Former U.S. Senator Larry Craig asked a judge to throw out a Federal Election Commission suit over hiring lawyers with campaign funds after a sex-sting arrest, arguing he was on congressional travel at the time.
U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson in Washington today voiced skepticism of Craig’s argument that he was engaged in official Senate business simply because he was headed to the capital when he was arrested for soliciting sex at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport.
“He pleaded guilty to an offense committed in a bathroom that has no connection to his duties other than it was committed in an airport,” Jackson said to Craig’s lawyer, Andrew Herman, at one point during the hour-long hearing. She said she would rule on the issue later.
Craig, an Idaho Republican, spent the money in connection with his arrest, guilty plea to disorderly conduct and subsequent efforts to withdraw the plea in Minnesota, the commission said in a lawsuit filed in June.
Craig, 67, was arrested at the airport on June 11, 2007, by an undercover policeman. He denied soliciting sex in the restroom, saying he had done nothing wrong and that he wasn’t a homosexual.
Craig hired Washington-based Sutherland, Asbill & Brennan to serve as lead counsel in an effort to withdraw his plea and Kelly & Jacobson, a Minnesota firm. He also retained a media relations firm to handle press inquiries about the incident, according to the FEC’s complaint.
The Craig for U.S. Senate Committee paid Sutherland Asbill at least $139,952 for legal services on Craig’s behalf, while Kelly & Jacobson received about $77,032, the commission said in the lawsuit.
The commission has asked the court to make Craig pay back what he spent on his legal defense and to levy civil penalties against Craig and his campaign treasurer of as much as $6,500.
Kevin Hancock, an FEC lawyer, told Jackson that political and media fallout from the arrest wouldn’t justify tapping campaign funds because the underlying conduct was personal.
Jackson asked Herman several times to explain how the legal fees incurred over Craig’s behavior could be considered expenses resulting from officeholder duties. She asked whether buying gifts at an airport kiosk or legal fees stemming from the robbery of the kiosk could be covered by campaign funds.
Herman responded that if the conduct involves regular conduct while traveling, such as walking, eating or using the restroom and something happens that results in a civil or criminal investigation, then those legal fees could be paid for with campaign money.
He pointed to an FEC opinion allowing former Representative Jim Kolbe, an Arizona Republican, to use campaign funds to cover legal fees associated with an investigation into improper behavior with former congressional pages while on a trip to the Grand Canyon.
Jackson said the Kolbe opinion doesn’t explicitly say what conduct on that trip would be covered.
“You’re asking me to base my decision on a lot of things that aren’t in the record,” Jackson said.
Jackson also cited a Sept. 5, 2007, letter that Craig’s lawyers wrote to the Senate Ethics Committee explaining his arrest as “purely personal conduct unrelated to the performance of official Senate duties.”
“Why is that not the beginning and end of the matter,” Jackson said. “This is how he described it. Why is that not a compelling statement?”
Herman responded that the letter has no bearing on the FEC case because the agency doesn’t defer to the ethics committee.
The case is Federal Election Commission v. Craig for U.S. Senate, 1:12-cv-00958, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).
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