- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 11, 2007

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Sen. Larry E. Craig filed court papers yesterday seeking to withdraw his guilty plea in an airport sex sting, arguing that he entered the plea under stress caused by press inquiries about his sexuality.

The Idaho Republican pleaded guilty in August to disorderly conduct after his June arrest in a sting operation in a men’s bathroom at the Minneapolis airport. A police report said that Mr. Craig solicited sex from a male officer at the airport, which the senator denied.

In a “state of intense anxiety” after his arrest, Mr. Craig “felt compelled to grasp the lifeline offered to him by the police officer” and plead guilty to the disorderly conduct charge in hopes the matter would not be made public, said the court papers filed in Hennepin County District Court.

The filing said Mr. Craig panicked and accepted the plea rather than seeking the advice of an attorney. As a result, his guilty plea was not “knowingly and understandingly made,” and the evidence against him insufficient to support the plea, the papers said.

Mr. Craig’s attorney, William Martin, cited pressure from the senator’s hometown newspaper, the Idaho Statesman, which spent months investigating whether Mr. Craig engaged in homosexual encounters. Mr. Craig denied such suggestions and accused the newspaper of conducting a “witch hunt.”

Statesman Executive Editor Vicki Gowler yesterday defended the paper’s investigation, which she said was done with “great care.”

When his guilty plea became public, Mr. Craig came under intense pressure from Senate Republican leaders and other colleagues in Washington to resign. He first announced he would resign Sept. 30, then said he was reconsidering that decision. A spokesman later said the senator had dropped virtually all notions of trying to finish his third term, unless a court moves quickly to overturn the conviction, unlikely before the end of the month.

Patrick Hogan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission, which runs the airport and handled the prosecution of the case, said the prosecutor will oppose Mr. Craig’s motion.

“We do feel we have a strong case, and he’s already made his plea, and it’s been accepted by the court,” Mr. Hogan said. “From our standpoint, this is already a done deal. Mr. Craig was arrested and signed a guilty plea, and from our standpoint, this case is already over.”

Mr. Craig was sentenced to pay $575 in fines and fees and was put on unsupervised probation for a year, with a stayed 10-day jail sentence.

To reverse his guilty plea, he would have to convince a judge there was a “manifest injustice” in the case. Often that includes sentences that were harsher than the one anticipated in the plea bargain, but that didn’t happen in Mr. Craig’s case. Legal analysts have said such motions are rarely brought, and when they are they are rarely successful.

Motions to withdraw a guilty plea are usually heard by the same judge who heard the original case, usually at least two weeks after they are requested, court officials have said.

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