearly, he would have been entitled to the presumption of innocence -- especially because the officer pulled out his badge before anything that would have happened did happen.

The Washington Post editorialized that authorities were wrong to charge Craig: "As with any other crime, those targeted and arrested for lewd or disorderly conduct ought first to be caught in a lewd or disorderly act. That wasn't the case with Mr. Craig."

But Craig's guilty plea put an end to the questions. As Minnesota Judge Charles A. Porter wrote in denying Craig's do-over request, during negotiations with prosecutor Chris Renz, Craig did not claim innocence. Also, Craig had weeks to think about the incident and consult an attorney, but he chose to cut a deal and admit to disorderly conduct.

Like everyone else in the criminal justice system, Craig has to live with the consequences of his actions.

Craig does have a few supporters -- people who buy the argument that an innocent Craig "deeply panicked," and that it was understandable for an innocent man to cop a plea in order to sweep the incident under the rug.

Some have argued Craig should not resign because he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor, not a felony. Others see the push for Craig's resignation as homophobic.

But the issue here is not whether Craig is gay -- the charge stems from the apparent solicitation of sex in a public restroom.

The issue is whether Craig should serve after he has turned himself into a running late-night gag.

The answer is: He cannot.

Craig argued Thursday that he must stay in the Senate in order to "clear my name in the Senate Ethics Committee."

It's too late. If Craig cared about his name, he should not have put his John Hancock on a guilty plea -- unless, of course, he is guilty. If he cared about his name, he would not go back on his promise to resign.

It's not exactly punitive to call on Craig to resign and start collecting a generous federal pension. There comes a time when a true public servant realizes that his presence only hurts the institution in which he serves. It's time for Craig to announce he wants to spend time with his family and go write a book.


Debra J. Saunders


 
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