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In Defense of Senator Craig

By Ed Koch

A little known Republican Senator from Idaho, Larry E. Craig, was arrested on June 11, 2007 in a Minneapolis-St. Paul airport bathroom after, according to the arresting officer, using hand and foot signals to convey that he was seeking a sexual encounter. The male police officer was in the next stall for at least 15 minutes. The arrest was followed by a guilty plea and a sentence of probation, $500 fine and no jail time, the misdemeanor charge having been reduced to an offense. Craig was never charged with offering money for sex. The conviction became publicly known and Craig explained his guilty plea as panic on his part, protesting that he is not gay and had not solicited the officer.

The Senator's Republican colleagues demanded he resign, with no one, after Craig having served 17 years as Senator, and ten years as a Congressman, being married to his first and only wife and having three adult children and seven grandchildren, standing up for him. The national media had an orgy with "pottygate" headlines and salacious repetitive broadcasting of the taped interview between the officer and Craig in which he repeatedly denied having engaged in intentional hand and foot signals and denied he was gay. The Senate Republican leadership demanded he resign, knowing the Republican governor of Idaho would appoint a Republican in his stead. Craig announced it was his intention to resign at the end of September. His press secretary later explaining the word intent was used to convey he would not resign if before then he was able to withdraw the guilty plea and be given the opportunity to defend himself in court from the original charge.

One Senate Republican, Arlen Specter, a former district attorney of Philadelphia and now ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, did speak out before Craig's offer to resign. Specter said, "The more people take a look at the situation, there may well be second thoughts." Specter continued that if Craig had not pleaded guilty in August to a reduced charge and instead demanded a trial, "I believe he would have been exonerated."

I have no doubt that in the event of a trial and particularly if the trial were held in New York, Craig would be found not guilty. Under these circumstances, a criminal case could not have been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.

I believe that Craig intended to solicit sex. However not having offered money or otherwise engaging in any sexual conversation with the officer at the time of the alleged solicitation, he could not be found guilty, particularly when he denied knowing of the meaning of the hand and foot signals the officer referred to.

Craig has a record of Senate votes that supported discrimination against homosexuals, e.g., in the military and excluding them from hate crime protection. If he is homosexual -- and it is no longer a crime in the U.S. to be homosexual or sexually engaging with consenting adults as partners -- his offense is that of hypocrisy. That is a sin he shares with huge numbers of his Senate colleagues, and while hypocrisy perhaps should be given the status of an ethical violation, that is, regrettably, not the case today.

Under these circumstances, Craig should be given the opportunity by the Minneapolis court to withdraw his plea and go to trial. His Republican colleagues who were so quick to condemn him should hang their heads in shame and suffer the condemnation of their constituents. His Democratic colleagues who have collectively decided to remain silent and allow him to twist in the malicious wind circulating in the Senate have committed a comparable sin and similarly deserve the censure of their constituents.

Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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