Craig backed embattled Alaska colleague

WASHINGTON -- In the days following a high-profile FBI raid on the home of Sen. Ted Stevens, Sen. Larry Craig made oddly prescient remarks in defense of his embattled Alaska colleague.

In Craig's comments, made Aug. 1 to reporters in the Capitol, the Idaho senator criticized the FBI for "Gestapo-like" tactics and expressed sympathy for the position Stevens found himself in.

"I think some people say, 'Ah, there but for the grace of God go I,'" Craig told the Capitol Hill newspaper, The Politico.

Since news broke Monday of Craig's June 11 arrest for lewd conduct in the men's restroom of the Minneapolis airport, the three-term Republican senator has been increasingly under pressure to resign his seat. Top Republicans, including President Bush, have expressed their disappointment in him, and some fellow GOP senators have called for him to step down.

In his Aug. 1 comments about his Alaska colleague, Craig went on to say that he was disturbed by the idea of an FBI raid on the home of a sitting U.S. senator, and he criticized federal agents for using a locksmith to break into the home when Stevens had reportedly offered them a key. Craig said he thought it was "gamesmanship" done for the benefit of television cameras.

"That makes senators very, very angry when they attempt to cooperate when ... they are caught in these webs and yet they are denied that for the sake of the judiciary's publicity," Craig said, according to Politico.

He added, "It would be very intimidating if I was under investigation and handed the FBI a key, and then TV cameras and newspeople (showed up). That is very intimidating."

What makes Craig's comments especially striking is their timing -- especially with the perspective of hindsight. They came Aug. 1, the same day he signed a plea agreement saying he was guilty of disorderly conduct for making sexual advances to an undercover police officer in a Minneapolis airport bathroom. The plea was dropped into the mail and filed with court officials Aug. 8.

Craig's office did not return phone calls or e-mails Thursday requesting clarification of his Aug. 1 remarks.

Craig, who has long stood with Stevens in support of drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, was one of the few Republicans to be openly supportive of -- and sympathetic to -- the Alaska senator. Sen. Trent Lott, R-Miss., offered support for the Senate's longest-serving Republican, but Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., took a more measured, cautious approach when asked how he would handle the fallout from the Stevens raid.

In all the noise surrounding the raid on Stevens' home, the comments were largely ignored. However, the story was picked up by Fox News, and Stevens' fellow Alaskan in the Senate, Lisa Murkowski, also questioned the timing of the raid.

Thursday, Murkowski echoed other Republicans who have called Craig's arrest and guilty plea a disappointment. But Murkowski, in Alaska with Education Secretary Margaret Spellings, stopped short of calling for Craig's resignation, and said she thought it was appropriate that the matter be handled by the Senate Ethics Committee. Craig campaigned for her in 2004 in Alaska.

"The fact that he pled guilty to a crime causes me great concern," Murkowski said. "I'm really just sick about this news."

Stevens, who has refused to address questions about his own investigation, has been silent on Craig's situation. Thursday, as he was traveling in remote western Alaska near Shishmaref, he told Associated Press that he had spoken to his attorneys about it, "and they advise I make no comments about any investigations right now."

(Megan Holland of the Anchorage Daily News contributed.)

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