“Jiminy God!”: The Larry Craig story

In search of sex in the men's room? Or just misunderstood?

Topics: War Room, Roy Ashburn,

Is there a more misunderstood man in America than Sen. Larry Craig?

When the Idaho Republican was picked up for soliciting sex in a Minnesota men’s room in June, he told police that they were “misconstruing” his actions. When he tapped the foot of a man in an adjoining stall, it was just because he has a “wide stance” when sitting on the toilet. When he reached repeatedly under the stall wall, he was just trying to “pick up a piece of paper” from the floor, even though the police officer who arrested him said there was no paper on the floor and Craig didn’t pick any up.

Oh, and when Craig pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct arising out of the arrest? That was a goof; Craig says he didn’t have a lawyer, and he thought pleading guilty would be the best way to handle the matter “quickly and expeditiously.”

If all this were even a little bit believable, it won’t be after you read the extraordinary, 3,700-word account of Craig’s homosexuality denials in this morning’s Idaho Statesman. When online activist Mike Rogers published claims last year that Craig had engaged in sexual acts with a man at Washington’s Union Station, the Statesman refrained from reporting the allegations because it wanted to make sure it had the story right — a task made more difficult when Craig insisted repeatedly in a May 14, 2007, interview that all of the stories about him were wrong.

Among the highlights from that interview:

The Union Station men’s room. When the Statesman played Craig and his wife a tape recording of the man who said he had sex with Craig at Union Station, the senator responded by saying: “I am not gay and I have never been in a restroom in Union Station having sex with anybody … There’s a very clear bottom line here. I don’t do that kind of thing. I am not gay, and I never have been.” Craig’s wife teared up and said she was “incensed” that the paper would “even consider such as a piece of trash as a credible source.” Craig chimed in, “Jiminy God!”

The fraternity room: When the Statesman asked Craig about the charge that he extended “an invitation to sex” to a man who was thinking about pledging his fraternity in 1967, Craig said: “I don’t hit on any men.”

The REI store: When the Statesman asked Craig about allegations that he “cruised” another man at the REI store in Boise in 1994, Craig said: “Once again, I’m not gay, and I don’t cruise, and I don’t hit on men.” He said the man who accused him of cruising him might have misinterpreted a politician’s smile. “Here is one thing I do out in public: I make eye contact, I smile at people, they recognize me, they say, ‘Oh, hi, Senator.’ Or, ‘Do I know you?’” Craig continued: “I’ve been in this business 27 years in the public eye here. I don’t go around anywhere hitting on men, and by God, if I did, I wouldn’t do it in Boise, Idaho! Jiminy!”

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As the Statesmen notes, Craig has voted to deny rights to gay men and women about as often as he has denied that he is gay himself. In 2004, he voted for a federal constitutional amendment that would have banned gay marriage, and the Statesmen says he has voted against allowing gay men and women to serve in the military and against extending civil rights to gay men and women in the workplace. Although he has said he supports the idea of civil unions, Craig issued a statement last fall — right after Rogers first published allegations of the Union Station incident — in which he said he supported an Idaho constitutional amendment outlawing such unions in the state.

It’s too early to know how all this will play out for Craig’s political career, but it can’t be good. Idaho is one of the reddest states in the country — in 2004, George W. Bush and Dick Cheney picked up 69 percent of the vote there — which means a) voters probably won’t cotton much to what they’re learning this morning about Craig, but b) it will be tough for the Democrats to pick up the seat anyway.

What we do know already: Mitt Romney, who was counting on Craig’s support in Idaho, is running away as fast as he can. As soon as Roll Call broke the news of Craig’s arrest Monday, the Romney campaign pulled down a YouTube video featuring Craig and canceled a trip one of Romney’s sons was to make to Boise this week. Craig then informed Romney’s campaign that he’d be stepping down as co-chairman of the GOP presidential candidate’s Idaho campaign. He said he didn’t want to be a “distraction.”

Update: Craig’s claim that he pled guilty in error because he didn’t have a lawyer advising him at the time? As Roll Call reports, police records show that Craig returned to the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport in late June — 11 days after his arrest but nearly two months before he pled guilty — and asked about a police contact so that “his lawyer can speak to someone.”

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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