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THE SITUATION ROOM
Senator Larry Craig to Make Statement on Minneapolis Arrest; President Bush Gives Key Iraq Speech; Replacing Alberto Gonzales
Aired August 28, 2007 - 16:00 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: Happening now, shock waves over a senator's bathroom bust. Larry Craig is about to go before cameras to talk about his airport arrest and his guilty plea.
We'll carry the Idaho Republican's statement live. That's coming up this hour.
Plus, President Bush paints a frightening big picture of the Middle East, now even warning of "a nuclear holocaust." He's warning of dire consequences if U.S. forces leave Iraq too soon.
And low expectations for New Orleans. Two years after Hurricane Katrina, will the city ever fully recover? The presidential candidates and the American people are weighing in.
I'm Wolf Blitzer. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Just minutes from now, Larry Craig expected to talk publicly about his arrest in an airport men's room and his guilty plea to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.
We're going to be bringing you the senator's comments live here in THE SITUATION ROOM. Stand by for that.
There are also new details emerging about how and why the conservative Republican was busted in an investigation of lewd conduct at the Minneapolis airport. CNN has obtained Craig's petition to enter a guilty plea filed back on August 8th.
It says, and I'm quoting now, "I am pleading guilty because I did the following: Engaged in conduct which I knew or should have known tended to arouse alarm or resentment of others which conduct was physical versus verbal in nature."
Craig now denies any inappropriate behavior and says in hindsight, he should not, repeat not, have pleaded guilty.
Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is on the ground in Boise, Idaho, for us.
Dana, you're there. What are you hearing about the decision that the senator has now made to make a statement which we will be carrying live here in THE SITUATION ROOM?
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's quite simple, Wolf. No matter how popular Senator Larry Craig is here in the state of Idaho -- and he certainly is popular -- his fellow Republicans, I'm told by a well-placed Republican, somebody who is prominent here and has known Senator Craig for some time, really simply said that what Senator Craig has said so far by way of explanation is not enough. That by saying that he did plead guilty at the time, just like you read, but now saying he didn't really mean it, that that really doesn't square with people here in Idaho, even those who are among his staunchest supporters.
So that, there's no question, is why Senator Craig has decided to go out and make what his office says is a statement that we're going to get here in Boise in about a half hour.
BLITZER: You know, Dana, you flew out from Washington. You flew to Boise, but you went through Minneapolis. That's where you changed flights. The same basic route that the senator made. You were there at the scene where this incident occurred.
Give us a little -- a sense of what you saw there.
BASH: That's right, we came, as you said, through Minneapolis, and this incident that took place back on June 11th did take place in the Minneapolis airport.
We walked right by the men's room where it took place. And I think you can see some pictures of it on the wall next to me.
And, you know, certainly it is sort of the main corridor in a very populated place where shops are in the Minneapolis airport. And we also have more details of the incident, because we also went to the police department on the ground at the airport and also got a mug shot as well.
Now, according to the report that the officer on the scene filed, a plainclothes officer, he was investigating lewd conduct in the bathroom, he says, when Larry Craig walked in. He took the stall next to him. And I'll read you a couple of the quotes from this very detailed narrative of the events that took place on June 11th.
"At 12:16 hours, Craig tapped his right foot. I recognized this as a signal used by persons wishing to engage in lewd conduct. Craig tapped his toes several times and moved his foot closer to my foot."
Now, the report goes on to say, "I held my police identification in my right hand, down by the floor, so that Craig could see it. With my left hand near the floor, I pointed towards the exit. Craig responded, 'No!' I again pointed towards the exit."
Now, from there, according to this report, Senator Craig got very testy, refused to go with the officer until the officer told him that he was being arrested. And from there they went off to the headquarters. He was eventually printed and photographed.
Wolf, briefly, the other thing that was found in this report is something that appears to be a contradiction. Senator Craig said in his explanation that he didn't really mean to plead guilty or shouldn't have. Had he had counsel or an attorney he would have done something differently.
But in this report, it says Senator Craig went and had a follow- up meeting at that -- at that station and was demanding to know the status of this investigation, and made clear to the officer there that he wanted to know because he needed to get the information for his attorney. And that would clearly contradict the explanation that Senator Craig gave as to why he pled guilty but didn't really mean it, he says -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Dana. Stand by. You're on the ground in Boise, Idaho, for us.
We're awaiting the senator's statement that's coming up later this hour. We're going to have live coverage of that once he makes the first public statement.
There you see the cameras, the microphones. We'll bring that statement from Larry Craig as soon as it occurs.
In the 24 hours since Senator Craig's arrest was first reported, the online community has been buzzing with discussion about the Idaho Republican.
Let's go to our Internet reporter, Abbi Tatton.
All right, so what's the reaction online? I know there's been a ton, a ton, of material out there.
ABBI TATTON, CNN INTERNET REPORTER: An absolute ton, Wolf. And the first point to make is that this isn't the first day of blog buzz about Senator Larry Craig.
