House Majority Leader Tom DeLay strongly denied wrongdoing Tuesday in connection with two overseas trips financed by outside organizations, and said he is eager to discuss the facts with leaders of the House ethics committee.
“I feel confident I’ve done nothing wrong,” the Texas Republican said as fellow lawmakers and aides sought to assess the impact of fresh controversy on the party in general.
The Texas Republican laid the blame for the recent controversy at the feet of congressional Democrats and what he charged was inaccurate newspaper reporting.
He said there was nothing wrong with either of the two trips. One involved going to South Korea in 2001 — a trip bankrolled by the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council.
The other trip was to Britain in 2000. The Washington Post reported Saturday that the cost of that voyage was picked up mostly by an Indian tribe and a gambling services company.
DeLay: Post 'zeal' gives 'false impression'
In unusually direct terms, DeLay criticized the Post story, accusing the paper of a “zeal to leave readers with a false impression that I did something that I did not do.”
The Post did not immediately have a comment.
DeLay’s comments were the latest development in an increasingly complicated political and legal drama.
The combative Texan was twice admonished last year by the ethics panel.
DeLay reacted furiously at the time, insisting he had not been found guilty of violating either a law or the House rules, and House Republicans rewrote the ethics committee rules this fall to require at least one member of each party to agree before any investigations could be undertaken in the future.
Democrats said that was an attempt to shelter DeLay, and noted that two of the GOP members are also contributors to the majority leader’s legal defense fund. Democrats unhappy with the new GOP-driven rules of operation for the committee also have blocked it from formally organizing for the new Congress.
They stepped up their criticism of Republicans on the issue not long after DeLay spoke, forcing a vote on a call to create a bipartisan task force to recommend steps to “restore public confidence in the ethics process.”
Republicans killed the measure, 223-194, but the fact that Democrats acted signaled a determination to persist.
Travel funding scrutinizedOfficials said that DeLay’s letter to Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the ethics committee chairman, and Alan Mollohan, D-W. Va., the senior Democrat, laid out a defense of the majority leader’s travels.
In the 2001 journey to Korea, DeLay’s travel costs were picked up by a registered foreign agent despite rules prohibiting the practice, government documents show. He — as well as other lawmakers who took similar trips — said he didn’t know the Korea-United States Exchange Council had registered as an agent of the South Korean government.
In all, at least eight House members and 15 House aides accepted trips to South Korea paid for by the organization.
Lawmakers who took the trips said either that the travel was approved in advance by the House ethics committee — formally known as House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — or that they relied on information provided by the council.
The council took the blame for any problems. In a statement last week, it assured lawmakers the trips “met with the approval of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as we believed to be the case.”
Nonprofit may have been cash conduit
In the case of the trip to England, the Post reported that DeLay traveled to Britain with his wife, several aides and lobbyists on a $70,000 junket mostly paid for with money from an Indian tribe and a gambling services company.
The paper said that not long afterwards, DeLay played a key role in killing gaming-related legislation opposed by the company and tribe.
DeLay reported in House financial disclosures that the weeklong May 2000 trip was paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a nonprofit organization. However, the Post reported, lobbyist Jack Abramoff suggested the trip and arranged for two of his clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and eLottery Inc., to send checks to the center to cover the travel.
Abramoff has longstanding political ties to DeLay. His lobbying activities on behalf of certain tribes is the subject of a federal investigation as well as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.