- The Washington Times - Thursday, September 27, 2007

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — A judge considering Idaho Republican Sen. Larry E. Craig’s request to withdraw his guilty plea in an airport sex sting said yesterday he probably wouldn’t rule in the case until late next week, well past Mr. Craig’s self-imposed deadline to resign.

Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter heard arguments from Mr. Craig’s attorneys and the prosecutor in the case then said he wouldn’t rule immediately.

Mr. Craig didn’t say just how long he planned to remain on the job.

“Today was a major step in the legal effort to clear my name,” Mr. Craig said. “The court has not issued a ruling on my motion to withdraw my guilty plea. For now, I will continue my work in the U.S. Senate for Idaho.”

Mr. Craig skipped the court hearing in Minnesota, a decision that his attorney, Billy Martin, described as routine for such a session.

During the hearing, Mr. Martin acknowledged the difficulty in getting the plea withdrawn, saying it is “near impossible, and it should be.” But he said Mr. Craig’s conduct was not criminal.

Prosecutor Christopher Renz said the timing of Mr. Craig’s decision to withdraw his guilty plea was political. Mr. Craig was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom June 11, then entered his plea Aug. 8. Mr. Craig said he panicked in entering his plea.

“He sat and was able to think about it a thousand miles away at his apartment on the Potomac. He called me about it” and could have called others if he needed advice, Mr. Renz said.

Legal observers said Mr. Craig faced a tough fight in persuading the court to allow him to withdraw his guilty plea on a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge. Minnesota law allows pleas to be withdrawn if a “manifest injustice” is shown. The term isn’t defined in law, leaving it to judges to decide.

Mr. Craig was arrested by an airport police officer, who said Mr. Craig had looked into his bathroom stall, and tapped his foot and moved his hand under the divider in a way that suggested he was looking for a sexual partner.

After news of his arrest and plea broke Aug. 27, he came under swift pressure from within his own party, and announced within days that he planned to resign by Sunday. He later suggested he might stay in office if he could overturn his plea.

His attorneys pursued a dual strategy, arguing both that Mr. Craig’s conduct was not criminal and that the state didn’t handle the plea properly.

Mr. Martin said Mr. Craig maintains he never intentionally touched airport police Sgt. Dave Karsnia, nor said anything to him.

“You should have either touching, or words, or a combination of the two,” Mr. Martin said.

Mr. Craig’s attorneys also argued that the legal process wasn’t properly followed, noting the plea petition didn’t include a signature or any other indication a judge had accepted it.

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