Craig Admonishment

     Earlier this month, the Senate Ethics Committee issued a public letter of admonition to Senator Larry Craig.  The committee found that Senator Craig’s guilty plea to disorderly conduct in a Minneapolis airport restroom was “accurate, voluntary and intelligent.”  It therefore accepted as proven the conduct that was set forth in that guilty plea.  In addition, the committee found that when Senator Craig showed the arresting officer his business card and asked “what do you think about that?” or words to that effect, a reasonable person would view his statement as an improper attempt to obtain favorable treatment as a United States Senator. 

      The committee further found that Craig’s attempt to withdraw his guilty plea was an effort to evade the legal consequences of his initial guilty plea and therefore in violation of his duty to “uphold the Constitution, laws and legal regulations of the United States and of all governments therein and never to be a party to their evasion.”  Finally, the committee found that Craig had used over $213,000 in campaign funds to pay legal and other expenses related to the criminal conviction and ethics inquiry, but had failed to obtain the committee’s prior approval, as required by Senate ethics rules.

        Surprisingly, Roll Call’s ethics columnist, C. Simon Davidson, is questioning whether the Ethics Committee purported to exercise jurisdiction over matters of purely personal conduct.  Davidson states that “the committee admonished Craig for what it construed to be official conduct: giving the appearance of using an official position to gain special treatment, evading the law by attempting to withdraw a freely given guilty plea, and using campaign funds for legal expenses without obtaining the committee’s approval[, thus] leav[ing] open the question of whether it ever would assert jurisdiction over purely personal conduct.”

This conclusion overlooks the committee’s clear statement that “[t]he conduct to which you pled guilty, together with your related and subsequent conduct as set forth above, constitutes improper conduct reflecting discreditably on the Senate.” Thus, it is evident that the committee viewed the disorderly conduct itself as reflecting discreditably on the Senate. Moreover, it is hard to see how Craig’s conduct in withdrawing his guilty plea could be any more “official” than the underlying conduct to which he pled guilty in the first place.

If there were any doubt as to the committee’s position on this issue, it should be put to rest by the committee’s direct response to the challenge made by Craig’s counsel to its jurisdiction. In rejecting counsel’s argument that it lacked jurisdiction over a misdemeanor unrelated to official duties, the committee noted that “the Senate ‘may discipline a Member for any misconduct, including conduct or activity which does not directly relate to official duties, when such conduct unfavorably reflects on the institution as a whole.’” (citing Senate Ethics Manual, 2003 ed., at 13).

As I explained in my prior post on this matter, it should be no surprise that the Senate Ethics Committee has taken the position that it has jurisdiction in this matter, even as to the personal misconduct which has reflected discredit on the Senate.