Former Sen. Larry Craig must pay $242K over Twin Cities airport sex sting


A federal judge has ordered former U.S. Sen. Larry Craig to pay more than $242,000 to the U.S. Treasury for improperly using campaign funds to cover legal expenses after his arrest in a 2007 sex sting in a bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport, the Associated Press reports.

The Federal Elections Commission sued Craig, an Idaho Republican, arguing that he converted campaign funds to pay for personal legal expenses in the case. Craig argued that Senate rules permit reimbursement for any costs while on official travel, and noted that he was traveling between Idaho and Washington, D.C., at the time of his arrest.

Federal judge Amy Berman Jackson ruled in favor of the FEC, saying the case "was a personal matter that was not connected to the Senator's duties as an officeholder," according to the Associated Press.

The case against Larry Craig

It was the case that introduced the phrase "wide stance" into popular culture, and for a time, made a tourist attraction out of a men's restroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul airport.

Craig, now 69, was at the airport on June 11, 2007, during a layover on a trip from his home in Idaho to Washington D.C. He was arrested by an undercover police officer in a restroom that had a reputation as a spot for men looking to hook up for sex.

The officer said Craig tapped his feet and nudged the officer's shoe under the stall divider, which he said were well-known signals for men soliciting sex.

Craig quietly pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct a few weeks later and paid a fine. But the story was leaked to Roll Call and Craig, who had consistently opposed gay rights, had to answer questions about his own sexual orientation.

The Idaho Statesman had also been investigating Craig's behavior and published the first in a series of stories at the same time the news about his airport arrest broke.

At a late August news conference with his wife by his side, Craig declared, "I am not gay. I never have been gay." He explained his behavior in the men's room stall by saying he has a "wide stance," and that his nudge of the officer's shoe was inadvertent.

Craig also decided to withdraw his guilty plea, which began his prolonged legal fight for which he used his campaign money. He ultimately lost his case in the Minnesota Supreme Court.

He announced his intent to resign from office in September 2007, but then changed his mind on that, too, and served the last 15 months of his term. Craig did not seek re-election in 2008.

Back at the airport, the restroom involved became a bit of a photo opportunity for visitors and media outlets.

That restroom, as well as another busy one, were revamped shortly after the incident, the Star Tribune reported in 2007. The dividers between the stalls were lengthened so they nearly reached the floor, to help deter sexual encounters.

Airport spokesman Pat Hogan said at the time the attention was an embarrassment for the airport.

"We understand that this happens in most large public facilities, but it is not the kind of publicity that we would have liked to have had -- it's not what we want to be known for."

The Idaho Statesman has a good summary of the entire case involving Craig.

The scandal was great fodder for comedians and political junkies. Here's one example -- a video re-enactment produced by Washington Post reporter Paul Kane shortly after Craig's arrest in 2007:

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Sen. Craig: Bathroom trip was official business

Former Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, the subject of an arrest by an undercover policeman in a bathroom at Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport, is arguing that his travel was part of official Senate business, and therefore it was OK to use campaign funds to pay for a legal defense. In court documents, Craig says he was "engaged in official, constitutionally mandated activity at the time of the incident."