A Question of Ethics
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JIM LEHRER: Congressman DeLay, how would you characterize Speaker Gingrich’s remarks to the congressional–to your group this afternoon?
REP. TOM DELAY, Majority Whip: Well, Jim, I just came from that meeting, and it’s still going on. And I have to say that the Speaker appeared very confident, very assured of his position. He told the members, walked the members through what has been going on here, this character assassination, this political assassination that the liberal Democrats are trying to bring down on the Republican conference and the Republican majority, and that he has done nothing wrong. And most of the members–in fact, the vast majority of the members–agree with that and will re-elect him tomorrow.
JIM LEHRER: Did he offer or speak to the issue of delaying the vote tomorrow until this Ethics Committee issue has been finally resolved?
REP. TOM DELAY: He may have, but after I left. He didn’t speak to that, but we don’t want that to happen. You have to elect a Speaker first to organize the House, get the committees organized, and start working on the agenda that the American people sent us here to do, a balanced budget, tax relief, super fund, and many other very important issues that we have to get to work on.
JIM LEHRER: Now the Jim Leach statement today, where he calls for the Speaker to step down, is that a major hit for your side?
REP. TOM DELAY: Well, it’s certainly unfortunate. I think Mr. Leach doesn’t understand what’s going on here. He doesn’t understand that a little political heat doesn’t bring down a leader, and I think it’s really unfortunate that he’s taken this position. What this is all about is whether the majority can govern and govern without the distractions caused by the Democrat leadership. We showed that we were able to govern under tremendous pressure and attacks over the last two years, and we think this Speaker can lead us into this Congress and produce another very productive Congress.
JIM LEHRER: And no question that he’s going to be re-elected tomorrow?
REP. TOM DELAY: No question in my mind at all.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Bonior, is that a good idea?
REP. DAVID BONIOR, Minority Whip: What is that, Jim?
JIM LEHRER: That he be re-elected tomorrow?
REP. DAVID BONIOR: I think not. I think the Speaker, by his own admission, has brought discredit on the House of Representatives. The Washington Post, I think, said it well about the allegations, themselves. The Washington Post said that he was running a giant money laundering machine, moving charitable contribution and educational funding dollars into his own political empire and campaigns. And if you look at the piece that was done by the Los Angeles Times by Mr. Bunting, they documented in an exhaustive investigative study that this involved $6 million through six different charities and educational foundations over a period of seven years. These are serious allegations. The Speaker did not level with the Ethics Committee. He was found to have given inaccurate statements and false statements 13 times in two letters over a period of three months. That’s why editorials around the country–30 of them to date in the last week–have called for him to step aside. That’s why four or five his colleagues now have–on the Republican side–have called for him to step aside, Common Cause, Public Citizen, as well as 65 percent of the American people in a poll that was released today by CNN.
JIM LEHRER: But Congressman Bonior, you heard Congressman DeLay say it’s really you liberal Democrats who are leading this fight against Speaker Gingrich.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Well, I don’t think 65 percent of the American people are leading–liberal Democrats. And I don’t think that Common Cause or Public Citizen would agree with that assessment as well.
REP. TOM DELAY: Common Cause and Public–
JIM LEHRER: Hold on one second, Congressman DeLay. Go ahead.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: My friend, Tom DeLay here, also said that the Speaker–and I wrote down what he just said–has done nothing wrong. By the Speaker’s own admission he has brought discredit on the House of Representatives. And this is a pattern that has continued over a number of years. He has been found in violation of House Ethic Rules seven times more than any other member of the House of Representatives.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman DeLay, what about that point? You did say–
REP. TOM DELAY: I have to–
JIM LEHRER: Hold–I’ll give you a chance, but just to the point, you said that the Speaker has done nothing wrong. You heard what Congressman Bonior said, and the Speaker, himself, admitted he did something wrong. You’re saying it isn’t enough to deny him the Speakership.
