A Texas grand jury indicted House majority leader Tom DeLay Wednesday on charges of conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing the Republican to temporarily leave his post.
DeLay dismissed the charges, saying he is innocent. But how much will this hurt the Republican Party?
MSNBC-TV's Chris Matthews talked to DeLay in an exclusive interview.
CHRIS MATTHEWS, HARDBALL HOST: A difficult day. The charge from the prosecutor down there, which the grand jury acted on, was that a bunch of people got together, including you, and sent a bunch of corporate checks up to the RNC in Washington. That's corporate contributions, illegal to use in Texas legislative races.
In exchange, you said, now send that same money down. You earmarked it for these legislative races, thereby circumventing the spirit of the law, which is no corporate contributions. Is that a fair estimate of the charge?
REP. TOM DELAY (R-TX), MAJORITY LEADER: I don't know. It is not in the indictment. I don't know what he's charging me with.
MATTHEWS: Well, I'm reading it from it.
DELAY: You did not read that from it.
DELAY: And what you just gave us...
MATTHEWS: "Texans for a Republican Majority did tender cause to be delivered and delivered to the Republican National Committee a check in the amount of $190,000, the check being for the same bank..."
DELAY: Wait. Wait. Chris, Chris, that's TRMPAC. That's not me.
MATTHEWS: OK. So, that's it.
DELAY: TRMPAC is a separate entity. I had no fiduciary responsibilities. I had no managerial responsibilities. I had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation. I was simply, along with four other elected officials, on an advisory board. They used my name as headliners for fund-raisers.
DELAY: And I had no idea what they were doing.
MATTHEWS: So, if corporate money was laundered through the Republican National Committee, you had nothing to do with it?
DELAY: That's exactly right. But that's not what they did. And they did it all within the law. They did what they did — and I know what they did now.
DELAY: They did it completely within the law. The Democrat parties and the Republican parties do the same thing over and over again. You take soft money. Those were the days of soft and hard money.
DELAY: You take soft money and use it for legal stuff. If you have more than you need, you send it to one of your friends. It's like your brother-in-law sending you money to pay your rent. And then you send back hard money that can be used in the races. It is not a quid pro quo. In fact, the amount of money you're talking about is different.
Well, let me ask you this. Let me ask — because Tom Davis is going to be on this show. And the argument we're getting from other people is that there's nothing wrong with you urging some corp or anybody that your former PAC — putting the PAC you're on the board of — to give, say, give a bunch of money to the RNC. They need money. It's a good Republican
cause, and then calling up the Republican National Committee and say, why don't you give some money to these legislative candidates? We'd like them to win down there.
DELAY: Yes. It's totally legal.
MATTHEWS: So, what is illegal here?
DELAY: Everything TRMPAC did — and I insisted on — to even be on their board of advisers.
Now, TRMPAC was my idea. I wanted the Texas House to be a Republican majority. And I went down there and worked with them to do that. We were successful. From that, we redistricted Texas. And the Republican Party better represented the values of the people of Texas, because we gained five seats.
MATTHEWS: You're a Texan. Texas law says corporations can't give to legislative candidates.
DELAY: That's true.
MATTHEWS: If anybody, not you or anybody — just, if anybody sends money, says, give the corporate maybe to the RNC or the DNC and, by the way, send some of that money back and pay for these races down there, that would maybe be legal. Would that break the spirit of the law, which is no corporate contributions?
DELAY: No, it wouldn't, because, in Texas, you can raise corporate and union money for administrative purposes, to pay your rent, to pay your salaries and that kind of stuff.
You just can't take that money and put it in somebody else's campaign. Everything TRMPAC did, they did it with lawyers' blessings and accountants' blessing. This is not anything to do with money laundering.
DELAY: This has everything to do with indicting me, so I have to step aside momentarily for...
MATTHEWS: That could be the motive. But let me ask you. He does, in fact, in the indictment here he brought before the grand jury identified Todd Baxter, Dwayne Bohac, Glenda Dawson, Dan Flynn, Rick Green, Jack Stick and Larry Taylor as recipients of this corporate money as it went through Washington back....
DELAY: And I know very few of those people.
MATTHEWS: But they're legislative candidates.
DELAY: They're actually state reps now.
MATTHEWS: Right. They were elected.
DELAY: We won.
MATTHEWS: Well, you won. These candidates benefited from money that came from the RNC. The RNC benefited from corporate money coming from Texas.
DELAY: That's right.
MATTHEWS: Isn't that just a laundering process?
