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Ethics Committee Rebukes DeLay Again

October 7, 2004 at 12:00 AM EST
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JEFFREY BROWN: For the second time in just six days and the third time overall, Republican House majority leader Tom DeLay has been rebuked for ethical lapses. In a letter sent last night to the Texas lawmaker, the House Ethics Committee cited two separate actions: One that created an appearance that campaign donors were being provided special access, a second that raises serious concerns over the use of a federal agency for partisan political purposes.

Here to walk us through the story is Gail Chaddock, congressional reporter for the Christian Science Monitor. Welcome to you.

GAIL CHADDOCK: Thank you.

JEFFREY BROWN: So the Ethics Committee is made up of five Republicans and five Democrats. They cited these two actions. Let’s talk about them. The first involves an energy company at a golf fund-raiser.

GAIL CHADDOCK: Two-day fund-raiser just before the House and the Senate conference committees were to sit down with a major piece of energy legislation.

What troubled the committee about this was the appearance, that bringing together people with a powerful interest in this law, just as it’s about to happen, creates an appearance of… not bribery and extortion in a technical term, but an appearance of using your official position to give access or special favors.

JEFFREY BROWN: These energy executives had given a lot of money.

GAIL CHADDOCK: That’s right. And I think what is… the charge initially was for bribery and extortion.

What’s interesting is it was brought by a congressman who wasn’t even aware of the golf outing at the time, and yet this is the strongest piece that the committee eventually came to.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, the second action involves the use of the FAA to track a private plane. This goes back to that wild story last year about redistricting in, among state legislators, in Texas. Tell us about that.

GAIL CHADDOCK: Well, the congressman had a call to the FAA To find out the whereabouts of a plane carrying Democrats from the Texas House who were trying to flee a quorum call.

Technically, he could have looked it up on the Web, but the fact that he went to the FAA, the committee said, again has the appearance of using your official position for partisan gain, and that’s a violation of House rules.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, you mention the man who brought the charges, a former congressman at this point?

GAIL CHADDOCK: No, he’s still in the Congress.

JEFFREY BROWN: Still a congressman.

GAIL CHADDOCK: However, he will not be in 109th Congress precisely because of the redistricting in Texas.

JEFFREY BROWN: So tell us about the process, how this works. He brings charges, and then what happens?

GAIL CHADDOCK: He brings charges, and this committee, which is as you say the only strictly bipartisan committee in the House, works very quietly on it. Very little was leaked out about this investigation.

And when the first charges came out, one was just a few minutes before… when the first results came out, one was just a few minutes before the presidential debate, and the second and third reprimands came out about 9:00 Wednesday night.

JEFFREY BROWN: The congressman who brought the charges is Chris Mill…

GAIL CHADDOCK: Of Texas.

JEFFREY BROWN: Of Texas, okay. Last week the Ethics Committee cited Congressman DeLay in another case, this one involving a Medicare vote with Representative Nick Smith. Tell us about that.

GAIL CHADDOCK: This was a very controversial vote. You might remember it went on for three hours, ending at 6:00 A.M. The issue was whether or not Congressman DeLay had offered in effect a bribe to personally endorse the congressman’s son, who is running to replace him in November elections in exchange for his vote. He didn’t give the vote, but the appearance of a bribe remained, and that’s what the committee looked at.

JEFFREY BROWN: So the Ethics Committee put all of these cases together, and in their report last night, they concluded with the following lines: "In view of the number of instances to date in which the Committee has found it necessary to comment on conduct in which you have engaged, it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions." But no further repercussions or sanctions, is that correct?

GAIL CHADDOCK: Well, there is one complaint still pending, and that’s also under… there are three criminal indictments in Texas that have to do with money laundering.

If Congressman DeLay is somehow implicated in that, the Ethics Committee may take it further. Indeed the Texas court system may take it further, as well. That is a felony.

JEFFREY BROWN: Now, let’s provide some context here. Mr. Delay is a very powerful man, correct?

GAIL CHADDOCK: That’s right.

JEFFREY BROWN: And a champion fund- raiser? He has a nicknamed called "The Hammer." Tell us a little bit about really what you see going on.

GAIL CHADDOCK: For Democrats, they’re looking at probably the most formidable partisan opponent they’ve ever seen. He has squeaked out more very close votes in a closely divided House than any majority leader or before that whip.

He’s a powerful… a powerful enemy. And his claim all along has been "this is just partisan," even as the effort to get out Newt Gingrich, for partisan reasons, now that same battle is turned on me.

JEFFREY BROWN: In fact, today he cited this as a vindication. Tell us a bit about his reaction today.

GAIL CHADDOCK: He declared that the fact that he wasn’t… that the charges were dismissed was a vindication. He called them frivolous charges, but if you look, as you just read, at what the Committee actually said, it goes deeper than that.

They are asking for a change in behavior and a change in the pattern of behavior, and I think now it goes to Republicans in the House to see how far they’re going to press for those changes.

JEFFREY BROWN: On the other side, the calls are up to resignation.

GAIL CHADDOCK: Resign. Mm-hmm. You’re also seeing any group in Washington with the term "citizen" or "responsibility" or "ethics" in its name trying to drum up the grassroots campaign for Tom DeLay to step down, as well.

You’ll probably see more about that in the next few days. The last thing you’ll see– and I think it’s very interesting– is Democrats already using this issue against Republicans in close races, like Chris Shays, a Republican moderate in Connecticut.

They’re saying, "how can you support this leader? It shows that you really are part of the hard right wing, not the moderates that you represent yourself to be.

JEFFREY BROWN: So more to come amid the political season?

GAIL CHADDOCK: I think you can assume there is certainly more to come in the political season, yes.

JEFFREY BROWN: Okay, Gail Chaddock of the Christian Science Monitor, thanks very much.

GAIL CHADDOCK: Thank you.