WASHINGTON - A federal judge sounded skeptical Monday of former Sen. Larry Craig's claim that he properly used $217,000 in campaign funds for his legal defense after his arrest in a 2007 airport bathroom sex sting.
Craig contends that the airport bathroom trip fell under his official, duties as senator because he was traveling between Idaho and Washington for work, and therefore the legal fees could be paid for with campaign money. But at a hearing, U.S. District Court Judge Amy Berman Jackson said that such a broad reading of official travel could be taken to extremes. What if a lawmaker was arrested in an airport for robbing a kiosk or consorting with a prostitute, she asked.
The Federal Election Commission sued Craig last year, arguing his legal problems had nothing to do with campaigning for federal office.
The Idaho Republican was arrested by an undercover police officer conducting a sting operation against men cruising for sex at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. An undercover officer said Craig tapped his feet and signaled under a stall divider that he wanted sex. Craig pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct and paid a fine. After his arrest later became public, he tried unsuccessfully to reverse his conviction.
Jackson pointedly reminded Craig's lawyer, Andrew D. Herman, of his client's guilty plea.
"That had no connection to his duties, other than being in an airport," she said.
Jackson pointed out a letter Craig's lawyers wrote to the Senate Ethics Committee in 2007 describing Craig's arrest and conviction as "purely personal conduct unrelated to the performance of official Senate duties."
"I'm supposed to ignore that?" she asked.
The FEC allows campaign funds to be used for legal expenses that were caused by a candidate's campaign or officeholder's duties, and determines that on a case-by-case basis.
The FEC is seeking an order requiring Craig to return the money to his campaign, along with fines of up to $6,500 against Craig and his campaign treasurer, Kaye O'Riordan.
While Jackson seemed to be leaning against Craig on the campaign money, she questioned FEC lawyer Kevin Hancock about whether Craig should be forced to pay a fine.
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