DELAY: No. Democrats do it. Republicans do it, have done it for years. Lawyers — it has been tested in the courts.
MATTHEWS: Oh, I see.
DELAY: Lawyers have been doing this for — I mean, have said we can do this forever and ever and ever.
MATTHEWS: Could this be a partisan prosecutor who has found a law and found a way to read it that has not been read before?
DELAY: Oh, definitely. He is trying to rewrite the law.
He is criminalizing election — the election code. That's what he's doing. But he's done this over and over again. He did it against his Democrat enemies early on. He did it against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. By the way, he's had his head handed to him every time. But that's not his modus operandi.
He did to me what he did to them. You drag this out as long as you can do it, so that the press make you seem like you're indicted. I have actually been indicted for two years, if you read the press on this investigation.
MATTHEWS: Right. But, in this case, forced you to relinquish your leadership.
DELAY: Never talking to me. Never talking to me. Never asking me to testify, never doing anything for two years.
And then, on the last day of his fourth or sixth grand jury, he indicts me. Why? Because his goal was to make me step down as majority leader.
MATTHEWS: Does he have a witness or somebody or a piece of paper that suggests there was a quid pro quo with the RNC here?
MATTHEWS: You don't think he has anything like that?
DELAY: No, absolutely not. He has nothing. I'm telling you, he has
MATTHEWS: What do you think he showed the grand jury to convince them to indict?
DELAY: You don't have to — what do I know? You know, grand juries, it's all one-sided. It is all what he presents to the grand jury, how he spins, how he presents it. Everybody says you can indict a ham sandwich with a grand jury.
MATTHEWS: Yes, I have heard that term.
DELAY: This is a ham sandwich indictment without the ham.
MATTHEWS: Let's play practicality here.
MATTHEWS: Because innocent until proven guilty. That's the American system.
DELAY: Not anymore.
MATTHEWS: Well, let me ask you... You set up the House system whereby a leadership
person who is indicted has to relinquish their leadership post.
MATTHEWS: So, that is not exactly innocent until proven guilty under your own party standard.
DELAY: By the way, the Democrats haven't.
MATTHEWS: Yes, but you've been tougher.
MATTHEWS: OK, let me ask you this. Can you get a trial before the next election? Can you clear yourself?
DELAY: I hope so. We have speedy trial in Texas. And I have a very good lawyer that represented Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison against Ronnie Earle and handed his head to him back then. He didn't learn anything and here we are again.
MATTHEWS: Do you think this prosecutor, Mr. Ronnie Earle, who is a Democrat — we pointed that out in the beginning of this show — who has gone after you, can he delay this trial until after the election next year and beat you?
DELAY: He'll try. That's the way.
MATTHEWS: So justice delayed will be justice denied here?
DELAY: Absolutely. I have already been punished, because I have had to step down from
DELAY: And that's all he wants.
MATTHEWS: Well, you won by 10 points because you were so generous to the other Republicans in your state, because you gave them some of your Republican territory. Everybody — do you regret doing that now that you have a smaller margin?
DELAY: Not at all.
MATTHEWS: OK. You have a margin of about five points. If it switches, you lose. Do you think this indictment, just by itself, no evidence, just the indictment, could cost you the election?
DELAY: No, because what we're hearing from my district right now, as we speak, it is overwhelming.
MATTHEWS: Do they think this is sleazy, this indictment?
DELAY: Yes. They finally get it. You know, this has been going on for 10 years. I got my first ethics charges in 1993, then again in 1995. Then they filed a racketeering suit against me. And then they filed two more sets of ethics charges, all dismissed, all dismissed, but time, so that they dragged me through the mud. They can't get me on via the election. And so they're trying to get me by making me step down...
MATTHEWS: Are they using the old trick of throwing everything they can against the wall and seeing what sticks?
DELAY: Oh, yes. And they have announced it. I mean, the DCCC...
MATTHEWS: Here's your toughest charge. Mr. Leader, your toughest charge tonight — and everybody is still going to keep calling you Mr. Leader, I'm sure.
The toughest charge, they coordinated an attack on you. Who did the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, coordinate with to nail you today in that grand jury?
DELAY: Oh, Democrat leaders.
MATTHEWS: In the state or up here?
MATTHEWS: Who is involved up here?
DELAY: You need to ask him that question.
MATTHEWS: No, but you have said that there's a coordinated attack on you involving the leadership of the House on the Democratic side now. Is Pelosi involved?
MATTHEWS: What's her role in this?
