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Sen. McConnell: Craig won't resign if case is overturned

  • Story Highlights
  • NEW: McConnell: Sen. Craig would come back if cleared by September 30
  • NEW: Craig's attorney say Ethics Committee lacks jurisdiction to investigate
  • Sen. Larry Craig said Saturday he would resign from the Senate September 30
  • Craig pleaded guilty in June to the charge, stemming from a restroom sex sting
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Embattled Idaho Sen. Larry Craig will not resign if he's able to get the disorderly conduct case against him dismissed in the next 25 days, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday.

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Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, announced his intent to resign Saturday in Boise, Idaho.

"He said that he is going to try to get the case in Minneapolis dismissed -- that if he is unable to have that disposed of, prior to September 30, it is his intention to resign from the Senate as he expressed last Saturday," McConnell told reporters.

"If he is able to get the case favorably disposed of in Minneapolis, it would be his intention to come back to the Senate to deal with the Ethics Committee case that he knows that he will have, and to try to finish his term," McConnell added.

Craig's attorney, Stanley Brand asked the ethics committee not to investigate because events were "wholly unrelated" to official duties, according to The Associated Press.

The Ethics Committee, however, said it will continue its investigation.

"S. Res. 338 gives the committee the authority to investigate members who engage in 'improper conduct which may reflect upon the Senate,' regardless of whether such conduct violates a specific statute, Senate rule, or regulation," the committee said in a statement, citing the Senate Ethics Manual.

"The committee has stated 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,'" the committee said. "Pending Senator Craig's resignation, the committee will continue to review this matter."

In a follow up statement Wednesday, Craig said he intended to fight his case before the Ethics Committee "while I am a sitting senator."

Craig will be up for re-election in 2008.

Meanwhile, Republican Senate leaders were expected Wednesday to tell Craig he should follow through on his intended resignation after his arrest in an airport bathroom sex sting.

He pleaded guilty to the disorderly conduct charge to last month.

"He's fighting this. He is innocent, and he believes that there's a good chance that he eventually will have this charge overturned and that the Ethics Committee won't act against him," Craig's spokesman, Dan Whiting, told KTVB-TV in Boise.

In consultation with the Senate's GOP leadership, Craig agreed to leave his leadership posts on Senate committees while the Senate Ethics Committee investigates the incident.

Craig's backtracking upset the Republican leaders, a Republican leadership aide said, because they thought Craig's intended resignation put the controversy behind them.

CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin said it was unlikely Craig could get his guilty plea overturned.

Toobin said Craig would have to show he was forced to plead guilty or he didn't understand English or was impaired. He noted Craig had six weeks between the incident and signing his plea.

"So that makes it hard for him to change his mind now," Toobin said.

GOP leadership aides said it would be extraordinary for Craig to get a plea overturned in the 25 days before his resignation would be effective.

"It takes longer than that to get a speeding ticket handled in court," one GOP leadership aide said.

Craig's hopes of staying in the Senate were buoyed by a call of support from Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, according to a tape of a voicemail Craig left. Hear Craig's phone call »

In the tape released by the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call, Craig leaves a voice mail for a man he addresses as "Billy." Roll Call said the phone call was made Saturday morning. Whiting confirmed Craig made the phone call but would not say who "Billy" was or whether it was Craig's attorney, Billy Martin.

In the tape, Craig tells "Billy" about a phone call from Specter and that after the conversation with the senator, he plans to put the word "intend" into his resignation statement. He also encourages "Billy" to make a "bold" statement in front of cameras. Video Watch why Craig chose his words carefully »

On Sunday, Specter said he would like to see Craig fight the allegations against him.

"On the evidence, Sen. Craig wouldn't be convicted of anything," Specter said on "Fox News Sunday."

"I'd like to see him fight the case, because I think he could be vindicated," Specter said.

On Wednesday, Specter would not elaborate.

"At least for the time being I've said all I intend to say about the situation with Sen. Craig. I made a comment last Sunday on Fox News. I think now the comments ought to come from Sen. Craig or his attorneys."

Craig was arrested in a restroom in June at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on suspicion of making sexual advances to an undercover police officer in the next stall.

Craig denied the accusation and is heard doing so on an audiotape released by police.

But on August 8, he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct.

Since then, Craig has said he regrets pleading guilty and has hired legal counsel to try to get the guilty plea expunged.

A source familiar with Craig's legal proceedings said no paperwork has been filed to change his guilty plea.

White House Deputy Press Secretary Dana Perino said she does not believe the administration has changed its position that Craig's decision to resign was the right one for himself, his family and his constituents.

Idaho Gov. Butch Otter, who would name a replacement for Craig, met with the senator Wednesday morning for 30 minutes, Otter's office told CNN.

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Otter told Craig he would proceed as though the resignation will take place on September 30. Otter's office said the governor named four possible replacements -- including Lt. Gov Jim Risch, attorney and former Lt. Gov. David Leroy, and Idaho Attorney General Lawrence Wasden. Dane Watkins was the fourth name on the list.

But it was unclear if the governor meant Bonneville County Prosecuting Attorney Dane Watkins Jr. or his father, Dane Watkins Sr., who is a former state senator. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

CNN's Dana Bash and Ted Barrett contributed to this report.

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