BOISE, Idaho - The disclosure by Sen. Larry Craig that he hired one of the nation's top criminal lawyers in February rather than August is raising new questions about whether he's been straightforward.
On Aug. 28, the day after news of Craig's guilty plea to disorderly conduct became public, Craig apologized for bringing a "cloud over Idaho." He said he'd acted in a panic following his June 11 arrest in a Minneapolis airport men's room because of an Idaho Statesman investigation of allegations of homosexual conduct.
"I did not seek any counsel, either from an attorney, staff, friends or family," Craig said. "That was a mistake, and I deeply regret it. Because of that, I have now retained counsel and I am asking my counsel to review this matter and to advise me on how to proceed."
Craig later announced on his Senate Web site that his attorney was Billy Martin, a criminal lawyer who heads his Washington firm's white-collar crime unit. Martin's work has included defenses of NFL star Michael Vick, NBA player Jayson Williams and actor Wesley Snipes.
On Wednesday, Craig spokesman Dan Whiting told The Associated Press that Craig actually hired Martin in February to consider suing the Statesman for harassing him. Whiting said Craig didn't tell Martin about his June 11 arrest or Aug. 8 guilty plea. On July 9, Craig tapped campaign funds to pay Martin's firm $37,351 for "p.r. legal fees," according to campaign spending records.
Martin's official biography makes no mention of any work in libel, slander, invasion of privacy or media law. Martin, who declined to comment Thursday, now represents Craig in his attempt to overturn his guilty plea. He has other lawyers representing him before the Senate Ethics Committee.
Whiting said he was certain Craig never talked to Martin or anybody else about his arrest until Aug. 27, when the Roll Call newspaper broke the story. "I absolutely guarantee it," Whiting told the AP. "I would bet my life on it."
That guarantee is raising eyebrows.
"I don't understand why Senator Craig would hire a criminal defense attorney to file a civil lawsuit," said Jim Weatherby, a former Boise State political scientist. "And I don't understand why when he goes on to be charged with a crime, he did not consult his attorney who is one of the top criminal defense attorneys in the country."
Weatherby said Craig's playing with words mirrors his Sept. 1 "intent to resign" speech.
"It raises further credibility issues," Weatherby said. "When Senator Craig announced in late August that he had retained an attorney, I thought he was saying he had just hired an attorney. Now it turns out he'd hired that attorney back in February. It appears to be another semantic game."