DELAY: I don't know. Ask her. But they announced it. It is on their Web site that they were going to come after me. And they — and it is in all their fund-raising mails, of how they're going to...
MATTHEWS: Oh, I know you're a target of all the fund-raising. You're like Ted Kennedy from the other side. They go after you.
DELAY: I'm not complaining. I'm just saying, this is what they're doing. I guarantee you, people like Martin Frost, Lloyd Doggett...
MATTHEWS: They're still mad at you, aren't they?
DELAY: Pete Laney, the former speaker of the...
MATTHEWS: These are the losers in your campaign to rebuild the Republican Party of Texas.
DELAY: That's exactly — exactly right.
MATTHEWS: And those guys are those guys who all lost their seats because you managed to win the redistricting in the Texas legislature, because you managed to get so many Republicans elected in the legislature. They're all out to get you.
DELAY: That is right.
MATTHEWS: And this is part of it.
DELAY: This is the punishment for winning the Texas House and redistricting Texas.
MATTHEWS: Do you think there were meetings involving Nancy Pelosi or anyone else in the House leadership or these guys you mentioned who lost their seats and put together this charge against you; they cooked it up?
DELAY: Yes, I think so, but I...
MATTHEWS: It wasn't just his eager beaver prosecutors helping Ronnie Earle? It was people from outside who involved themselves in this?
DELAY: I think so. yes.
MATTHEWS: Is Ronnie Earle a straight prosecutor?
DELAY: Absolutely not. He doesn't even go to his office. He only goes to his office to hold press conferences.
MATTHEWS: What, is he a no-show?
MATTHEWS: Is that legal, to be a no-show in Texas?
DELAY: I guess it is. He does it. He's done it almost his entire
MATTHEWS: Well, how does he get reelected?
DELAY: He's a political animal.
MATTHEWS: So, he's good at the electoral process, but not the process
MATTHEWS: And you believe that this is a political vendetta?
DELAY: Oh, I know it is.
MATTHEWS: A coordinated vendetta by the House Democratic leadership here in Washington?
DELAY: And Democrat leadership in Texas and Ronnie Earle and, absolutely.
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that there was a heads-up to people like Nancy Pelosi before this thing today?
MATTHEWS: Do you believe that Nancy Pelosi and all the Democrats are keeping quiet today in order to let the focus be completely on you?
DELAY: And you're probably one of them. The DCCC yesterday afternoon was shopping this story. Nobody had this story.
MATTHEWS: But we didn't know about it. We didn't know about it.
DELAY: And they were shopping this story. So, they knew about it.
MATTHEWS: Well, they skipped us.
MATTHEWS: Let me ask you this about this. Do you believe that Nancy Pelosi is part of a coordinated attempt to fry you and then to step back and let the frying go on without any Democratic partisanship being evident? We had a guest on today, Sheila Jackson Lee. All of a sudden, she wasn't available. We're wondering what's going on here. Are they telling the people to pull back and make it look like it's nonpartisan?
DELAY: I don't know about that.
MATTHEWS: Well, that would be very coordinated.
DELAY: Yes. But...
MATTHEWS: But you stick to your argument here tonight that this is a coordinated attack by the national Democrats and the state Democrats, including the guys you beat, knocked out of their seats, to get even with Tom DeLay?
DELAY: Absolutely. It's on their Web site.
MATTHEWS: Can you still be the Hammer without the gavel?
MATTHEWS: Can you still be the Hammer without the gavel?
DELAY: I'm still a member of the House and I'm still aggressive. And we have got a great agenda. We're looking for to fix gas prices. We're looking retirement security, fiscal responsibility, all these kinds of things.
And, in fact, what the Democrats don't understand is, what they have
done today is so unified the Republicans, at a time when we were kind of
falling apart and fighting with each other, that we are now so focused on our
agenda, we're going to drive it home and defeat the Democrats by accomplishing
MATTHEWS: There will be no Republicans out there trimming you tonight, you don't think? They won't be saying off camera or off record, without their names being used, this guy ought to go? You're not going to read that tomorrow morning in the paper?
DELAY: I don't know. I don't know. I know what I saw in that room when that caucus, the incredible support that I got.
MATTHEWS: Is Roy Blunt a good guy?
DELAY: And the unification of the other Republicans. Roy Blunt is a great guy. He's very capable.
MATTHEWS: Is he a DeLay guy?
DELAY: He is a Roy Blunt guy.
MATTHEWS: Hey, thank you. You have got a lot of nerve coming on.
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