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Judge won't let Craig withdraw plea

MINNEAPOLIS - Idaho Sen. Larry Craig lost a court bid to withdraw his guilty plea stemming from an airport men's room sex sting, and his state's governor swiftly announced he had chosen a replacement in the event of a resignation.

Craig had no immediate public response to the ruling by Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter in Minnesota.

But a pre-emptive announcement from Idaho, Gov. C.L. 'Butch' Otter seemed an unmistakeable signal that home-state Republicans want Craig to surrender the seat he has held for 17 years.

'He is ready to act should we receive a letter of resignation,' said Jon Hanian, Otter's spokesman in Boise. 'As of this hour, we still have not received one. I do not believe the replacement candidate has been notified because until we receive a letter of resignation we do not have a vacancy to fill.'

When the charges first surfaced, Craig said he would resign by Sept. 30. But then he decided to attempt withdrawing a written guilty plea in August to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. He said he would stay in office at least until a judge ruled on that bid.

'Because the defendant's plea was accurate, voluntary and intelligent, and because the conviction is supported by the evidence ... the defendant's motion to withdraw his guilty plea is denied,' Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter wrote.

Craig, a Republican, can appeal Porter's ruling. But it wasn't immediately clear if he would. Telephone calls and e-mails seeking comment from Craig spokesmen Sid Smith in Boise and Dan Whiting in Washington, D.C. weren't immediately returned.

Craig has maintained his innocence and said his actions in the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport bathroom June 11 were misconstrued by the police officer who arrested him.

The officer said Craig had looked into his bathroom stall, and tapped his foot and moved his hand under the divider in a way that suggested he was looking for a sexual partner.

Craig denied that in an interview with the officer after his arrest. But he pleaded guilty on Aug. 8. He later said he 'panicked' in entering his plea, believing that it would keep the matter quiet. The Idaho Statesman had been holding back an article on rumors about his sexuality, and Craig said in court papers that he feared the arrest would trigger the story.

Porter rejected that as a good reason to withdraw the plea. Any pressure Craig was under 'was entirely perceived by the defendant and was not a result of any action by the police, the prosecutor, or the court,' he said.

Minnesota law allows a plea to be withdrawn if a 'manifest injustice' occurs, but leaves it to judges to define that. Porter ruled that none occurred in Craig's case.

'It is not a manifest injustice to force the defendant to be bound by his plea bargain and the waivers and admissions which he made in conjunction with the execution of that bargain,' Porter wrote.