Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) talks to MSNBC's Rita Cosby in his first national television interview since being booked on charges for violating Texas campaign finance laws. DeLay tells Cosby there is a zero percent chance that he will go to jail and there is no way he will step down from his position.
RITA COSBY, LIVE AND DIRECT HOST: Congressman, thank you very much for having us here.
REP. TOM DELAY, (R) TEXAS: Glad to have you in Texas.
COSBY: Majority Leader, still, right? Technically, the name still holds.
COSBY: Majority Leader, thank you so much for having us here.
DELAY: Thank you very much for having me.
COSBY: How did you feel when you found out there was a warrant out for your arrest?
DELAY: Well, I was a little disappointed. It's not like I was running anywhere, if I could. We were more than willing to comply with the responsibilities that were demanded on me. But we know why they're doing this. They wanted that mug shot, they wanted a perp walk. And they got the mug shot.
COSBY: Were you surprised that all of a sudden, going from majority leader to a wanted man?
DELAY: Not really. This politics of personal destruction has been going on for a long time. The Democrats have no agenda; they're only agenda is trying to destroy people's reputation and families, and they're working very hard to do that.
I understand what it's about. It's not about me, they can't beat us at the ballot, they can't beat us in the legislative bodies. All they've got left are the courts and these renegade prosecutors.
COSBY: Why do you believe this DA is so out to get you?
DELAY: Well, I helped the Republicans gain the Texas House of Representatives. I helped elect the first Republican Speaker of the House since Reconstruction.
COSBY: Do you believe he's out to get you personally?
DELAY: Oh, no doubt about it. And pay me back for redistricting the congressional districts in Texas. We were successful at that. And we were successful at electing more Republicans so that now the congressional delegation has a good majority of Republicans.
COSBY: But you seem to feel you are target number one.
DELAY: I don't know about that; you have to ask them who's their number one target. But certainly I've been very visible as of late. And when you're indicted on baseless charges, you've got to — I'm not paranoid. I'm not a victim. I understand what this is all about. But we're not going to take it. We're going to find back.
We're not going to allow a renegade prosecutor to undermine our justice system. This is about undermining our criminal justice system. This is about undermining our representative government. This is about undermining our grand jury system. This is very serious stuff.
COSBY: What was going through your mind when they actually booked you? Here you had to go to a sheriff's department, got the mug shot, got the fingerprints. It's got to be humiliating.
DELAY: Well, it's not fun, I got to tell you. It's enough to make sure you don't do anything to break the law to get there — it's not fun. It's very serious. It's very grim.
You're thrown in basically with people that have been arrested for various reasons. They're all in inmate suits and all that kind of stuff. And, you know, it's a little humiliating.
COSBY: Embarrassing, too?
DELAY: A little embarrassing. I don't recommend it to anybody.
COSBY: Well, for yourself, either, right?
The mug shot. The famous mug shot now. You're smiling in it.
DELAY: Well, that's how I feel. I mean, this is not getting me down. I have a certain sense of peace and joy about this. I mean, I'm not happy about it. It's not fun.
This fight is hard. And it's very hard on my family. But I know what this is about. And I haven't done anything wrong, and I know I haven't done anything wrong. So it doesn't get me down.
COSBY: Was it also so the Democrats and others couldn't use it in an ad against you or the Republicans?
DELAY: Well, there's a certain amount of that...
COSBY: It was an intentional grin?
DELAY: Well, I wasn't going to get. I was going to make sure that I was smiling, you know, when the picture was taken.
COSBY: It was intentional?
DELAY: You only get one take.
COSBY: Intentional take?
DELAY: Intentional, certainly.
COSBY: You're also wearing the congressional pin that I see you're wearing now. Was that to send a statement to your colleagues?
DELAY: Not to my colleagues, but to the American people. I'm a member of Congress, a member of Congress that is being treated this way, a member of Congress that is having his reputation drug through the mud, his character being questioned. People ought to understand that.
COSBY: They call you "the Hammer." Are you about out of nicknames? After the mug shot, are you getting any new nicknames?
DELAY: All the blogs are doing a lot with the mug shot.
COSBY: Is there a nickname that you...
DELAY: Maybe I'll start selling mugs with the mug shot on it.
COSBY: You think we're going to see that face a lot?
DELAY: Oh, you already are. They're selling t-shirts, especially by enemies. They're using it all over the place. They're doctoring it up. Yes, they're trying their best to make it look as bad as possible. It's hard to do, though.
COSBY: Well, the photo of a wanted man with an arrest warrant. Did you ever think in your life it would come to that?
DELAY: I didn't think — I worry — you know, I've got the utmost respect for Democrats that believe in what they're doing and stand up and fight for what they believe in. I don't have a whole lot of respect for people that want to personalize and criminalize politics. And that's what this is about.
I really didn't. I never really believed that politics would come to this point, this low point. think it's really unfortunate. But when we get through this, and I'm exonerated, people will know what this is all about and people will know that these prosecutors need to be held accountable.
COSBY: Are you in the political fight of your life right now?
DELAY: I guess you could say that. I've got some very tough enemies. And we're trying to make a statement. I'm going to stand up for what I believe in. Nobody's going to intimidate me and keep me from fighting for what I believe in, and nobody's going to intimidate me and keep me from fighting for the rule of law, for our criminal justice system, for our political system.
