WASHINGTON — In his first major interview since his arrest in a sex sting in the Minneapolis airport, Sen. Larry Craig told NBC's Matt Lauer that he "made a big mistake" when he chose not to consult a lawyer or tell his family that he had pleaded guilty to the crime.
The Idaho Republican also expressed bitterness about his treatment from his Senate GOP colleagues and especially from Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney.
And Craig filed notice Monday with the Minnesota Court of Appeals that he intends to appeal a lower court's decision to uphold his guilty plea to disorderly conduct.
The hour-long interview of Craig and his wife, Suzanne, was conducted in their home in Eagle, Idaho, over the weekend. It's set to air Tuesday night on NBC's "Matt Lauer Reports," which provided excerpts of the interview to The Idaho Statesman. Craig also was interviewed by Boise NBC affiliate KTVB, which is set to air its interview before Lauer's.
Suzanne Craig told Lauer that when she learned of the news of Craig's arrest, it was "like the floor was falling out from under me."
She said that when her husband told her that the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call was going to write about his arrest, it felt "almost like I was going down a drain for a few moments."
Craig told Lauer that his decision not to tell anyone was a "tough call," and ultimately, the wrong one.
"I was very, very embarrassed about it," Craig said. "I wrestled with it. I didn't want to embarrass my wife, my kids, Idaho and my friends. And I wrestled with it a long while. I sought no counsel. I made a very big mistake. I should have told my wife. I should have told my kids. And most importantly, I should have told counsel."
Craig tried to withdraw his guilty plea in September, but his efforts failed. On Oct. 4, a Minnesota judge turned down Craig's effort to withdraw his Aug. 1 guilty plea, saying that his claim that he didn't know what he was doing when he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct was "illogical."
Craig's filing Monday, with the Minnesota Court of Appeals, is the first step in a lengthy legal process. Craig's lawyers must first order and file a transcript of his Sept. 26 hearing. Once that's been filed, his lawyers have 60 days to file a brief outlining his appeal. Then, prosecutors have 45 days to file their response to his appeal.
Once those are filed, the court sets a date for oral arguments, which often occur about six to eight months later. Ninety days after the oral arguments, the judges issue a decision.
Throughout the NBC interview with Lauer, Craig maintained his innocence and said he was a victim of profiling when an undercover police officer arrested him on June 11 for lewd conduct in a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport men's room.
Craig also had harsh words for the treatment from his Senate GOP colleagues — what he referred to as "gladiator politics." Craig had the harshest words for Romney, the former Massachusetts governor who'd tapped Craig as his congressional fundraising co-chairman. Romney condemned Craig's behavior and dropped him from the presidential campaign within hours of Roll Call's scoop about Craig's arrest. Craig told Lauer that he was "very proud of my association with Mitt Romney."
"I'd worked hard for him here in the state," Craig said. "I was a co-chair of his campaign on Capitol Hill. And he not only threw me under his campaign bus, he backed up and ran over me again."
In the interview, Craig also discussed his decision to stay in the Senate — one that peeved many of his colleagues, who've said they think he broke his word. Craig initially said on Sept. 1 that it was his "intent" to resign, a public announcement that few colleagues realized was a conditional one. In the interview, Craig reconfirmed that he wouldn't resign before the end of his term at the beginning of 2009.
Craig told Lauer that resigning is "the easy way out. You've talked about my history and my record. You know I'm a fighter. ... I don't just walk away from a fight. This is the toughest fight of my political life."