The con man and his peers

Like all con men, Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) can’t stop trying to con his way to freedom. He talks out of one side of his mouth claiming to want a quick trial to “clear” himself while seeking a quick decision on his motions to throw the case out of court.

DeLay and two political associates stand accused of conspiring to violate Texas election laws, money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering in the 2002 legislative races.

Yet those who know DeLay best say the charges are only part of many laws the Congressman has broken in his climb to the top of the collections of scoundrels, crooks and con artists in Washington.

“Everyone knew Tom DeLay was on the take from the day he arrived after the 1984 elections,” says Arnie Wilson, who lobbied Congress for the oil industry from 1974 through 1990. “He had his hand out the day he walked into his office.”

Elizabeth Hastings, who lobbied for health care from 1981 through 1992, remembers asking DeLay for support on an insurance bill in 1986.

“He gave me a laundry list of what he wanted for his vote,” Hastings says. “It included, of course, maximum contributions to his PAC plus a contribution to some obscure fund in Texas and an invitation to speak at our conference that year in Hawaii.  He wanted us to fund the trip for himself, his family, and extend the stay for two weeks after our conference ended.  I couldn’t afford that kind of commitment and he voted against the bill.”

Some members of Congress are subtle about what it takes to buy their vote. DeLay never was.

Matt Stone lobbied Congress for more than 30 years, retiring in 1995. DeLay, he says, kept a record of how much he and other lobbyists ponied up on political contributions, free trips and gifts and pulled it out during meetings.

“He’d pull that list out and say ‘Matt, you’re a little light this year’ and then talk about places his family would like to visit,” Stone says. “Next thing you know, we’re sponsoring Rep. DeLay and his family on a trip to Europe.”

In 1988, I sat at a table in the basement bar of the Capitol Hill Club with a number of Congressman, including Rep. Silvio Conte (R-Mass.). When DeLay walked into the bar, Conte looked his way and shook his head.

“We get a lot of fast talkers and shady characters in this brotherhood called Congress,” Conte said, “but this guy is as fast and loose as they come. If he gets out of here without going to jail I’ll be very surprised.”

Conte died in 1991, not living to see DeLay brought up on charges that many in Washington see as a just reward for the Texan’s many years of shady dealings. Had Conte lived and remained in Congress, I doubt he would have joined into the GOP’s shrill Greek Chorus that still defends DeLay’s criminal actions.

Texas Senior Judge Pat Priest rules next week on whether or not to toss the charges against DeLay or bring a true criminal trial.

Despite his con job of claiming to want a quick trial, the last thing DeLay wants is time in a courtroom. A trial will bring all his dirty laundry out for everyone to see. A lifetime of corruption will be laid bare. Even if he avoids jail time, his role as a power broker in Congress will be over.

Congress tolerates crooks in their midst. They have to. Too many who claim the title “The honorable” have skeletons straining to get out of their many closets. But those who commit the unpardonable sin of getting caught get shuffled to the back of the pack, tucked away from public view in the hopes that everyone will soon forget that such crooks are the true representatives of the Congress of the United States.