Last year, the House ethics committee admonished House Republican leader Tom DeLay three times for unacceptable conduct. Back in Texas, a grand jury was closing in on some of the GOP leader’s close associates.

Fearing that a few more ethical bad breaks could cost DeLay his powerful post, the House leadership forced through a number of changes – which many House Republicans had the good grace to be embarrassed by – intended to protect him in any ethics probe.

They forced out the chairman, Rep. Joel Heffley of Colorado, an exemplar of the Republican right but, alas, too independent-minded to suit the leadership. They changed the rules to make it easier to block ethics investigations. And, for good measure, they installed two close DeLay allies on the panel, Reps. Lamar Smith of Texas and Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who raise big money for DeLay’s political action and legal defense funds.

The leader is in hot water again for possibly violating House rules by accepting overseas travel and other favors from an American Indian gambling lobbyist and a registered agent of the South Korean government.

These rules are arcane and DeLay may have been an innocent victim of their complexity, but who’s to say so?

DeLay has an idea – the House ethics committee. The leader offered to appear before the panel because he is “anxious” to be cleared. “We want to work with the ethics committee to prove how baseless these and other allegations are,” DeLay said.

This is too rich. The Democrats on the committee can use the same rules intended to prevent further investigations of the GOP leader to block a probe that might clear him.

And there is this nice little irony: Having helped destroy the credibility of the House ethics committee, DeLay is asking the panel to vindicate him. Even if the committee did, who would believe it?

(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)