WASHINGTON – Months before his arrest at a Minneapolis airport, Sen. Larry Craig was considering a lawsuit against an Idaho newspaper and hired an attorney he later retained to represent him in the sex sting case.
Craig, who pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct following his arrest in a June 11 police sting at an airport men's room, hired Washington lawyer Billy Martin and public relations executive Judy Smith in late January or early February, spokesman Dan Whiting said Wednesday.
Craig hired Martin and Smith because he was thinking of suing The Idaho Statesman newspaper for "harassment" over its investigation into Craig's sexual orientation, Whiting said.
Whiting said the pair stopped working for Craig on June 7 — four days before Craig's arrest at a bathroom at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. Martin and Smith ended their work June 7 because the dispute with the newspaper had "certainly died down by that point," Whiting said.
Craig has said repeatedly that he did not consult a lawyer after his arrest — a claim Whiting reaffirmed Wednesday.
"He never talked to counsel. He never talked to staff. He never talked to his wife. He didn't talk to anyone," Whiting said.
Asked if he was certain, Whiting said: "I absolutely guarantee it. I would bet my life on it."
A campaign finance report filed last week shows that Craig paid Martin's firm, Sutherland Asbill & Brennan, $37,350 on July 9 for "p.r. legal fees." Smith heads her own company, but frequently works with Martin on high-profile cases.
The July payment "was unrelated to the Minneapolis incident," Whiting said.
After Craig's arrest and guilty plea became public in late August, Craig said he made a mistake in pleading guilty and blamed his own panic over an investigation by the Boise newspaper, which spent months looking into Craig's private life. The newspaper interviewed Craig and his wife in May but did not publish the story until the arrest and guilty plea surfaced in other media.
"They crossed the line between reporting and harassment and spreading rumors," Whiting said of the Statesman. "We wanted to look at that and people spreading false allegations against Senator Craig."
Martin and Smith were hired "because of their well-known expertise in dealing with tough situations," he said.
Mi-Ai Parrish, president and publisher of The Statesman, said in an e-mail that the newspaper has been aware of Craig's beliefs regarding its coverage.
Craig's attorney "sent a letter over the summer, and we responded at the time. We have pursued this story in a professional manner. We acted appropriately and published when we felt it was appropriate to publish," Parrish said.