Friday, August 31, 2007

Craig's List

When I first blogged about the fall of Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig, I couldn't make heads or, um, tails out of the story. It seemed like what he was alleged to have done in that Minneapolis airport men's room was certainly morally wrong and more than a little creepy, but hardly illegal, yet he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge - in the apparent hopes of keeping the incident from being noticed by the Enemy Media. It just didn't add up.

Well, as you probably already know, more of the story has been, er, fleshed in by now, and I think I'm beginning to get, uh, a handle on it. The transcript of Craig's police interrogation is very educational:
OFFICER: You're not being truthful with me. I'm kind of disappointed in you, Senator. I'm real disappointed right now. Just so you know, just like everybody I treat with dignity, I try to pull them away from the situation -

CRAIG: I appreciate that.

OFFICER: - and [crosstalk] Every person I've had so far has told me the truth. We've been respectful to each other and we've gone on their way. I haven't put anyone in jail because everyone's been truthful to me.

CRAIG: I don't want you to take me to jail -

OFFICER: And I'm not going to take you to jail as long as you're going to be cooperative and not lie.
About what did the arresting officer think Senator Craig was lying? In context, that would appear to correlate to Craig's assertion this week that his actions were "misconstrued" - i.e. he wasn't trying to initiate a tawdry, perverted sex act in an airport toilet stall - even though the officer recognized the "foot action" for precisely such a signal of "interest".

Having already foolishly disclosed that he was a U.S. senator, which clearly didn't impress, much less intimidate, the vice cop as he hoped it would, Craig was now, er, over a barrel. The officer's disgust level was elevated and his patience level was plummeting. As a result the senator's options were shrinking rapidly:
OFFICER: Okay, so let's start over. You're going to get out of here, you're going to have to pay a fine, and that'll be it.

CRAIG: Fine.

OFFICER: I don't call media, I don't do any of that type of crap.
Sounds like a do-it-yourself plea bargain, doesn't it? The cop was appalled at having a U.S. senator sitting in his interrogation room and pissed at his arrogance in refusing to admit to what he had been caught red....well, footed, doing. He was, let us say, not inclined towards leniency. He was going to throw the book at Senator Craig one way or the other.

Particularly when Craig continued to protest his innocence even after having issued the confession (of "disorderly conduct") that was wrung out of him:
OFFICER: I would respect you, I don't disrespect you, I still respect you, but that's not the point. I'm being disrespected right now, and I'm not trying to act like I have all kind of power or anything, but you're sitting here lying to a police officer.

CRAIG: I - [crosstalk]

OFFICER: I've been trained to do this. I know what I'm doing .... I just have to say that I'm really disappointed in you, sir. I expect this from the guy that we get out of the hood - I mean, people vote for you! Unbelievable!...Embarrassing, embarrassing. No wonder why we're going down the tubes.
For all the arguments that have been made in Senator Craig's defense that what he did (or what the vice cop thought he did) in that bathroom was hardly a crime of any magnitude, at this point Craig didn't have the luxury of indulging in righteous indignation or picking at the nits of local ordinances. He was staring the end of his political career in the face.

Put yourself in his, um, shoes. If he was signaling interest in a sodomistic tryst to the wrong lavatorial neighbor (not unlike former NFL safety Eugene Robinson, also a one-time moral pillar of his community, getting busted for soliciting a [*AHEM*] hummer (and I don't mean a great big, boxy, overpowered SUV) the night before Super Bowl XXXII), there was no way he was going to admit it on tape, because there's no way that wouldn't get to the press almost before he got through with the confession, no matter what the cop promised. But if he didn't acknowledge SOME sort of wrongdoing, the charges would be pressed, Craig would have to go to trial, and it'd be all over the media anyway. So he chose the least "evil" by going with the disorderly conduct citation and paid the fine, which in the end bought him a couple of months and change.

Could Senator Craig's protestations of innocence be true? Well, anything's possible, I guess. The police report never says he verbally "flirted," or indecently exposed himself. For what it's worth, though, I'm inclined to conclude that Senator Craig wasn't so much lying to the arresting officer as not telling the whole truth. When he gives his version of the bathroom incident, he's awfully short on specifics and sounds like he's glossing over parts that he clearly doesn't want to talk about for fear it will give the cop an opening. Which was, of course, futile since the cop immediately brings up those parts (the foot contact, the reaching under the stall partition) and berates Craig mercilessly.

Personally, I try not to poop in public restrooms unless I've got erupting bowels and I can't get to any acceptable facilities in time. The prospect of plopping my ass where so many asses have plopped before just doesn't appeal to me. But on the rare occasions that I have, I have NEVER spread my legs or feet out, even if there was no one else in the can, to say nothing of reaching towards the floor for any reason besides pulling my pants back up. Hell, I don't spread my legs or feet out in my OWN crapper; in a public bathroom I velcro my knees together.

