A defiant Tom DeLay, removed as House majority leader because of a criminal indictment, said Sunday he can do his job even without the title and pledged to continue his close partnership with House Speaker Dennis Hastert in pushing the GOP’s agenda.
The Texas Republican known for keeping colleagues in line and raising prodigious amounts of cash to help elect GOP candidates said he is only guilty of working to defeat Democrats. “But that’s not illegal,” he said.
Yet some House Republicans said the fundraising conspiracy case in Texas has plunged DeLay back into the GOP pack.
“He’s 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,” said Connecticut Rep. Christopher Shays, a moderate Republican.
Living on the ‘ethical edge’
Shays acknowledged he has not been comfortable with DeLay as the No. 2 House GOP leader, citing “continual acts that border and go sometimes beyond the ethical edge. They may not be illegal, but he’s always pushing that ethical edge to the limit.”
Democrats said their party stands to gain if DeLay asserts himself in the Republican leadership and the GOP embraces him. “I hope they continue to let him go out and say just what he’s saying,” said Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, who joined Shays on CNN’s “Late Edition.”
DeLay was charged Wednesday with conspiring with two political associates to use corporate donations to support Texas legislative candidates. House rules require any member of the elected leadership to step down temporarily if indicted.
He has said he has done nothing wrong, called the indictment “a sham,” and denounced the Democratic prosecutor who pursued the case as a “partisan fanatic.”
Delay: I don't need a title to lead
DeLay told “Fox News Sunday” he expected to dispense quickly with the charges and will serve as a close adviser to Hastert, R-Ill., in promoting an agenda that includes lowering gas prices, cutting taxes and enforcing immigration laws.
“I get to continue my partnership with the speaker,” DeLay said.
“The speaker and I have been leading the House for, what, eight years now. It’s because we get along together, we think the same. We are simpatico,” DeLay said.
Asked whether he would return to the GOP leadership, DeLay said, “Well, I hope so. I can do my job with or without the title. That doesn’t concern me.”
Dreier: ‘He’s not going to run things’
But GOP Rep. David Dreier of California, the House Rules Committee chairman initially recommended to take over many of DeLay’s duties, said on CBS’ “Face the Nation” that DeLay “knows he’s not going to run things.”
The indictment from a grand jury in Austin, Texas, charged that conspirators carried out a fundraising scheme by having the DeLay-founded Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee send corporate money to the Republican National Committee in Washington. The RNC then sent back a like amount — $190,000 — to distribute to Texas candidates.
DeLay said he allowed his name to be used for fundraisers and participated in several of them, but vehemently denied knowing about or intending any illegal activity. Instead, he asked that associates consult with lawyers to make sure their activity was proper, DeLay said.
“I did nothing wrong,” DeLay said Sunday. “I had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation. It was my idea to form this group. I helped to organize it. I have other things to do. I stepped away and moved on.”
Criminal conspiracy is a Texas felony punishable by six months to two years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000. DeLay was summoned by a judge to appear in court in Austin on Oct. 21.
Delay: Conspiring to defeat Dems isn't crime
Contesting the allegation, DeLay said, “I mean, a racketeering suit? And do you know what they put in the suit? That I was conspiring to defeat Democrats. Guilty. I’m guilty of that. But that’s not illegal.”
He also denied that a $70,000 trip to London in 2000 was improperly paid for by lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who has been charged with fraud and conspiracy in a separate case.
The House ethics committee is investigating whether DeLay’s airfare and other expenses, including golf outings, were charged to an Abramoff credit card.
“This was totally paid for, legally paid for by a conservative organization, and checked and double-checked. Abramoff helps this organization raise money. That’s legal,” DeLay said.
“Look, we were friends, just like I am friends with many lobbyists in this town. I have no clue as to his inner workings of his business,” he added. “People are trying to make me responsible for Jack Abramoff’s actions if he’s guilty, and I’m not convinced that he is.”