After a criminal plea, national ridicule, and a failed political career, Senator Larry Craig is probably not quaking after receiving a “letter of admonition” from the Senate Ethics Committee. It was a pathetic effort of his colleagues to appear to be doing something about the scandal despite the fact that there was precious little that involved any official matter.
“The 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,” the letter states.
As noted in this prior column, the Senate had little ground to act in this matter. First, this was a controversy that did not involve any official duty or matter. Second, the prosecution of Craig raises serious constitutional questions. I remain unconvinced that the state can criminalize “signaling” between adults for consensual sex in a public place so long as it is not overtly indecent and no criminal acts are committed such as actual sexual relations.
The Committee clearly struggled with the lack of any official component and the implications of policing private disputes. Yet, Republican members desperately wanted to punish Craig to distance themselves from his deviant conduct. So, the long-awaited punishment became this pathetic letter. The Committee latched on the only two official elements: the use of campaign funds and his use of his business card.
The problem is that it is not unlawful to use such funds for legal defenses, which many members have done. The use of the Senate card is particularly ridiculous as a basis for admonishment. There is no rule that prevents a senator from using his business card in this fashion. Like much of his conduct, it was a bit transparent. However, I fail to see the crying ethical violation. The committee said that move could be seen as an improper attempt to receive “special and favorable treatment.”
Craig was clearly underwhelmed by the letter in his statement: “While I am disappointed and strongly disagree with the conclusions reached by the Senate Ethics Committee, from the outset I have encouraged the Committee to act in a timely fashion and they have done so. I will continue to serve the people of Idaho.”
A staffer confirmed that no further action will be taken and the letter may not even be read on the Senate floor. However, he insisted that the letter “should be taken seriously.” Really, by whom?
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