Last fall, a gay, liberal activist online by the name of Mike Rogers (ph), who is well known in the online community for outing gay politicians, wrote on his Web site, made some allegations about Senator Larry Craig. At the time, Senator Craig called those allegations completely ridiculous.
He's named, though, due to that catapulted to the top of blog searches at the time. His name there was being buzzed about, and today after news of this arrest, it's no different.
He's rising up through the ranks. And there's a collection of conservative bloggers, some national, some Idaho-based, who are calling for his resignation.
This one saying, "It's an issue for respect for the U.S. Senate and for the people of Idaho."
Amongst the blog buzz on the left, one point they are making is the resurrection of this video that we told you about yesterday. Senator Craig's endorsement of former governor Mitt Romney for president pulled from Mitt Romney's YouTube page, the announcement yesterday, "Senator Craig has stepped down from his role with the campaign." On the Web, though, things live on. It may not be on former governor Mitt Romney's YouTube, official YouTube page, but it is there online -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right. We're standing by to hear what Senator Craig himself has to say.
Abbi, thanks very much.
Once again, coming up here in THE SITUATION ROOM, we're going back to Boise, Idaho, and we'll bring you the senator's statement as soon as he shows up before those microphones and the cameras. Lots more on this story coming up.
Other important news though that we're following here in THE SITUATION ROOM, just a short time ago, President Bush told a veterans' convention in Nevada there's been a shift in momentum in the war in Iraq. The timing of this claim comes at a key time politically for the president.
Our White House correspondent, Ed Henry, is traveling with the president -- Ed.
ED HENRY, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Wolf, here in Reno at the American Legion Convention, part two in the president's series of speeches meant to shape public opinion heading into that critical mid- September progress report on Iraq. Last week's speeches, you know, may have backfired a bit. That speech to the VFW, it focused on comparing Iraq to Vietnam.
This time the president focused on how winning in Iraq is pivotal to stopping both al Qaeda and Iran and really bringing more stability to the Mideast. The biggest development was that the president seemed to go further than just saying the surge is working. He seemed to claim that the U.S. is turning a corner, the closest he has come to actually saying the U.S. is winning in a long time.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Sectarian violence has sharply decreased in Baghdad. The momentum is now on our side. The surge is seizing the initiative from the enemy and handing it to the Iraqi people.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
HENRY: This is all about the president laying the groundwork for seeking more time for the surge in September. Interestingly, Mr. Bush has repeatedly urged lawmakers not to prejudge this mid-September progress report, even though he seems to be doing that himself with his own words about forging ahead with essentially the same strategy and line of attack.
Mr. Bush, of course, gets to shape that September report. But he has two major challenges that lie ahead. He, himself, acknowledged in this speech, political reconciliation not happening quick enough in Iraq. And he also has the added political pressure of senior Republicans like John Warner saying they want to start seeing troops coming home -- Wolf.
BLITZER: All right, Ed. Thanks very much.
Ed Henry traveling with the president in Reno, Nevada.
Let's go to Jack Cafferty. He's in New York.
How beautiful is Reno, Nevada, Jack, and Boise, Idaho? Did you see the backgrounds for those reports?
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: Well, Reno is my hometown. And it's a gorgeous community.
And Boise, Idaho, I'm not familiar with. But I can attest to Reno and the nearby Sierra Nevada and Lake Tahoe. That's God's country out there.
France's new president, Nicolas Sarkozy, has raised the possibility of a military attack on Iran if it doesn't stop its nuclear program. In his first major foreign policy speech, Sarkozy said it would be unacceptable for Iran to have a nuclear weapon. He said Iran can choose between dialogue with the international community or more U.N. sanctions, adding that this is the only way "that allows us to escape from a catastrophic alternative, an Iranian bomb or the bombing of Iran."
To Sarkozy, this issue is currently the worst crisis facing the world. Although the president's aides say that France's policy hasn't changed, some experts called Sarkozy's remarks a diplomatic blockbuster.
And it appears that the speech is twofold of purpose. First, to Iran, a warning. But secondly, a nod to the Bush administration that he supports the idea that no option, including force, can be taking off the table.
So, here's the question: French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised the possibility of bombing Iran and said its nuclear program is the worst crisis currently facing the world. Is he right?
E-mail your thoughts to caffertyfile@CNN.com or go to CNN.com/caffertyfile -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Hearing a little bit different nuance from Sarkozy, as opposed to Jacques Chirac. Maybe a lot more than just a little nuance. A major change.
CAFFERTY: I was going to say, those are -- those are fighting words compared to the guy he replaced, who was kind of a mealy-mouthed pacifist, if you would, by comparison. Sarkozy is saying you better straighten up or we're going to come and drop things on you.
BLITZER: Maybe he was watching the news while he was here on vacation up in New England a few weeks back. You'll remember when he was here.
All right, Jack. Thanks very much.