And that was BEFORE learning about this "signaling" business. Now, as I quipped the other day, I'd prefer to just crap my pants and walk around with the Vince McMahon strut than risk an unwanted "invitation." Consequently, it's tough for me to believe that Senator Craig didn't remember touching feet with the vice cop (I'd certainly remember something like that - in my nightmares, most likely) or was picking up "a piece of paper" off the floor in front of him unless it was something he dropped.

I don't think that's a legal crime; some (not I) would say it's not a moral one; but for a Republican officeholder, it's definitely a public relations deathblow. And the hammer didn't take long to fall:
Idaho Senator Larry Craig's political support eroded significantly Wednesday as three fellow Republicans in Congress called for his resignation and party leaders pushed him from senior committee posts.

The White House expressed its disappointment, too — and not a word of support for the 62-year-old lawmaker, who pleaded guilty earlier this month to a charge stemming from an undercover police operation in an airport men's room.

Craig "represents the Republican party," said Representative Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the first fellow GOP member of Congress to urge a resignation. ...

Senators John McCain of Arizona and Norm Coleman of Minnesota joined Hoekstra in urging Craig to step down.

McCain spoke out on an interview with CNN. "My opinion is that when you plead guilty to a crime, you shouldn't serve. That's not a moral stand. That's not a holier-than-thou. It's just a factual situation."
Craig was also facing a Senate ethics investigation initiated by his own caucus, which is about as clear a signal as could be humanly sent that his GOP colleagues wanted him gone, since such a probe would be taken by the Democrats and smeared all over the entire Republican Party. Which, come to think of it, could have been interpreted by Craig as a bluff and called if he'd wanted to be stubborn about it, though the PR cat was already out of the bag in any case.

Public protestations of innocence and defiant clinging to his senate seat and re-election campaign next year quickly wilted in the face of onrushing events. By today, the jig was up:
Several well-placed GOP sources in Washington and Idaho have told CNN that embattled Republican Senator Larry Craig is likely to resign soon, possibly as early as Friday.

A GOP source with knowledge of the situation told CNN's Dana Bash that the Republican National Committee was poised to take the extraordinary step of calling on Craig to resign.

However, that move was put on hold, the source said, because top party leaders have received indications that Craig himself is preparing to step down.

Sources have confirmed that high-level meetings on the matter were being conducted in Idaho on Thursday.
~ ~ ~

Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig will resign from the Senate amid a furor over his arrest and guilty plea in a police sex sting in an airport men's room, Republican officials said Friday.

Craig will announce at a news conference in Boise Saturday morning that he will resign effective September 30, GOP officials in Idaho and Washington told the Associated Press, speaking on condition of anonymity.
I can't resist an "Admiral vs. Admiral" post-script to this, well, post. It's just so darned fun to point out our good friend and BTR leader Ed Morrissey answering his own rhetorical questions with what are evidently rhetorical answers.

Here he asks, "If Craig has to go, why not David Vitter"?:
If the [Republican] party wants to start drawing [moral conduct] lines, then one has to wonder why David Vitter isn't getting the same push. He didn't plead guilty in court, but unlike Craig, he openly admits he broke the law and solicited prostitutes. Others serving in Congress at the moment have pleaded guilty to misdemeanors of more import than disorderly conduct without being forced to resign. If morality and credibility are at issue, why isn't Vitter being held to that standard? It's either that Louisiana's Democratic governor would appoint a Democrat in his place, or that Vitter's transgressions involved heterosexual sex and therefore are less objectionable.
Yes, Ed, and your point is....? Of course normal sex is less viscerally objectionable than homosexuality, even if it's solicited extramaritally from prostitutes; why do you think Bill Clinton never got in trouble for his adulterous "lifestyle"? And of course the partisan balance in the Senate matters; if Craig was, say, Gordon Smith instead, do you think 'Pubbies would have been so eager to be rid of him?

Funny how Ed notices how closely Dems pay attention to such things:
I believe that Representative Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) managed to plead guilty to a UI last year without endangering his seat in Congress. Driving under the influence, especially as Kennedy did, represents a greater danger to the community than attempting to make a sexual connection in an airport restroom - and yet few people demanded Kennedy's resignation. If we want to establish standards of conduct that require members to resign after pleading guilty to crimes of any stripe, let's make sure we're applying that standard equally. The same should be said about ethics investigations as well.
Few demanded Kennedy's resignation because (1) he's a Kennedy, and people just assume that Kennedys are all lushes who drive hammered (it DOES tend to run in the family); and (2) he's a Democrat, and Democrats do not voluntarily surrender congressional seats. It's all well and good to say that "standards of conduct" should be "applied equally," but that's not the reality of the American political landscape today. It's all about the unrestrained, bare-knuckle pursuit of power at all costs, the law be damned, and if Republicans don't fight by those "rules" in a time of global war and WMD terror, the party of retreat and defeat will win by default and the lives of countless Americans will be forfeit.

It'd be nice if we could kiss off senate seats for moral peccadillos without potentially dire consequences, but that's not the world we live in. That we can do so in Larry Craig's case is unfortunate for him, but it's a "stall" that he walked into all by himself, and the flushing he's suffering now has no culprit but the man staring back at him in the bathroom mirror.