REP. TOM DELAY: The Speaker has done nothing morally or ethically wrong. What the committee, the subcommittee–on that subcommittee are two Democrats of Mr. Bonior’s party–has charged him with–he has not been charged with violating tax law. He hasn’t been charged with money laundering as they like to spin it. He hasn’t been charged with anything, except that he didn’t hire the right lawyer that might have caused a public controversy, and he–his lawyer disclosed and he was not faithful and spent a lot of time and closely looked at two disclosures by his lawyer. That’s all that he has been charged with. And as far–
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Bonior.
REP. TOM DELAY: And as far as the seven ethics and all these editorials are concerned read the Wall Street Journal editorial today that really outlines what this is all about, and secondly, let me just finish with saying that yes, he has been cited with seven violations like mentioning a phone number on the floor of the House, like co-signing his daughter’s loan for her house and not reporting it. He has not been cited by the House of Representatives at all after being charged with over 550 charges and 80,000 commercials run against him, and the most incredible character assassination plot that I have ever witnessed in my adult life.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Bonior.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Well, to the charges that Mr. DeLay just mentioned, the Ethics Committee rebuked him to–just about two years ago for trying to cash in on his office when he was trying to create a $4.5 million book deal for himself. They also–
REP. TOM DELAY: David–
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Let me finish, Tom, and then I’ll yield to you.
JIM LEHRER: One second, Congressman DeLay.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: And they also found him to have left lobbyists work out of his office. I mean, there are a series of things that the Speaker has been engaged in over a period of time. In the Roll Call editorial this morning, Jim–that’s a paper on the Hill that follows the Congress–they said that this is a pattern of lies that the Speaker has been engaged in over a period of his career.
JIM LEHRER: What about–Congressman, hold on just a minute, Congressman. What about Congressman DeLay’s point that–that–on these specific charges having to do with what is before the Ethics Committee now? You heard what he said. They were technical violations. He didn’t get the right lawyer, whatever, very minor things.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: I disagree vehemently. I think the evidence is overwhelming. And we will hear the outside counsel within the next week. We’ll have a public hearing. He will lay this out for the American people to make their decision. If you look at the report on page 6 of the report it is very clear that the subcommittee hired an independent person to come in and make an assessment, an expert with respect to whether they violated tax law. And that person said that the Speaker violated tax law. It is on page 6, paragraph number 13.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman DeLay.
REP. TOM DELAY: Well, Jim, you won’t let me answer the lies that he puts out.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman, you’ve had as much time, if not more than Congressman–I’ll give you plenty of time. Please don’t accuse me of that. I’m letting you answer everything this man says, and I’m going to let him answer everything you say. That’s what we’re here to do, sir. So please answer him.
REP. TOM DELAY: Well, I’m trying to answer him.
JIM LEHRER: All right. Go ahead.
REP. TOM DELAY: Let me–first I’ve got page 6 right here. And he is right in that one paragraph, but he fails to read paragraph 14 that says the subcommittee also heard from tax counsel retained by Mr. Gingrich. And this tax counsel saw that the type of activity would not violate section 501.3’s internal tax code exemption. They’re very clever at not giving you the whole story. And they’re very clever at listing all kinds of violations that the Speaker’s been charged with, but they won’t tell you that not one of those violations even got a letter of reproval from the committee, nor was a sanction brought against the Speaker to the floor of the House. Their own minority leader was cited with a violation. He’s running for Speaker tomorrow too. So by the same token, maybe Mr. Gephardt shouldn’t run for Speaker either.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Bonior, Congressman DeLay is right that those allegations that you–never led to anything, no action taken against the Speaker.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: This will occur as the full committee–
JIM LEHRER: No. No. I’m talking about the ones you went through before about the House and all the other charges that you said have gone–the many complaints that have been made before.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: The Speaker was rebuked in a very strong letter on the book deal. On the other ones he was told not to do it again. The problem here, Jim, is he keeps doing it again. And it’s a pattern that has occurred over a period of years.
JIM LEHRER: What about the pattern question, Congressman DeLay?