We're standing by for that televised statement by Senator Larry Craig. He's now under intense scrutiny for being caught up in an investigation of lewd conduct at a men's bathroom in Minneapolis.
We're going to carry his remarks live as soon as they occur. We'll take a closer look at the political fallout he's also facing here in Washington.
Those are the mug shots. You see them there.
Also coming up, he's been one of Alberto Gonzales' most vocal critics. I'll talk to Democratic senator Chuck Schumer about possible replacements for the attorney general and whether he'd oppose them.
And later, two years after Katrina, are hopes for a total recovery in New Orleans washed away?
Stick around. Lots of news happening right here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Looking at a live picture of Boise, Idaho. Coming up very, very soon, Senator Larry Craig, Republican of Idaho, about to make a statement to reporters. This is the first public statement he's made other than a brief little written statement since it was revealed he was busted in an airport bathroom.
We're going to bring you the statement live as soon as it occurs. That's expected later this hour. We're told around 4:30 p.m. Eastern. Whenever it happens, we'll go to Boise for that.
Now that Alberto Gonzales is stepping down, some of his fiercest critics in the U.S. Senate are warning that the next attorney general had better be more than just an old pal of the president.
BLITZER: And joining us now from Rochester, New York, Democratic Senator Chuck Schumer, a member of the Judiciary Committee.
Senator, thanks very much for coming in.
SEN. CHARLES SCHUMER (D), NEW YORK: Good to be here, Wolf.
BLITZER: Now that Alberto Gonzales has decided to step down as the attorney general, are you still going to move full speed ahead with all these various investigations, or are you going to move on to some other issues?
SCHUMER: Well, it's all going to be up to the -- who the new attorney general is. It's our hope that we can move forward with these investigations, but do it quickly and with dispatch. If the new attorney general is one who is not prone to stonewalling and just not giving information, I think we can quickly figure out what happened with the U.S. attorneys, with the wiretapping, see what went wrong, fix it and move forward. Our goal is to look forward, not to point fingers or blame back. And as long as the new attorney general is one who puts rule of law first and doesn't stonewall, we'll be able to do that.
BLITZER: What about Michael Chertoff? His name has been floated, the secretary of Homeland Security, a former top official at the Justice Department. Is he someone that you think the Senate Judiciary Committee could confirm?
SCHUMER: Well, I think there are some major questions about Secretary Chertoff. His management of the Homeland Security Department has not been great. It's not just Katrina, but so many other issues.
And second, when he was in law enforcement, was he the type who instinctively put rule of law ahead of politics? There's some questions about that as well.
So, while I wouldn't close the door on Chertoff, he is hardly a lay-up. And there are probably other names out there who, particularly on the second issue, would show more fidelity to rule of law. But, again, the jury would be out on Chertoff.
BLITZER: Yesterday, Ed Gillespie at the White House told us it's probably going to be a matter of weeks before the president selects a name to send up for a nomination. Is there some, one or two people, that you think would effectively sail through your committee, someone with high regard?
SCHUMER: I think there are more than one or two. Many more than one or two who the president would find acceptable. They'd be ideologically conservative, but at the same time, who we would find acceptable, people who we believe would put the rule of law first and politics last. Sort of the inverse of what Attorney General Gonzales did.
BLITZER: You want to give us a few names?
SCHUMER: I have given some names actually to Fred Fielding, the White House counsel. He was reaching out to me yesterday, which I thought was a good sign. But I don't think it would help the candidacy of any of those names that I gave him to put them forward publicly right now.
BLITZER: All right. Let's move on and talk about the president's address today on the Middle East, part two of his -- of his buildup, if you will, to the General Petraeus report that's due out by the middle of September.
I'm going to play a little clip for you on what he's now saying about Iran, because he's raising the ante as far as Iran is concerned, the fallout from what the U.S. is doing in Iraq. Listen to this. (BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
BUSH: Iran has arrested visiting American scholars who have committed no crimes and posed no threat to their regime. And Iran's active pursuit of technology that could lead to nuclear weapons threatens to put a region already known for instability and violence under the shadow of a nuclear holocaust.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: I know, Senator, you're no fan of Iran. But what do you think about this line he's now saying about a nuclear holocaust that Iran could engage in?
SCHUMER: Well, the question is, how does the war in Iraq further going after and containing Iran? And this is what the president always does.
He doesn't focus on the facts on the ground, what's going on in the civil war in Iraq, can we ever get the Shiites and the Sunnis together, how are we going to create a government, even if the surge is temporarily successful. And its diversionary.
Yes, Iran is a serious problem. I'd like to see the president's plan on what to do with Iran. He has not made any case at all that continuing to fight a civil war in Iraq helps with Iran.
BLITZER: But, you know, even some Democrats are now suggesting that maybe the military part of the -- the troop buildup, the so- called surge, is making some progress.
I want you to listen to what your colleague, Hillary Clinton, said the other day.
