Senate GOP leader explains scandals' differences

WASHINGTON — Responding to criticism that GOP senators who've found themselves in trouble this summer have been treated very differently by their peers, the Republican leader of the U.S. Senate outlined why he thinks each should get a "case-by-case" treatment.

Sen. Larry Craig pleaded guilty after a sex sting in a men's airport bathroom, effectively ending any questions of guilt or innocence, said Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Senate minority leader. Sen. David Vitter, R-La., hasn't been charged with a crime, and wasn't in the Senate when he telephoned the so-called D.C. Madam, McConnell said.

And as far as Sen. Ted Stevens is concerned, McConnell said, the long-serving Alaska Republican "maintains his innocence" in connection with the July 30 raid on his home in Girdwood.

"This had to do with admission of responsibility as opposed to charges or suggestions," McConnell said in his first remarks about Craig's ouster since the Idaho Republican announced Saturday he would step down.

Eager to avoid being tagged as the party with the most ethical problems, Republicans acted quickly last week to encourage Craig to resign. Yet many have questioned why Stevens -- who is under investigation but hasn't been charged with any crime -- has not faced any official rebuke by his peers.

"There's a substantial difference between a conclusion to a matter and allegations that are being denied or behavior that occurred before you ever came to the Senate," McConnell added.

McConnell did not mention any of the senators by name, but it was clear which ones he was talking about during a press conference Tuesday to outline his party's agenda following Congress's summer recess.

Stevens continued his policy of avoiding any comment connected to the investigation or the raid on his home.

"We're not going to comment at all on Sen. McConnell's press conference," said spokesman Steve Wackowski.

Federal investigators and grand juries in Anchorage and Washington, D.C., have been seeking information about renovations to Stevens' home in 2007. The project more than doubled the size of the house and was overseen by oil services company Veco Corp. CEO Bill Allen. In May, Allen pleaded guilty to bribing state lawmakers and agreed to cooperate with authorities in further corruption probes. Veco vice president Richard Smith has also pleaded guilty to identical charges. Allen and Smith resigned from Veco.

The FBI also is investigating the National Science Foundation's award of $170 million in contracts to the company.