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DeLay Says He'll Still Hold Power

The former House majority leader, indicted in Texas last week, says he doesn't need a title to lead. Other Republicans insist his reign is over.

October 03, 2005|David G. Savage | Times Staff Writer

WASHINGTON — A defiant Rep. Tom DeLay said Sunday that the criminal indictment in Texas that forced him to resign as majority leader last week would not prevent him from continuing to lead Republicans in the House of Representatives.

"I can do my job with or without the title," DeLay told "Fox News Sunday." He said his strong personal and professional relationship with House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) meant that he would continue to exert power and influence.

"I get to continue my partnership with the speaker," DeLay said. "We think the same. I mean, we are simpatico, if you will. I will advise the speaker, and I will work on the agenda."

But House Republicans interviewed on other Sunday news shows attempted to distance their leadership from the Texas Republican, who has raised millions of dollars for GOP candidates and is known as "the Hammer" for his ability to enforce party discipline.

"Tom DeLay is a strong personality, and he's going to continue to assert himself," Rep. John Shadegg (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House Republican Policy Committee, told CBS' "Face the Nation." "But we've elected three proven leaders to take us forward ... and they're already doing the job."

House GOP rules require members of the leadership to step down, at least temporarily, if indicted. On Wednesday, DeLay's colleagues chose Rep. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the majority whip, to serve as acting majority leader. Helping Blunt will be Reps. David Dreier (R-San Dimas), chairman of the House Rules Committee, and Eric Cantor (R-Va.), chief deputy whip.

Dreier, who also appeared on CBS, called DeLay "a very important part of the team" but noted: "He's not going to still run things; he knows he's not going to run things."

Rep. Christopher Shays (R-Conn.) said on CNN's "Late Edition" that DeLay had "lost his office. He's lost his staff. And he's now basically a rank-and-file member who has a lot of friends and will still have influence."

DeLay has said that he would again be majority leader when his legal matters were resolved. Shays said he was not comfortable with that prospect.

"We got elected basically by saying we would live by higher moral standards, and I don't think recently we have," Shays said. "Tom's problem isn't just this [indictment]. It's continual acts that border and sometimes go beyond the ethical edge. They may not be illegal, but he's always pushing that ethical edge to the limit."

In 2004, DeLay's tactics resulted in three warnings from the House Ethics Committee.

He received the admonitions for a golf fundraiser that appeared to give donors special access to him and for using a federal agency to interfere in a state political matter. He also was reprimanded for telling a retiring congressman that he would support the man's son as his successor if the man voted for Medicare overhaul legislation.

Last week, a Texas grand jury indicted DeLay on one count of conspiring with two associates to funnel corporate money into campaigns in Texas. State law prohibits the use of corporate funds in campaigns.

The indictment says that Texans for a Republican Majority, a political action committee created by DeLay, raised $190,000 and sent the money to the Republican National Committee in Washington. It says the national group then sent checks totaling $190,000 to seven Texas Republicans who were running for office. The indictment does not say what role DeLay played in the transaction.

"I had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation" of the committee, DeLay said Sunday. "It was my idea to form this group. I helped to organize it.... I stepped away and moved on."

When asked how the group raised money in Texas, DeLay acknowledged that he played an important role. "I was raising money, making phone calls when necessary, letting them use my name on fundraising letters. Yeah, sure," he said.

He also said he kept a list of every person who attended a fundraising event. "I want to know what was going on," he said. "My name was being used."

It is unusual for people who have been indicted to speak publicly about the events surrounding their case. Defense lawyers usually advise clients to keep silent because they may say something that could be used against them in court.

DeLay said he was not worried because he had cleared the fundraising operation with his lawyers.

"I tried to live within the spirit of the law," he said. "I am creative in how I do things, and I make things happen.

"Of course we checked everything with lawyers. In a criminal court, you have to have an intent to commit a crime. They can't find one here. Because it's checked by lawyers, then it is obvious that you did not intend to commit a crime."

DeLay said the only thing he was guilty of was "conspiring to defeat Democrats.... But that's not illegal."

Democrats say they will benefit if DeLay continues to assert a leadership role.

DeLay is "damaged goods," Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) said on "Late Edition."

"If [the GOP] continues to embrace him, that can only hurt the party," Thompson said. "I hope they continue to let him go out and say just what he's saying."

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