Listen to this.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
SEN. HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON (D-NY), PRESIDENTIAL CANDIDATE: We've begun to change tactics in Iraq and in some areas, particularly in Al Anbar province, it's working.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BLITZER: All right, so what about that? Why not give -- why not give the military a chance to see if they can finish the job?
SCHUMER: Well, the second part of what Hillary said is it's not going to make much of a difference if we don't have a strong political government. And I think that's where Democrats overwhelmingly are. When the president started this surge, it wasn't an end in itself. It was a means to strengthening the Maliki government.
If anything, the Maliki government is weaker and in greater disrepute among the Iraqi people and among any observer here in America than it was before the surge started. We can't keep all those troops there forever. And what is going to happen when the troops have to -- have to leave because their tours of duty are gone?
If there's no political strength in the government, and that government can hold together and is going to fall apart whether we stay there three months, three years or 20 years, and that's what most people think, then what is the point of the surge? The president has never answered that question.
Again, he never focuses on the issue at hand. He's always diversionary, either trying to scare people -- nuclear holocaust in Iran, a real problem, but nothing to do -- at least he's not made any connection with the war in Iraq -- or, now, well, the surge is working in Anbar province. How does that create a government that will last in Iraq after we're gone?
BLITZER: We're out of time, Senator, but your quick reaction to Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho pleading guilty to disorderly conduct at a public men's room at the Minneapolis airport. Is this a subject the Senate Ethics Committee, your colleagues in the Senate, should now discuss, should review?
SCHUMER: Well, that will be up to them. They know their rules. I don't know if there's been a referral. I'm not going to comment on on this.
BLITZER: All right, Senator. Thanks very much.
Senator Chuck Schumer of New York joining us.
SCHUMER: Thanks, Wolf.
BLITZER: And we're waiting to hear from Senator Larry Craig directly. The Idaho Republican scheduled to make a statement in the next few moments. Presumably, he's going to address the many questions surrounding his arrest at that public men's room at the airport in Minneapolis and his guilty plea to disorderly conduct.
We're going to bring you his statement live as soon as it happens. We'll go to Boise, Idaho, for that.
And the only officer charged in the Abu Ghraib prison abuse scandal could be sent to jail himself. That's even though a military court acquitted him for failing to rein in soldiers under his command.
Stay with us. You're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: We are just getting this -- just getting this in from The Associated Press. The Associated Press reporting that Senate Republican leaders have now decided to call for a formal Ethics Committee review of the case involving Republican Senator Larry Craig of Idaho.
As you know, he was arrested, pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct as a result of an investigation at a public men's room in Minneapolis at the airport.
We're standing by for a statement from Larry Craig. Senator Craig about to make a statement in Boise, Idaho. We have cameras there. Our microphones are there.
We're going to bring you his comments live as soon as they occur. That's coming up momentarily.
BLITZER: We're standing by to hear from Senator Larry Craig momentarily. The Idaho Republican about to speak out.
You're looking at some live pictures. We'll show you the live pictures from the news conference, as it's being billed. We don't know if he's going to answer any questions or just make a statement. We're anxious to see, though, who shows up with him. Will his wife be there as well?
We'll take a quick break. We're standing by for the statement from Larry Craig right after this.
BLITZER: Moments from now, we're awaiting a statement from Senator Larry Craig, Republican of Idaho. He's facing lots of questions about his arrest in an airport men's room and questions involving why he pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.
As we have been reporting, Craig denies any inappropriate or lewd behavior. But the officer who arrested him has said otherwise.
Let's go to our congressional correspondent Jessica Yellin. She's watching all of this unfold.
And we reported just moments ago, Jessica, the Associated Press saying Republicans in the Senate want an investigation by the Senate Ethics Committee. You're working that story.
JESSICA YELLIN, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That's correct. And I can confirm that. The Republican leadership here in the Senate collectively is calling on the Ethics Committee to look into this matter.
And they also say that, in the meantime, leaders are reviewing if additional action may be required. Now, as you know, Senator Craig is up for reelection next year. And he has yet to announce whether he will, in fact, seek reelection or perhaps choose to retire.
Craig is in a very red state, so Republicans feel quite confident, those that I have spoken to, that, if he should choose to retire, they could hold the seat. But, in the meantime, this story creates a sort of unpleasant atmosphere, reminders, if you will, of some of the scandalous stories in the recent past, stories they were hoping to get beyond. And some Republicans I have spoken to today say, they're sort of in a -- a wait-and-see mode. They are waiting to see essentially what Senator Craig decides to do, what he decides to announce later.
Senator Craig, as you know, also, is a -- has been a staunch conservative. He served here for more than 25 years. Over that time, he's been a consistent opponent of expanding gay rights, voting several times to oppose a gay marriage amendment or expansions of employment protections for gays and lesbians.
He was also once caught up in a similar sort of scandal in the early '80s. He publicly denied that he had any involvement in an investigation into improper activity with congressional pages. He was never ultimately implicated in that case.
