Larry Craig and "moral turpitude"

The argument for the defense: Hey, it's just a misdemeanor.

Published October 5, 2007 12:24PM (EDT)

Appearing on the "Today" show this morning, Larry Craig's lawyer argued that the Senate Ethics Committee won't vote to expel Craig because the crime of which he has been convicted is just a misdemeanor and has "nothing to do with his official duties." Indeed, Stanley Brand suggested that the Ethics Committee might not even investigate Craig at all. "They have to cross that serious hurdle that I've spoken about, which is: Are they going to begin to take up misdemeanor cases as a matter of course?"

Republican Sen. Arlen Specter made much the same point Thursday. Saying Craig should be free to remain in the Senate, Specter said: "Disorderly conduct is not moral turpitude, and it is no basis for leaving the Senate."

But it's fair to note here that while Craig pleaded guilty only to the crime of "disorderly conduct," he was arrested because a cop in Minneapolis thought his actions were those of a man trying to solicit a sex act in an airport men's room. And it's also fair to note that Craig's arrest in Minneapolis came just a month after the Idaho Statesman confronted him with a tape-recorded statement from another man who claimed to have had sex with Craig in a men's room at Union Station in Washington.

So disorderly conduct? Yeah, that's not necessarily a matter of "moral turpitude." But cruising for sex in public bathrooms? Maybe we're crazy, but we think that falls right within the heartland of "moral turpitude," no matter the gender of the person with whom the cruiser would like to connect, and especially if the cruiser in question is married at the time.

It's like Nevada Sen. John Ensign says: "This is not just an ordinary misdemeanor charge, and I think we all know that. You wouldn't get this kind of attention here if this was an ordinary misdemeanor charge."

Ensign, who, as chairman of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is stuck with the increasingly unenviable job of trying to win back control of the Senate, said Thursday that Craig "had his day in court" and should now resign. "I believe the best thing for him to do is keep his word," Ensign said. "I could not feel more strongly about it."

By Tim Grieve

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

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