A defiant, scandal-ridden House Majority Leader Tom DeLay blamed partisanship and innuendo Tuesday for the uproar surrounding man ethics violations and crimes, but Republicans reported stirrings of concern over his political durability.
“We want to work with the ethics committee to prove how baseless these and other allegations are,” said DeLay, referring to trips to England in 2000 and South Korea in 2001 that were paid for by outside groups.
In a letter to the panel’s leaders, he and two other Republican lawmakers who took the Korean trip – Reps. Ander Crenshaw and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida – wrote that they would be “happy to discuss this matter with you at your convenience.”
DeLay laid some of the brouhaha over the travel at the feet of House Democrats, whom he said are seeking to “tear down the House and burn it down in order to gain power.”
But in unusually blunt criticism, he attacked The Washington Post for its coverage of his trips. In the case of one story about the England trip, he accused the paper of a “zeal to leave readers with the false impression that I did something that I did not do.”
Liz Spayd, national editor of The Post, said Tuesday evening, “His office has not called here to challenge any facts in our story. If they did we would certainly listen to his concerns.”
DeLay has been at the center of troubles before, most recently last fall when the ethics committee admonished him for his conduct in connection with two separate cases.
He easily won a new term as leader subsequent to the committee’s actions, but several fellow Republicans said Tuesday that the fresh controversy was beginning to exact a price.
In similar terms, they said DeLay was in no immediate danger of losing his support among the rank and file. Yet they reported a slowly growing concern that the tumult was exacting a political toll on lawmakers, and expressed concern about future disclosures.
All the lawmakers have worked closely with DeLay in the past, and all spoke on condition of anonymity.
Senior GOP aides expressed similar concerns at a meeting Monday, according to several sources who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Reading a prepared statement that addressed questions about the two foreign trips, the Texan said, “We feel very confident that we did everything we were supposed to do.”
He said his staff had been in contact with the ethics committee, and that he is eager to discuss the facts with the chairman and senior Democrat, Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Alan Mollohan, D-W. Va.
Hastings declined comment.
“The committee, at the appropriate time, will process a matter that comes before it,” said Mollohan.
In the 2001 journey to Korea, DeLay’s travel costs were picked up by a registered foreign agent despite rules prohibiting the practice, government documents show. But he – as well as other lawmakers who took similar trips – said he didn’t know the Korea-United States Exchange Council had registered as an agent of the South Korean government three days before his trip.
In all, at least eight House members – four of them Democrats – and 15 House aides accepted trips to South Korea paid for by the organization since its registration as a foreign agent. Reps. Crenshaw and Ros-Lehtinen, who co-signed the letter to the ethics committee leaders said they were “as surprised as everyone” to learn of the Korean group’s filing as a foreign agent.
Lawmakers who took the trips said either that the travel was approved in advance by the House ethics committee or that they relied on information provided by the council.
The council has taken the blame for any problems.
In the case of the trip to England, the Post reported that DeLay traveled to Britain with his wife, several aides and lobbyists on a $70,000 junket mostly paid for with money from an Indian tribe and a gambling services company.
The paper said that not long afterward, DeLay played a key role in killing gaming-related legislation opposed by the company and tribe.
DeLay reported in House financial disclosures that the weeklong May 2000 trip was paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a nonprofit organization. However, the Post reported that lobbyist Jack Abramoff suggested the trip and arranged for two of his clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and eLottery Inc., to send checks to the center to cover the travel.
DeLay said he did not know how the policy organization had paid for the trip. He said he voted against the legislation because it “clearly would have opened the door to the expansion of Internet gambling,” something he said he has long opposed.
He said he subsequently voted in favor of a different version of the measure that omitted those provisions.
There was irony in DeLay calling for involvement of the ethics committee, given his history there and the partisan bickering triggered by its handling of his previous cases.
Republicans forced through a series of rules changes over the winter that required a bipartisan vote before any future investigation can proceed. At the same time, they appointed new members, some of whom have contributed to the majority leader’s legal defense fund.
Democrats argued that those steps amounted to an attempt to protect DeLay from future investigations.
They forced a vote on the House floor during the day on a call for a bipartisan panel that could propose new rules that “restore public confidence in the ethics process.”
Republicans defeated it, 223-194.
On the Net:
Majority Leader Tom DeLay: http://www.majorityleader.gov