But, again, all of this creates an atmosphere of scandal that's very uncomfortable for Republicans here, something they were hoping to get beyond.
BLITZER: And -- and just to repeat the sort of headline, Jessica, as we await his statement, the Senate Ethics Committee will now take up this matter?
YELLIN: That's right.
And, in addition to this call by the Republican leadership here, earlier today, an outside group that has consistently gone after Republicans more than Democrats filed a complaint with the Ethics Committee.
All of this indicates that they will look into the matter. But they're not actually compelled to investigate. That's up to them. We did do some inquiry -- make some inquiries on this matter, and we understand that there was no rule requiring that Craig actually report this arrest to the Ethics Committee. So, he did not break the Senate rules by failing to report the arrest.
But, then, it's open to discussion, or up to the Ethics Committee to determine whether the behavior itself or the guilty plea is not consistent with Senate conduct.
BLITZER: All right, stand by, Jessica, because we're standing by ourselves for the statement from Larry Craig. As soon as he starts speaking in Boise, Idaho, we're going to bring you his comments live here in THE SITUATION ROOM.
Our congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, is already on the ground in Boise, Idaho. She's got some -- a sense of what the -- the people of Idaho themselves are saying, what the newspapers, the main newspaper there are saying.
Give us a little flavor, Dana, how people in Idaho are reacting to this bombshell.
DANA BASH, CNN CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, on the one hand, Wolf, you have the same kind of sentiment that Jessica was just describing from Senator Craig's Republican colleagues on Capitol Hill, which is, they really do want to wait and see and do want to sort of, you know, give Senator Craig the benefit of the -- of the doubt.
But, at the same time, what you hear overwhelmingly from Republicans who are -- who are close to Senator Craig, who have -- who have a great deal of influence in this state, is, the explanation that Senator Craig has given for why he pled guilty, essentially saying that he didn't mean it, and saying that he didn't actually engage in the -- the lewd behavior that he pled guilty to in a court, that that's really not flying here.
And that is why you are seeing a pretty big gathering here in Boise, as you can imagine, a lot of reporters waiting to see Senator Craig come out and speak, because that is, just in talking to Republicans here in Idaho, clearly, as Jessica was just reporting, Republicans in Washington, that is the message that Senator Craig is getting loud and clear: The explanation that he has given thus far is simply -- is simply not enough.
And I was talking to sort of the leading conservative voice in this state, in Idaho, and he said that, you know, if it is, in fact, true that Senator Craig did that, as you can imagine, he said that Senator Craig should resign. And he also said that he just doesn't -- he doesn't think, and some members of his conservative organization that he's hearing from around the state, they just don't think that Senator Craig essentially is -- is necessarily telling the truth, because, from the -- the report that we have been talking about in great detail, the officer's report who arrested Senator Craig for this apparently lewd conduct, it -- this -- this person just said, look, it just doesn't seem that Senator Craig is giving a credible response.
BLITZER: All right, Dana, stand by. You're in Boise, Idaho. Our cameras and our microphones are there as well.
As soon as Senator Craig starts speaking, we're going to go there live to bring our viewers his comments.
I just want to read a statement that was put out by the Republican leadership in the Senate, a statement on their decision to go ahead and call for the Senate Ethics Committee to investigate Senator Craig's behavior. This is a statement put out by the Republican leader, the minority leader, Mitch McConnell, as well the other leaders, the assistant leader, Trent Lott, Jon Kyl, Kay Bailey Hutchison, and John Ensign.
It says, among other things: "Late yesterday, we became aware of the incident involving Senator Larry Craig and his subsequent admission of guilt in a Minnesota court. This is a serious matter," the Republican senators say. "Due to the reported and disputed circumstances and the legal resolution of this serious case, we will recommend that Senator Craig's incident be reported to the Senate Ethics Committee for its review. In the meantime, leadership is examining other aspects of the case to determine if additional action is required" -- that statement just released by the Republican leadership in the U.S. Senate only moments before. We're going to hear directly from the man at the center of this incident, Senator Craig, himself. He's going to be emerging shortly, speaking to reporters out in Boise, Idaho.
Our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin, is also watching all of this unfold.
Jeff, I have read all the legal documents that were put out -- stand by, because the senator is now walking out. We will go to that -- we will go to that picture. There he is holding hands with his wife. He's going to be speaking to reporters, making the statement.
Let's listen to Senator Craig.
SEN. LARRY CRAIG (R), IDAHO: Thank you all very much for coming out today.
I will read a statement.
First, please let me apologize to my family, friends, and staff and fellow Idahoans for the cloud placed over Idaho.
I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport. I did nothing wrong, and I regret the decision to plead guilty and the sadness that decision has brought on my wife, my family, friends, staff and fellow Idahoans. And, for that, I apologize.
