A federal court is set to rule this week on whether ex-Sen. Larry Craig (R-ID) broke the law when he appropriated $216,000 in campaign funds to defend himself against an arrest for soliciting sex from an undercover police officer in an airport bathroom. According to McClatchy Newspapers, U.S. District Judge Amy Berman’s ruling in the case could have far-reaching implications in terms of what politicians accused of wrongdoing are allowed to do in their own defense.
At issue is the question whether U.S. senator-turned-lobbyist Craig was on “official business,” as his lawyers contend, when on June 11, 2007, he stole up outside Minneapolis-St. Paul Police Sgt. Dave Karsnia’s toilet stall and began to peer through the crack in the stall door, fondling his wedding ring in a way that indicated that he was a married man in search of quick, anonymous sex with another man.
If the judge finds that Craig was acting in his official capacity as U.S. senator when he took the stall adjacent to Karsnia’s and began to tap his foot and reach under the stall door to touch the officer, then Craig will be found to have been within his rights when he plundered his campaign treasury in an effort to stay out of jail. His legal team has argued that elected officials have typically used campaign funds for legal matters when finding themselves on the wrong side of the law.
“It would certainly have application for any member of Congress, when they are trying to determine if they could use campaign funds for a legal defense,” Craig’s attorney, Andrew D. Herman, told McClatchy. “We are not asking for anything the FEC hasn’t granted before,” he said.
Craig entered a guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct in 2007, denying that his intentions toward the officer were sexual. He later attempted to retract the plea, changing law firms twice and racking up thousands of dollars in legal fees. He retired from the Senate in 2008 and is now a lobbyist for New West Strategies, a “strategic advocacy firm” that McClatchy reported is on record as lobbying elected officials on behalf of Murray Energy Co. and Western Pacific Timber.
Wednesday’s scheduled court battle will be the first in-person face off between Craig’s legal team and attorneys from the Federal Elections Commission since the FEC filed suit against Craig for misappropriation of campaign funds in 2012. The FEC committee tasked with the decision of whether or not to file suit unanimously voted 5-0 in May of 2012 to file the suit against Craig.
“Craig was arrested for purely personal conduct unrelated to his duties as a federal officeholder,” wrote FEC attorneys in a legal brief, adding that “nothing about his officials duties caused him to engage in that personal conduct in the airport restroom, or to subsequently plead guilty, or to thereafter try to withdraw that guilty plea.”
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