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BREAKING NEWS: Sen. Craig denies being gay

August 28, 2007 |  3:28 pm

"I am not gay," Sen. Larry Craig said twice during a 10-minute statement today following news that he had pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct after being arrested at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on suspicion of lewd behavior in a men's restroom in June.

"I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport and I regret the decision to plead guilty," the Idaho Republican added. He said he had "overreacted" to the stress of the moment and did not consult with family or an attorney. The revelations of the arrest and guilty plea, first made by John McArdle in the Roll Call newspaper yesterday, threw the conservative world of Idaho politics into turmoil.

The 27-year veteran of Washington said the stress was compounded by the Idaho Statesman newspaper, which he said had for eight months "relentlessly and viciously harassed" him and his family. He apologized to his family and the people of Idaho.

The 62-year-old Craig is up for reelection next year, but his political future seems clouded now in what has been a safe Republican Senate seat since the days of Ronald Reagan. Even conservative bloggers such as Hugh Hewitt were urging Craig to give up his seat today and allow another Republican to salvage it in a political year when the GOP already must defend more congressional seats than the Democrats.

In Washington, Senate Republican leaders called for an investigation by the ethics...

committee. "This is a serious matter," according to a statement by the leadership, which includes Sens. Mitch McConnell, Trent Lott, Jon Kyl, John Ensign and Kay Bailey Hutchinson. They also said they would investigate to determine if further action was warranted.

Monday night Craig resigned from supporting the campaign of Mitt Romney. Today, Romney's son Josh cancelled a trip to Idaho and the former governor had some harsh words for his former supporter. He called the senator's conduct as reported by airport police "very disappointing."

And Romney added, "Once again, we've found people in Washington have not lived up to the level of respect and dignity that we would expect for somebody that gets elected to a position of high influence. He's no longer associated with my campaign, as you can imagine...I'm sorry to see he has fallen short."

Craig has earned top ratings in recent years from socially conservative groups such as the American Family Assn. and the Family Research Council. He has earned a zero rating from the Human Rights Campaign, a prominent gay rights group, based on his votes on seven issues, including voting to add the Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution, defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

"While he's reflecting on his latest actions," said Joe Solomonese, campaign president, "maybe he'll finally realize that standing in the way of equality and being hypocritical with his politics is wrong for the country."

If Craig resigned, a Republican governor, C.L. "Butch" Otter, would appoint his successor, probably a Republican. Larry LaRocco, a former Democratic congressman, is already campaigning for his party's senate nomination.

The Statesman's investigation of Craig's sexual orientation, Craig said, is "a witch hunt" and has fueled unfounded rumors. The newspaper has recalled Craig's denials in 1982 of being involved in a congressional page scandal and he denied statements last fall on a gay website that he was a homosexual, calling it "completely ridiculous."

In another story today Roll Call's McArdle noted that under Minnesota law Craig could file a motion requesting to withdraw his guilty plea. The senator said he had retained an attorney to study his options. Experts noted there is a high level of proof required for a plea withdrawal and it might backfire because as part of the plea to disorderly conduct a more serious charge of interference with privacy was dismissed.

The Times' Richard Simon has the complete story on this website here and in Wednesday's print editions.

-- Andrew Malcolm