News » True Crime

The Craig Files


"Blame the messenger" never got much plainer than this.

In his 39-page filing with the district court in Minneapolis, U.S. Sen. Larry Craig makes it plain he believes that nothing less than media pressure led to his decision to stumble through a squirm-inducing interview with now-famous Minneapolis airport cop Sgt. Dave Karsnia, and eventually plead guilty to a misdemeanor fine of disorderly conduct in June.

Now, the True Crime Desk has seen its share of goofy pleas, but this one might transcend that base appellation and make its way to brilliance. The gambit smells like genius in these days of low media esteem. Let's not forget that recent polls have shown that reporters tend to rank somewhere below used-car salesmen and somewhere above "loan shark" in the public trustworthiness scale.

Dan Popkey, columnist and erstwhile reporter for the Idaho Statesman? Somewhere on the lower end of that scale for Idaho Republicans. So why not throw him to the legal wolves?

To the filing, made late last week: In it, Craig asserts that he was pretty much driven wild by Popkey's investigative work, which included the novel approach of cruising men's restrooms in Washington, D.C., with a photo of Craig, and hectoring the senator for an interview so he might present him with some salacious recordings and anonymous testimony.

To whit, from the filing: "That meeting, along with the underlying investigation, weighed heavily on the Senator's mind," writes his lawyer Billy Martin. Yeah, that Billy Martin, the one that Craig may have intended to call on the day he announced his resignation. In the recording of the call that was inadvertently made to a wrong number (and subsequently found itself all over the Internet), Craig tells "Billy" that he'd decided to torture the English language a little bit and announce merely his "intent" to resign and not the thing itself, leaving himself just a wee bit of wiggle room to actually, just maybe, just possibly not resign. His staff now calls that a remote possibility and says instead that there's every likelihood Craig will be gone from the U.S. Senate by September 30.

Martin continues in his brief: "In fact, the senator requested that the Statesman cease its activities, but the Statesman continued its efforts. Based on these circumstances, however, the senator has reason to believe that, without additional corroborating evidence, the Statesman would not publish these false and unproven allegations."

No dice.

In their own response to the filing, Statesman Editor Vicki Gowler said her paper felt pretty dang good about the decision to publish their anonymous-source-driven report on Craig's potential, not-proven tendency toward, you know, disorderly conduct.

"The Statesman has taken great care in investigating these serious allegations about Sen. Craig," Gowler said in a story the Statesman wasted no time publishing on its Web site. "From the start, it was important to us to do a thorough and responsible investigation, outside of deadline pressures. We did that. Because of the allegations made last fall, a necessary part of a thorough investigation did include trying to determine whether the senator was regularly cruising restrooms for anonymous sex. The length of the investigation was due in large part to difficulties we encountered getting information from the senator."

Dude just was not helpful. From the exchange documented in the Minneapolis airport between Craig and Sgt. Karsnia, we'd concede this point to Gowler. If only Craig had gone along with the Statesman, and just offered up the location of the bathrooms he was known to frequent, maybe, or showed them the D.C.-area gay bars he liked to troll. With his wife Suzanne sitting next to him during this interview, can anyone imagine a more sensible approach?

That was May.

Then, in June, Craig had to go and get himself arrested. This is where Craig's latest filing appears to portray the senator as possessing that trait we all cling to in the aftermath of personal crises: hindsight. If his filing is to be believed, Craig was on the money on June 11.

"Despite Senator's Craig's denial of any inappropriate behavior, he was panicked that such allegations would be made public and that they would provide the Idaho Statesman with an excuse to publish its baseless article. While in this state of intense anxiety, Sen. Craig felt compelled to grasp the lifeline offered to him by the police officer; namely, that if he were to submit to an interview and plead guilty, then none of the officer's allegations would be made public."

So, skip the attorney bit. Forget the fact that you're a long-term public figure, albeit from a tiny state without a whit of influence on the national stage, and make a decision based on sheer media-driven panic. Happens to us all the time.

Which is where we now find ourselves, on the shoals of judicial mercy, hoping for a reconsideration from the judge about the "manifestly unjust" nature of the bust and the subsequent guilty plea. It would be "manifestly unjust," Martin argues, to not allow Craig to call a do-over and get back in on the court case, now largely over.

Early this week, Martin told CNN that Craig was "not thinking clearly" and his plea ought to be withdrawn.

Which, we think, could be a major issue. Let's consider, for the moment, the entire point of the True Crime column: People behaving badly, and making poor decisions. If Craig is allowed his do-over, dear readers, this may be the last column you ever read. Think about it: There you are, freaked out because Officer Friendly is there with his lights and sirens, and lo, you make a bad decision. You agree to be tested for drunk driving. Or perhaps you feel compelled to agree with the officer when he tells you the empty beer bottles littering the floor of your jalopy are reason enough to suspect your guilt. With the Craig Defense, my friends, all this could be a mere memory, albeit foggy.

And your True Crime Desk would have to find real work.

Tell BW your true crime stories. E-mail