REP. TOM DELAY: Well, Jim, let me just–and I apologize for–I get very frustrated when a member does exactly what he’s accusing Newt Gingrich of doing in providing inaccurate, incomplete, and unreliable information. The difference between Mr. Bonior and Mr. Gingrich is Mr. Bonior intentionally provides the inaccurate information. And it’s very frustrating. I apologize for that. But we know what this is all about. This has been an ongoing political vendetta, the worst partisan politics. It started in 1989 with bringing 390 charges against the Speaker before he was Speaker, none of them sticking. In this last two years he’s had 74 charges brought against him. This is the 74. Over 55,000 pages of his documents have been run through by this committee and by the public. And the best that they’ve come up with is that he admitted that his lawyer may have provided some information but he didn’t intentionally do so. That is all this is. All for what? Teaching a college course, teaching a college course.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: It’s more than just a college course, and Mr. Gingrich’s own lawyer said that Mr. Gingrich reviewed these facts before. They were submitted to the Ethics Committee under his signature. We are dealing with other charities here. The Abraham Lincoln Foundation was a charity that under its charter was set up to provide support for needy inner city children. Money did not go for that purpose. It went to run Mr. Gingrich’s and Mr. DeLay’s political–
REP. TOM DELAY: That’s not true.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: And it’s very clear.
REP. TOM DELAY: That’s absolutely not true.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman DeLay, that’s not true?
REP. TOM DELAY: The Abraham Lincoln Opportunity Foundation was a defunct, dormant entity that was sitting there when Mr. Bo Calloway from Colorado wanted to run two different television programs. He revived that organization, raised money under the notion that the money would go to these two television programs that happen to have Newt Gingrich in one of them, and then after the television programs were run, it was completely done away with.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: And here’s how this worked, Jim. They would go to a large donor or giver and say contribute to this charity.
REP. TOM DELAY: That’s wrong.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: The Abraham Lincoln Society. They will give the money. These people will be able to take huge tax write-offs and the money would move right into their political organization. And if you look at the first four or five pages of that report, you will see that the subcommittee found that this to be an irregularity.
JIM LEHRER: Let me go to the–
REP. TOM DELAY: They did not find that at all, Jim.
JIM LEHRER: All right.
REP. TOM DELAY: Read it. You’ve got the document there, David. Read where they found that wrong.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Well, I told you what page it was on.
REP. TOM DELAY: Now that was one lawyer out of two lawyers that the committee consulted.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman Bonior, what about Congressman DeLay’s counter charge that you’ve been running a vendetta against the Speaker? You make no secret of your–of your dislike for him, et cetera, for many years. Is he correct? Is it a vendetta?
REP. DAVID BONIOR: It is not a vendetta. I am concerned about the person who leads the United States House of Representatives and Congress, a citadel of democracy that is revered throughout the world and a person who is second in line to be President of the United States being in that position someone who we cannot trust. And I think the actions of the Speaker over the years tell us that there is a pattern here that is not appreciated by our party but certainly a growing number of Republicans. In the poll that was released yesterday 65 percent of the American people say that they don’t think he should be Speaker and 51 percent of Republicans said the same thing. This isn’t just David Bonior.
JIM LEHRER: Congressman DeLay, just isn’t David Bonior?
REP. TOM DELAY: It just is David Bonior and your spin doctors. I tell you, Jim. It’s very sad that this once great party called the Democrat Party has denigrated itself to this level. Their liberal ideas have been rejected by the American people and the Republicans gained a majority in 1994, and the only way that they can come back, they think, is to destroy the messenger of the message. We are trying to change America for Americans. What the Democrats are trying to do is change the subject, and they are trying to demonize the Speaker. They have spent millions upon millions of dollars trying to do that. No wonder the polls reflect–and they’re his polls, by the way–reflect those kinds of numbers.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Jim, those are CNN polls, but no matter whose polls they are, my–he is my friend, despite–
JIM LEHRER: I’ll take you word for it.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: He’s a little grumpy today because the Cowboys got beat yesterday.
REP. TOM DELAY: That’s very true.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: But the fact of the matter is all this is going to be laid out by the outside counsel before the American people, and they’ll get to decide very shortly.
JIM LEHRER: Congressmen, thank you both very much for being with us tonight.
REP. TOM DELAY: Thank you, Jim.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Thank you.