The ‘culture of corruption’ is still with us

You don’t have to be a born-again anything to appreciate the Gospel of Luke — “Physician, heal thyself.” Nor the spirit in which it was heeded Monday when the former chairman of Sugar Land, Texas’ Albo Pest Control company, Tom DeLay, announced he will rid the House of himself.

And you don’t have to be a Karl Rove to know who will be most pleased by The Exterminator’s final act of auto-extermination. Certainly not the Democrats — they are losing their favorite poster boy for their campaign against “the Republican Culture of Corruption.”

No, it is the Republicans — the pols and their strategists — who are so tickled that they seem incapable of suppressing their ear-to-ear grins as they skip through the Capitol’s corridors of power, gleeful over the extermination of their albatross.

But what those of us on the outside do not know is whether the smartest and savviest of those who work in the West Wing of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue are allowing themselves to share in the joy. Or are they waiting, warily, to see if the loss of the albatross will be followed by investigative centipedes dropping other shoes?

After all, federal investigators are still probing — mainly just following the libretto being sung by DeLay’s former three close confidants. DeLay’s former close pal Jack Abramoff, DeLay’s ex-deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy, and DeLay’s ex-aide Michael Scanlon are said to be singing after they copped pleas to conspiracy, fraud and corruption of public officials; it is like a musical version of “Let’s Make a Deal.” Meanwhile, Washington’s journalists seem to have been doing more snoozing than snooping when it comes to following the clues and links involving Abramoff and the Bush White House.

Here, perhaps, you do have to be Karl Rove to know best what there is to know — that is not yet known. Rove and Abramoff have known each other for more than two decades, since they were both officers in the College Republicans.

The under-reported angles include two categories of questionable conduct — and a bonus angle:

1) Lobbyist Abramoff was allowed to attend an unknown number of White House staff meetings — a rare occurrence for any lobbyist.

Bush press secretary Scott McClellan admitted months ago that Abramoff attended “a few” staff meetings, but has since refused to say what the meetings were about or which staff members attended. Was Rove in the meetings? Were these meetings where so-called independent political campaigns of outside groups were planned?

The Associated Press reported last January that Abramoff and his associates had more than 200 contacts with the Bush White House. What was that all about?

(The White House also dangled info that there were some photos taken of Abramoff in the same room as Bush. What was Abramoff doing there that benefited the Bush team? That, of course, is no big deal, since all presidents have posed with big givers. White House reporters shifted their focus away from the meetings and to the photos, like terriers yapping harmlessly at cuffs when a chomp on the calf is required.)

2) DeLay’s greatest GOP triumph — the 2003 congressional redistricting of Texas, which gained Republicans five House seats in 2004 — was unanimously declared by a Justice Department panel of six attorneys and two voting-section analysts to be in violation of the Voting Rights Act. The Washington Post broke that story last December, adding that the panel’s 2003 memo of objections was overridden by higher-level appointees. Did Rove, the longtime Texas strategist, get involved in the effort to quash the objections and push DeLay’s scheme?

3) While DeLay still faces trial on a felony charge of money-laundering, President Bush declared in a Fox News Channel interview that he believed DeLay was not guilty and hoped he’d be found innocent. Presidents have always considered it wrong to comment on guilt or innocence before a trial. Was Bush’s comment merely a dumb statement, or something scripted for him by Rove as part of a larger strategy to influence the court proceeding?

DeLay not only orchestrated the announcement of his auto-extermination, but gave a round of carefully chosen interviews in which he fared well. He granted Time magazine an interview in which he was a questioned gently and gingerly _ with none of the above being asked. And he also telephoned a National Public Radio reporter who dared to ask if he faced any further legal problems from the Abramoff probe.

“… I am not a target of this investigation,” said The Exterminator. “Abramoff has nothing to do with me. And you know what? When I step out of the House I don’t have to answer those kind of questions any more.”

(Martin Schram writes political analysis for Scripps Howard News Service. E-mail him at martin.schram(at)