Coleman is latest to call for Craig's ouster from Senate

Happier times
Sen. Norm Coleman and Sen. Larry Craig are shown in a 2005 photo.
Photo by Win McNamee/Getty Images

(AP) - Two Senate Republican colleagues, including Minnesota's Norm Coleman, called Wednesday for Sen. Larry Craig to resign. The White House, too, expressed disappointment in the case of the Idaho Republican caught in a men's room undercover police operation.

Arizona Sen. John McCain and Coleman of Minnesota, the state where Craig was arrested, became the first senators to join Rep. Peter Hoekstra, R-Mich., urging Craig's resignation.

McCain told CNN the decision was Craig's to make, "but my opinion is that when you plead guilty to a crime, you shouldn't serve. That's not a moral stand. That's not a holier-than-thou. It's just a factual situation."

"I think he should resign," McCain said.

"Senator Craig pled guilty to a crime involving conduct unbecoming a senator."

Coleman said in a statement, "Senator Craig pled guilty to a crime involving conduct unbecoming a senator."

Hoekstra said Craig "represents the Republican party" and that "his conduct throughout this matter has been inappropriate for a U.S. senator."

Craig pleaded guilty in August to a charge of disorderly conduct following his arrest in a men's room at the Minneapolis airport. He said Tuesday he had done nothing wrong and was sorry he pleaded guilty.

Senate Republican leaders have called on the ethics committee to review Craig's case, and White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said he hoped the panel could do its work quickly.

Stanzel made no expression of support for Craig. "We are disappointed in the matter. It has been referred to the Senate Ethics Committee, so they will have to deal with it," he said.

There were other signs of difficulty for Craig.

Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, issued a statement calling on the senator to consider stepping down. The organization is a self-described conservative government watchdog group.

"Senator Craig admittedly engaged in illegal activity that brings serious disrepute to the public office he holds," Fitton said.

Fitton's suggestion that the senator leave office suggested tenuous support among conservatives who make up his core political supporters.

Craig, 62, a third-term senator up for re-election next year, defended himself Tuesday against a police report alleging he attempted to engage in a homosexual encounter with an undercover officer.

Flanked by his wife, Suzanne, Craig stated three times that he was not gay. He cast his arrest for lewd conduct as unfounded and his subsequent guilty plea to disorderly conduct as an error in judgment spurred by frustration with the state's biggest newspaper prying into his past.

The Idaho Statesman published a lengthy story on Tuesday, a day after the June 11 arrest was first reported, detailing allegations of homosexual behavior by Craig. The senator denied the allegations and contended the paper was engaged in a witch hunt. In a statement, the newspaper said its story spoke for itself.

"While I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct at the Minneapolis airport or anywhere else, I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge in hopes of making it go away," Craig said. "It's clear, though, that through my actions I have brought a cloud over Idaho. For that, I ask the people of Idaho for their forgiveness."

The Idaho Republican Party took a measured, wait-and-see stance while Democrats remained mum, content to let Republicans sort through the fallout. The GOP's biggest names reminded voters of Craig's tenure in the Senate and his powerful seat on the Appropriations Committee.

"I would encourage all Idahoans to avoid rushing to judgment and making brash statements about a man who has dedicated his life to public service," GOP state party chairman Kirk Sullivan said in a statement.

Ignoring that plea, some social and religious conservatives and right-wing radio talk show hosts called for Craig's resignation. And political analysts said Craig will have trouble convincing Gem State voters that his 27-year political career is worth sparing.

In Idaho, with its 1.4 million people, politicians know many supporters by name. The state also likes its Republicans. The GOP controls the statehouse and Congress, and President Bush carried the state in 2004 with 68 percent of the vote.

More than 166,000 residents are Roman Catholic and more than 385,000 Mormon.

Republican leaders in the Senate called for an Ethics Committee review of the case.

"This is a serious matter," they said in a written statement issued in Washington over the names of Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the party leader, and several others.

Two Republicans seeking the party's presidential nomination didn't mince words. Mitt Romney, in whose campaign Craig was playing a prominent role until he quit amid the scandal, told CNBC, "He's disappointed the American people." McCain called for the resignation.

Craig signed a guilty plea on Aug. 1 and later paid $575 in fines and fees and was placed on unsupervised probation for a year.

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