MINNEAPOLIS (AP) – A judge took Sen. Larry Craig’s request to withdraw his guilty plea under advisement on Wednesday, and the Idaho Republican announced he will stay in office for the time being, omitting mention of an earlier commitment to resign Sept. 30.

Hennepin County Judge Charles Porter said he probably won’t rule until next month on Craig’s request, which stems from his earlier guilty plea in a men’s room sex sting at the Minneapolis airport.

Craig didn’t say just how long he planned to remain on the job.

“Today was a major step in the legal effort to clear my name,” Craig said in a statement. “The court has not issued a ruling on my motion to withdraw my guilty plea. For now, I will continue my work in the U.S. Senate for Idaho.”

Craig skipped the court hearing in Minnesota, a decision that his attorney, Billy Martin, described as routine for such a session.

During the hearing, Martin acknowledged the difficulty in getting the plea withdrawn, saying it is “near impossible, and it should be.” But he said Craig’s conduct was not criminal.

Prosecutor Christopher Renz said the timing of Craig’s decision to withdraw his guilty plea was political. Craig was arrested in a Minneapolis airport bathroom June 11, then entered his plea Aug. 8. Craig said he panicked in entering his plea.

“He sat and was able to think about it a thousand miles away at his apartment on the Potomac. He called me about it” and could have called others if he needed advice, Renz said.

Minnesota law allows guilty pleas to be withdrawn if a “manifest injustice” is shown. The term isn’t defined in law, leaving it to judges to decide.

Craig was arrested by an airport police officer who said Craig had behaved as though he was looking for sex.

Craig came under intense pressure to resign after news of his arrest and guilty plea surfaced in late August, and he announced within days that he planned to resign by Sept. 30. He later suggested he might stay in office if he could overturn his plea.

His attorneys pursued a dual strategy, arguing both that Craig’s conduct was not criminal and that the state didn’t handle the plea properly.

Martin said Craig maintains he never intentionally touched airport police Sgt. Dave Karsnia, nor said anything to him.

“You should have either touching, or words, or a combination of the two,” Martin said.

“I don’t know,” interjected Porter, and speculated that if he charged around the bench and ran yelling toward Martin, it would scare the attorney.

“It absolutely would,” Martin said, to mild laughter.

Craig’s attorneys also argued that the legal process wasn’t properly followed, noting the plea petition didn’t include a signature or any other indication a judge had accepted it. Porter directed more questions to Craig’s attorneys, but his interruptions were mild and polite.

Pat Hogan, a spokesman for the Metropolitan Airports Commission and the prosecution team, said after the hearing that Craig knew what he was doing when he pleaded guilty and accepted culpability for his actions. He pointed out that Craig had more than eight weeks to consider his legal options from when he was arrested to when he entered his plea.

“The defendant unequivocally pleaded guilty to the crime of disorderly conduct,” Hogan said.

Martin told reporters afterward that Craig committed no crime, but made a mistake in pleading guilty to one.

“Senator Larry Craig denies that he went into that restroom for anything other than to go to the restroom,” he said.

Martin said that if the judge allows Craig to withdraw his plea, he will enter a not guilty plea and ask a jury to decide.

AP-ES-09-26-07 1709EDT

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