In June, I overreacted and made a poor decision. While I was not involved in any inappropriate conduct at the Minneapolis airport or anywhere else, I chose to plead guilty to a lesser charge, in hopes of making it go away. I did not seek any counsel, either from an attorney, staff, friends, or family. That was a mistake, and I deeply regret it.
Because of that, I have now retained counsel, and I am asking counsel to review this matter and to advise me on how to proceed.
For a moment, I want to put my state of mind into context on June 11. For eight months leading up to June 11, my family and I had been relentlessly and viciously harassed by "The Idaho Statesman." If you saw the article today, you know why.
Let me be clear: I am not gay. I never have been gay.
Still, without a shred of truth or evidence to the contrary, "The Statesman" has engaged in this witch-hunt.
In pleading guilty, I overreacted in Minneapolis because of the stress "The Idaho Statesman" investigation and the rumors it has fuelled all around Idaho. Again, that overreaction was a mistake, and I apologize for my judgment.
Furthermore, I should not have kept this arrest to myself, and I should have told my family and my friends about it. I wasn't eager to share this failure, but I should have anyway, because I am not gay. I love my wife, my family. I care about friends and staff and Idaho. I love serving this great state. Over the years, I have accomplished a lot for Idaho. And I hope Idahoans will allow me to continue to do that. There are still goals I would like to accomplish. And I believe I can still be an effective leader for our state.
Next month, I will announce, as planned, as many of you have already been told, whether or not I will seek reelection. As an elected official, I fully realize that my life is open for public criticism and scrutiny, and I take full responsibility for a lapse in judgment I made in attempting to handle this matter myself.
It is clear, though, through my action, I have brought a cloud over Idaho. And for that, I seek and ask the people of Idaho to forgive me.
As I mentioned earlier, I have retained counsel to examine the matter. And, from that, I will make no further comment. This statement will go up on my Web site today at craig.senate.gov. Any additional comments will be on the Web site.
I'm sure this is an issue that is not yet over, and I will respond accordingly to all of you in the press. As I have always appreciated your willingness to accommodate me, I hope you appreciate my openness to all of you.
Thank you very much.
QUESTION: Senator, what happened in Minneapolis?
QUESTION: And what if you are gay?
QUESTION: Come out of the closet.
BLITZER: All right, there he is, Senator Larry Craig and his wife not answering any questions. Lots of questions still to be answered. But the senator making a strong statement: "I am not gay," he says. "I have never been gay."
He regrets that he decided to plead guilty to that disorderly conduct charge at a men's bathroom at the Minneapolis airport.
I want to bring in our senior legal analyst, Jeff Toobin.
Jeff, you were listening very carefully. He regrets that decision to plead guilty. He says he now has decided to retain an attorney to try to work this issue more thoroughly. But give us your legal analysis of what we just heard.
JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, in the many bizarre -- bizarre statements that politicians have made over the years, this certainly has to rank among the strangest ever by an American politician. I mean, I have heard of politicians claiming to be framed after a trial in which they are convicted, but he apparently is claiming that he was framed and pled guilty. The idea that a United States senator, a very sophisticated person, with enormous responsibilities, chose to plead guilty by mistake just seems to me not credible.
And the idea that he is now going to retain a lawyer, who I assume will look into withdrawing his guilty plea, because he suddenly decided he was innocent, is just, I mean, hard for me to believe. But, apparently, that's what he's going to try to do.
BLITZER: Well, legally speaking, how -- how difficult would that be? Because, if you read the signed affidavit, the signed statement that he makes -- and he signs it specifically -- he says he didn't need a lawyer, and he concedes he's guilty. How difficult is it now to go forward and file an appeal, saying, you know what, I'm innocent?
TOOBIN: Virtually impossible.
The whole reason why judges take time in explaining guilty pleas is just to avoid this situation. They are often explaining the -- the consequences of a guilty plea to people who don't speak English, to people who are not educated.
United States senators understand -- are expected to understand when a judge speaks to them and explains the consequences of pleading guilty. I don't see any circumstances in the world where a judge would allow him to withdraw this guilty plea.
BLITZER: And I have here in front of me -- I'm holding in my hand, Jeff, the actual document that he signed, the petition to enter a plea of guilty, misdemeanor.
Among other things, it says, "I understand that the court will not accept a plea of guilty from anyone who claims to be innocent." And he also says, "I now make no claim that I am innocent of the charge to which I am entering a plea of guilty."
The only thing I can assume, Jeff, is that he thought, by entering a guilty plea, people wouldn't notice. It would go away. He could get this resolved quietly, and it would never come to light. That's why he decided to go ahead and sign this document.
But, I can't -- I can't understand any other explanation why he might do this if, in fact, he felt that he was innocent.
TOOBIN: I think you're exactly right. And that is, in fact, what he said today, that, by pleading guilty, he thought he would make the whole thing go away.
