With clock ticking, Craig's resignation more likely

Senator Larry Craig (R-ID)
Senator Larry Craig (R-ID) Handout/MCT

WASHINGTON — Idaho Sen. Larry Craig's fellow Republicans all but abandoned him Thursday and the Senate Ethics Committee said it would continue to investigate his case, increasing the likelihood that he will resign.

Craig, who announced last Saturday that he'd resign from the Senate on Sept. 30, had backed away from that announcement this week by saying he'd resign only if he wasn't able to clear his name first.

The three-term senator is trying to withdraw his guilty plea to disorderly conduct, stemming from his arrest June 11 on charges of lewd conduct in the men's room of the Minneapolis airport.

Craig hopes to undo that plea as well as dismiss the Ethics Committee investigation.

But his hopes of resolving the ethics complaint by his self-imposed Sept. 30 deadline dimmed Wednesday when the Ethics Committee informed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., that it would continue to pursue the case until Craig resigns. And so far, his lawyers haven't filed anything in Minnesota courts in an effort to withdraw his plea.

Right now, it looks as though he'll step down Sept. 30, Craig's spokesman Dan Whiting said.

"Larry Craig expects to resign, that's the most likely scenario," Whiting said. "But he's definitely leaving a door open. It's a small — very, very small — door, very slightly ajar."

Craig has hired some of the most expensive lawyers and communication experts in Washington, and Whiting said the senator was looking into establishing some sort of legal defense fund.

However, Federal Election Commission rules for using campaign contributions to pay legal bills are fairly broad. The only requirement is that the spending be related to legal bills connected to an official's work, an FEC official said.

It's common for lawmakers who are in legal hot water to use their campaign accounts to pay for attorneys, said Stan Brand, the lawyer who's advising Craig on the ethics complaint against him. Many of his past clients have done so.

"It arises from him being a candidate and from his being an officeholder," Brand said. "I've represented scores of elected officials. Many have been career public servants, and the only means they have to defend themselves is campaign funds."

Craig has a fairly sizable campaign account. As of June 30, he had about $549,125 in it, and another $29,907 in the account of his political action committee, Alliance for the West.