Larry Craig's Waterloo? 

Senator lawyers up, lashes out at Statesman

"Oh, my."

So said the venerable Jim Weatherby, the retired political science professor from Boise State University.

"He's done."

So said an anonymous political operative working in Washington, D.C.

"I am not gay."

So declared a very busy U.S. Sen. Larry Craig this week, in what could be the end of his long, storied career in Idaho and U.S. politics.

For now, Craig isn't saying anything about his future. He's still waiting for mid-September, he says, to announce a decision about his re-election plans. So is Lt. Gov. Jim Risch, who is ready to run if Craig doesn't.

The avalanche ripped loose Monday. According to Roll Call, a Washington, D.C., newspaper covering Capitol Hill, Craig was arrested in June on charges of lewd conduct. The charges stemmed from an incident reported by a plainclothes airport police officer in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.

What followed was a landslide of monumental proportions in Idaho politics, with a prominent figure teetering, and his influence, power and succession all hanging in the balance with him.

But it didn't look any better for Idaho's largest daily newspaper, which for months, had been sitting on a comprehensive report by Dan Popkey about Craig's sexual habits. The Idaho Statesman had invested six months of reporting by Popkey, the paper's best reporter, only to get scooped in a day by an out-of-state newspaper.

The torrent also sweeps into its wake Idaho's dominant Republican Party, which now faces dilemmas about Craig, his future and next year's elections.

Start with a report in October by gay activist Mike Rogers, who "outed" Craig on his Web site, blogactive.com, and on the nationally syndicated Ed Schultz show.

"I have done extensive research into this case, including trips to the Pacific Northwest to meet with men who have say they have physical relations with the Senator," Rogers wrote. "I have also met with a man here in Washington, D.C., who says the same—and that these incidents occurred in the bathrooms of Union Station."

Shortly thereafter, Statesman editor Vicki Gowler told a writer for the Poynter Institute, a journalism think tank, why her paper didn't run anything right away.

"We decided [that] people needed to know this," Gowler said. "But they don't need to know it in the morning."

Or the next morning. Or many others after that.

But Popkey was on the job. His regular column stopped running in October, and would not reappear for almost six months. Kevin Naff, the editor for the Washington Blade, a D.C. gay publication, recalled a visit from Popkey.

"He went so far as to stake out the bathroom, armed with glossy photos of Craig to show those using the facilities on the chance that someone had seen him there engaged in sexual activities," Naff wrote on his blog. "It appears he was staking out the wrong toilets."

Tuesday, after media reports were rampant, the Statesman got over its hesitation and ran Popkey's story, a long, detailed report that had about as much ammo as Rogers did. No names. Lots of innuendo. And a recording of someone who said he had gay sex with Craig. Popkey played the tape for Craig and his wife Suzanne.

"It was an awful moment," Popkey said Tuesday on KFXD 630 AM.

That may be the only point upon which Craig and Popkey agree. Craig denied the veracity of the recorded statement. On Tuesday, he went further, and singled out the Statesman.

"For eight months leading up to June, my family and I had been relentlessly and viciously harassed by the Idaho Statesman," said Craig. "Let me be clear: I am not gay and never have been. Without a shred of truth or evidence to the contrary, the Statesman has engaged in this witch hunt."

The delay of Popkey's report bothered Democratic activists and liberal bloggers who craved ammo against Craig, a much-reviled figure in those circles. But the criticism was coming from more established areas, too.

"One of my questions is, why haven't we heard about this?" Weatherby wondered. "This is an event that happened in June."

Craig's arrest came June 11. According to Roll Call, Craig caught the attention of a Minneapolis airport plainclothes policeman by making suggestive motions in a bathroom stall next to him. The motions, the officer said, were plainly those of a homosexual seeking to interact in what cops obliquely refer to as "lewd conduct." Craig was taken into custody, whereupon he allegedly showed the officer his U.S. Senate business card and asked, "What do you think of that?"

The official court documents in the case, State of Minnesota vs. Larry Edwin Craig, show that Craig plead guilty on August 8 to a disorderly conduct charge in front of Judge Gary R. Larson. He was fined more than $500.

"While I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct at the Minneapolis airport or anywhere else, I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in the hope of making it go away," he said. "I did not seek any counsel, either from an attorney, staff, friends, or family. That was a mistake, and I deeply regret it."

But he's lawyered up now, he said.

It didn't take long for Craig's house of cards to fall around his ears. By Monday night, Craig's position on the presidential campaign of Republican Mitt Romney was already gone. Craig had been the Idaho chairman of that campaign, but resigned that post Monday night, according to the Romney campaign.

By Monday night, speculation had already increased about Craig's future in politics.

"We have been saying, consistently, for some time, that odds favor Idaho Republican Senator Larry Craig seeking, as opposed to not seeking, re-election to the Senate next year," wrote Randy Stapilus, a veteran political analyst fond of the royal "we" in his posts on Ridenbaughpress.com. "This afternoon, we're reversing that estimate."

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