But we're talking about, A, a United States senator and, B, a crime. I mean, the -- you know, you can say it's a misdemeanor. And, yes, misdemeanors aren't as serious as felonies, but misdemeanors are crimes. And the idea that a United States senator thought he could plead guilty to a crime, and nobody would know about it, and his constituents wouldn't care and -- and had no right to be informed of the fact that this -- this politician, whose salary they pay, is a convicted criminal, is just astonishing to me, that he thought he could get away with it.
And now he thinks he can get away with something even more incredible.
BLITZER: He said -- in his statement we just saw, he said, "I did nothing wrong at the Minneapolis airport." He said he overreacted -- overreacted by agreeing to plead guilty, hoping it would make it go away.
All right, Jeff Toobin, stand by, because we have more that we want to watch on this story.
Will the revelations about the Idaho senator mean -- what will they mean for his political career? He certainly didn't say he was stepping down. We're going to discuss some of the political fallout from what we just heard from Senator Larry Craig. That's coming up in our "Strategy Session."
James Carville, John Feehery, they're here.
And you're in THE SITUATION ROOM.
BLITZER: Joining us now from our "Strategy Session," Democratic strategist James Carville and Republican strategist John Feehery.
All right, we just heard an almost five-minute statement, no questions. He didn't take any questions. Larry Craig, the Republican senator from Idaho, saying he did nothing wrong. He's sad that the people of Idaho have to endure this problem. "I overreacted," he said, when he decided to plead guilty to these disorderly conduct charges.
And then he repeated a couple times: "I am not gay. I have never been gay."
How does a senator, in a situation like this, deal with the enormous problem he clearly has?
JAMES CARVILLE, CNN POLITICAL ANALYST: Well, not like he did today. In a pantheon of bad political press conferences, this one is going to have an exalted place on the wall. I don't know if it's going to number one, two, or three, but it's going to be up there.
And then he said, well, I did it because "The Idaho American Statesman" made me do it.
And it was just one kind of excuse after another, completely unsatisfactory. He answered no questions. We were watching it before. And I was actually -- before the thing, I was actually starting to feel a little sorry for the guy, a little sympathy for him, but not after that. I mean, it -- he's going to -- he's going to have a really tough go. (CROSSTALK)
BLITZER: John, you worked for the speaker. You worked on the House -- in the House for a long time. What did you think of that performance?
JOHN FEEHERY, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: First of all, I feel really bad for his family. I feel really bad for his staff, who all -- staff care very deeply for -- for the senator.
I think this is a tragic situation. You saw the Republican leadership move very quickly to try to establish some sort of an Ethics Committee investigation. I think that's to protect themselves and try to get to the bottom of this as soon as possible.
I don't know what the truth is. I wasn't there. I have never been to Minnesota, this airport. I think -- but I think this whole situation is really tragic for -- for the -- for Larry Craig and his staff.
BLITZER: Well, someone -- and all of our viewers know you advised Bill Clinton.
BLITZER: He had a sexual scandal that all of us...
BLITZER: ... remember involving Monica Lewinsky.
BLITZER: What would you have advised Larry Craig in a situation like this? How do you deal...
BLITZER: ... with the fallout from pleading to a disorderly conduct at a public men's room at the Minneapolis airport, allegations of lewd behavior?
CARVILLE: I certainly wouldn't advise him to blame "The Idaho American Statesman," or whatever the newspaper is out there. That would have been number one. Number two...
BLITZER: "The Idaho Statesman."
CARVILLE: "The Idaho Statesman." I'm sorry. "The Idaho Statesman."
Number two, I certainly wouldn't have walked out of there without taking any questions or anything like that. I would have had -- and, number three, he's a United States senator. He knew what he was signing. And the idea that this policeman made this whole thing up is -- it -- I'm not saying a policeman never made anything up, but that story, it doesn't look very good to me.
BLITZER: Yes, John.
FEEHERY: Pleading guilty was one of the biggest political blunders in the 20th century, 21st century.
CARVILLE: Well, maybe he was guilty.
FEEHERY: Well, pleading guilty right away, not talking to your lawyer, I think is just -- various mistakes.
BLITZER: Well, I -- the only thing I can assume he thought that nobody would notice and it would just go away. The incident occurred back in June.
BLITZER: The guilty plea and all that didn't happen until early August. It didn't take very long, though, for word to surface what was going on.
CARVILLE: Let me flat say I don't and I suspect that most people don't believe he never talked to a lawyer. I just don't believe it.
BLITZER: Well, he also says he never spoke to his family about it, about what was going on.
CARVILLE: I believe that. I believe that.
FEEHERY: The thing is, people think they can get away with things. I have seen this time and time again in the House, where a scandal doesn't break until three months, four months, five months until after it happened. And, by that time, you -- you don't tell anybody. And it's a -- it's a big mistake. It happens time and time again. It happened with the Foley case. This is -- this is one of those things that just is tragic.
CARVILLE: I -- I agree. I feel sorry for his staff. And I know they put a lot of hard work in. I feel sorry for his wife and his family.
I don't feel sorry for him after today, not one whit.
