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Sen. Craig makes surprise return to Capitol

  • Story Highlights
  • Sen. Larry Craig returns to Capitol for first time since scandal broke
  • Idaho Republican greeted warmly by some senators, "lukewarm" by others
  • Craig intends to resign on September 30 if charges cannot be dismissed
  • Judge allows ACLU to file brief arguing the bathroom bust was "unconstitutional"
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Sen. Larry Craig of Idaho made a surprise appearance Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol, his first since news broke of his guilty plea to a disorderly conduct charge after getting caught in a sex sting in a Minneapolis, Minnesota, airport bathroom.

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Sen. Larry Craig makes his first return to the Capitol since news broke of his guilty plea after a sex sting last month.

He was seemingly open with his colleagues, and repeated to CNN that he intends to leave the Senate by September 30, given his legal battle against accusations of misconduct.

The Republican participated in business on the Senate floor, then attended the weekly GOP lunch where he "apologized for any embarrassment" to fellow lawmakers and said his case is being appealed, another senator told CNN.

Craig said nothing at the event about his intention to leave Congress on September 30, the lunch participant said. Listen to Craig as he returns to the Capitol (MP3)

A GOP aide quoted Craig as telling senators he has assembled the best legal team possible, and is working to "clear his name." He received mild applause when he was introduced, aides said.

Immediately after the lunch, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, rushed up to Craig with an extended hand. In front of reporters, Specter shook Craig's hand and chatted with him.

A Republican aide said Craig had informed Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, that he was going to be at the Capitol.

Senate Minority Whip Trent Lott of Mississippi, the Republican's No. 2 leader in the Senate, declined to answer questions about Craig's appearance at the lunch other than to say, "I think the ethics committee is going to review this matter."

While some senators made no effort to approach Craig, others, including some Democrats, went out of their way to welcome the Republican back to the chamber floor.

Three Republican senators -- Sens. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, John Cornyn of Texas and Jon Kyl of Arizona -- each vigorously shook Craig's hand and spent several minutes speaking with him. Other lawmakers, including Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Democrats Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas and Mary Landrieu of Louisiana, stopped to talk to Craig.

However, a GOP aide said response by other senators was "mild" and "lukewarm."

Craig was arrested in June at Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport in Minnesota after a police officer in a bathroom stall next to him alleged the senator attempted to solicit sex.

Craig pleaded guilty August 8 to one charge of disorderly conduct.

When the case became public, Craig announced his intention to resign September 30. But days later, it was announced Craig would fight to overturn his conviction and may not resign. Craig filed papers September 10 to withdraw his guilty plea.

A hearing on the request is set for September 26. On Tuesday, a Minnesota judge ruled the American Civil Liberties Union could file a brief in court calling Craig's bathroom bust unconstitutional.

Asked whether he would consider remaining in the Senate past September 30, Craig replied, "We're working on that now." However, in response to a subsequent question, Craig said he still intended to leave by that date.

"There's been a lot of favorable talk about Larry in the cloakroom," Specter said. "And I think the initial shock has worn off, and seeing him back in good spirits. He's been a colleague for a long time -- 17 years. You don't toss over a friend of that duration and intensity easily."

Graham said Craig seemed to be doing OK.

"I said, 'How are you doing?'" Graham told CNN, "[Craig] says, you know, 'I'm holding up fine.'"

"I don't think anybody has any animosity against Larry," Graham said. "I don't' think it's one of those situations where people dislike Larry."

Graham, an attorney, acknowledged Craig faces a difficult fight to overturn his guilty plea. "I don't know anything about Minnesota law, but overturning a guilty plea is tough," he said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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

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