- The Washington Times - Monday, December 23, 2002

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) Sen. Trent Lott, in his first public remarks since resigning as Senate Republican leader, said yesterday he had fallen into a "trap" set by his political enemies and had "only myself to blame."
Mr. Lott, Mississippi Republican, became the focus of a political firestorm for his remarks 2 weeks ago praising Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond's 1948 segregationist run for president on the "Dixiecrat" ticket.
Asked in an interview yesterday with the Associated Press whether he was disappointed in a lack of support from President Bush in keeping his post, Mr. Lott said: "I don't think there's any use in trying to say I'm disappointed in anybody or anything. An inappropriate remark brought this down on my head."
However, he said there were those who had been gunning for his resignation.
"There are some people in Washington who have been trying to nail me for a long time," Mr. Lott said. "When you're from Mississippi and you're a conservative and you're a Christian, there are a lot of people that don't like that. I fell into their trap, and so I have only myself to blame."
He wouldn't say who those political enemies were.
Talking outside his home here, Mr. Lott again said his comments at Mr. Thurmond's 100th birthday party were not malicious, and he repeated his pledge to turn the experience into positive action as he finishes his term in the Senate.
"I feel very strongly about my faith. God has put this burden on me, I believe he'll show me a way to turn it into a good," Mr. Lott said.
He also said he regretted that the comments reflected poorly on his home state.
At Mr. Thurmond's party Dec. 5, Mr. Lott had said that Mississippians were proud to have voted for Mr. Thurmond in 1948. Mr. Thurmond, South Carolina Republican, then ran as a Dixiecrat on a platform of racial segregation and states' rights.
"And if the rest of the country had followed our lead," Mr. Lott said, "we wouldn't have had all these problems over all these years, either."
At first, Mr. Lott tried to deflect criticism, saying his speech was meant only as lighthearted praise of the retiring Mr. Thurmond. He later apologized, saying, "A poor choice of words conveyed to some the impression that I embraced the discarded policies of the past. Nothing could be further from the truth."
Mr. Lott resigned his leadership post Friday after Mr. Bush publicly called the remarks offensive and wrong, and senators in his party scheduled a Jan. 6 meeting to decide if Mr. Lott should continue as their leader after six years in the role.
The man expected to replace him is Sen. Bill Frist, a wealthy heart surgeon from Tennessee, who is seen by many Republicans as cautious but ambitious and considering a 2008 run for the White House. Senate Republicans planned to offer the leadership post to Mr. Frist in a conference call today, making him majority leader when the Republican Party retakes Senate control next month.
Mr. Lott said yesterday that he would continue to represent Mississippi in the Senate, but not serve in a leadership position.
"I have a job to do," he said, "and I believe that my experience [and] my knowledge of having been in a leadership role will allow me in the future to do some more good things for our state."

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