BLITZER: Well, here's the -- here's a line from the editorial in today's "Idaho Statesman": "Why did Craig not come forward after the June 11 arrest? Did he honestly think this would never become public? For Craig to keep this from his constituents for 11 weeks is not merely bad public relations; it's an unacceptable breach of trust."
And I assume, John -- and you worked for the Republican leadership in the Congress for a long time -- he didn't tell Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader...
FEEHERY: I don't...
BLITZER: ... in the Senate, or any of his colleagues...
BLITZER: ... give them a heads-up on what was going on.
FEEHERY: Clearly, he thought this would go away. And he was wrong. And now it's come out. And the question is, what is the truth? Can he get to the truth?
He says, categorically, that he's not gay. The question is, you know, will someone come out and say that he is? I don't know the answer to those questions. I hope, for his sake, that nothing happens.
CARVILLE: Yes. I really don't care if the man is gay or not. You know, all he had to do was acknowledge that he made a mistake, that he pled guilty, that he tried to hide it because he was embarrassed by, and he got caught, and he's sorry for that. And I think most people would have said, fine.
But what people are going to deeply resent was that performance today, where he blamed the newspaper for his problems.
BLITZER: Yes, here's what Mitt Romney -- he was the chairman of Mitt Romney's election committee out in Idaho. But he's dropped out of that as a result of his -- it becoming public yesterday, Mitt Romney saying: "I think it reminds us of Mark Foley and Bill Clinton. People who are elected to public office continue to disappoint, and they somehow think that, if they vote the right way on issues of significance or they can speak a good game, that we will just forgive and forget" -- Romney going on to say, "Frankly, it's disgusting."
Those are pretty strong words from the Republican presidential candidate.
FEEHERY: Well, a lot of people think it's disgusting, and that -- that's what he's talking to, although I think Mitt Romney would be better off not actually getting in -- in this story at all, that this is not a story that Mitt Romney wants any part of.
BLITZER: Does he run for reelection next year, you think? Or is it too early to -- he didn't give us any clue one way or another in this brief statement he just made.
FEEHERY: I don't think he has made that decision yet. I think we have to see how this plays out. CARVILLE: I think it's -- I think it's human.
And I think Mitt Romney ought to refer to some religious works and -- and -- and learn a little bit about forgiveness and understanding. This guy was a friend of Mitt Romney's. He had endorsed Mitt Romney. And this is just the typical blather of some ambitious, vapid politician. I was offended by what Mitt Romney said.
What the man did was wrong. It was human. And it looks like somebody in his own party could show him a little kindness.
BLITZER: James Carville and John Feehery, guys, thanks for coming into our "Strategy Session."
A lot more coming up on this story. We will bring you more reaction as it comes in. But the Republican leadership in the U.S. Senate now will start an Ethics Committee investigation.
Other news: Is the Iran nuclear threat the worst crisis facing the world? Jack and your e-mail -- when we come back.
BLITZER: Let's go right to Jack Cafferty for "The Cafferty File" -- Jack.
JACK CAFFERTY, CNN ANCHOR: So, I have a little prediction, Wolf. If this moron, Larry Craig, is reelected to the Senate, if he's stupid enough to run again, if he's reelected, I will eat the Time Warner Center one brick at a time.
CAFFERTY: What a pathetic excuse for a statesman and a -- and a government representative he is.
That's not our topic, though. Our topic is this. French President Nicolas Sarkozy raised the possibility of bombing Iran, and says that its nuclear program is the worst crisis currently facing the world. Is he right?
John in Pennsylvania: "Iran, with or without a nuke, is the biggest problem we face. They will undermine any government in the region that they can. They need to dealt with swiftly and harshly. Maybe, with Sarkozy helping out, the civilized world will deal jointly with the mongrel Ahmadinejad."
John in Astor, Florida: "I notice President Sarkozy did not say just who was going to do the Iran bombing. No doubt his plan is for Americans to do the dirty work, while he sits back and watches it on TV from the French Riviera, drinking French wine, eating french fries."
Juan: "The French president has a lot in common with our own president. They couldn't put a full clue together between them if their lives depended on it. Spraying testosterone into a room full of cameras and reporters does not address the world's true issues."
Pat writes: "Oh, sure, Iran having nuclear potential is a crisis, but it comes way after our being in Iraq, the huge debt that Bush has saddled onto the future of our children and grandchildren, the credit crisis, the dollar in freefall, global warming, and the irrelevance we now have in the world because of our failed and misguided foreign policy."
Tony writes, "No, sounds like Bush has a new European lapdog to replace Blair."
And Jim writes from North Carolina: "Are you kidding me? French President Nicolas Sarkozy talking about bombing another country, it's like Jack Cafferty giving hair care advice."
CAFFERTY: "Stick to what you're good at, Sarkozy: making cheese, offending tourists, and surrendering to the Germans" -- Wolf.
BLITZER: Jack Cafferty, thank you.
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