I won't give up. And that's probably where they underestimated me.
COSBY: These charges are serious.
DELAY: Very serious.
COSBY: You could face life in prison.
COSBY: Are you worried at all? I mean, isn't there just a shred of doubt, even though you believe it's what if the case doesn't go my way?
DELAY: Oh, listen, this is so over-the-top. I mean, I have been charged with a law that doesn't exist. I mean, can you imagine that?
The law that I — the money laundering and the conspiracy in 2002 didn't exist, as it applies to the election code. Look, I'm very confident that we're going to be exonerated.
They have nothing. They have no evidence. They don't even have the law on their side. So I have the facts and the law will shine here. Ronnie Earle will be shown for what he is.
COSBY: And what is he?
DELAY: He's a renegade prosecutor that uses the criminal justice system to criminalize politics.
COSBY: Is there any chance at all that you think you could go to jail?
DELAY: None at all.
COSBY: Zero percent?
DELAY: All they wanted to do, to be honest with you, all they wanted to do is indict me, because they knew that I had to step aside, since the Republicans — not the Democrats — the Republicans had a rule that said if you're indicted, you have to step aside from the leadership position.
That's all they care. That's why in the indictment, not only am I indicted for a law that doesn't exist, they don't say anything in the indictment what part I played in this scenario. They just wanted the indictment.
And they got it. They won that round. We'll win the others.
COSBY: Regardless of how you feel it could be a long road ahead.
COSBY: How painful has this been for you personally and for your family?
DELAY: Well, it hasn't been painful for us. My wife is one wonderful woman. She and I were high school sweethearts. We've been through a lot together. She supports what I'm fighting for and what I believe in.
COSBY: But is this one of the worst periods for you?
DELAY: Well, you know, the worst, I don't know. It's not a good time. My wife is a fighter, and she has to stand on the sidelines and watch all this go on. That's kind of hard.
But she also knows what this is all about. I mean, she's very supportive in my understanding of what it's all about. And she's very supportive of fighting back.
COSBY: Your team has asked the judge to step aside, saying he's too Democratic, has too many Democratic ties. Why do you think that that's critical?
DELAY: Well, we want an impartial judge.
COSBY: You feel it will not be?
DELAY: Well, obviously, we filed a motion to recuse himself, because his contribution level — his contributions to political organizations, and candidates, and Moveon.org, and to the former speaker of the house, Pete Laney's, political action committee, and all those kinds of things, is so unusual by a judge that it just doesn't look right and it makes you question whether he can be impartial or not. There's plenty other good judges out there that can give us a fair trial.
COSBY: Do you think you'll win that? Do you think you'll get a new judge?
DELAY: I know we will.
COSBY: You do?
DELAY: Absolutely. I mean, this is so over the top. When you see his contributions compared to other judges and how they get involved in politics, it's like night and day.
COSBY: A trial date hasn't been set. It may not even go to trial. But should it go to trial, this could drag on for who knows how long. Some people are saying for the good of your party, maybe you should step down, maybe it's too much of a distraction.
DELAY: Um-hmm. I think this IS for the good of our party. The Democrats, as I said, have no agenda. We have a bold, aggressive agenda going on right now in the House of Representatives. The only agenda the Democrats have is this politics of personal destruction. If we let them get away with this and don't hold these people accountable, then the Republicans lose — the people of America lose. We're just not going to allow that to happen.
COSBY: So you're saying, there's no way you would step down for the good of your party, if that were to be suggested.
DELAY: No way.
COSBY: No way. You're not going anywhere.
DELAY: I'm going to stick at this. I'm going to stand and fight.
COSBY: Till the bitter end.
DELAY: Till whatever the end brings.
COSBY: Is there anyone who could replace you in Congress? Are you irreplaceable? You did such an effective job.
DELAY: No, anybody could. I mean, you've got 232 wonderful Republicans, all of them leaders in their own right.
COSBY: Who would be a good replacement?
DELAY: I don't know. I'm not going to get into that. There's plenty of great leaders in our conference. No one's indispensable, and no one's irreplaceable.
So we'll do just fine. And we're doing just fine, even though I've had to step aside. I'm still a member of Congress. I'm still working hard on our agenda to cut spending, to protect our borders, to reign in judicial activism — all these issues that we're working on, I'm still there working for it.
COSBY: The new indictment against you, with charges of money laundering, also conspiracy, did you do any of this?
DELAY: Well, let me just correct you a minute. It's money laundering and conspiracy to violate the election code. The real charges is on the Texas election code.
COSBY: Did you violate the code?
DELAY: No, I did not violate the code. First of all, I wasn't involved. I wasn't involved in the day-to-day operation of TRMPAC. I was on the advisory board. These two young men that actually ran TRMPAC checked everything with lawyers and accountants. So everything was done exactly according to the law. Ronnie Earle is making up baseless charges that actually didn't happen.
COSBY: You were forced to resign as Majority leader. Personally, how —
DELAY: Step aside.
COSBY: Step aside. How heartbreaking was that for you?
DELAY: It didn't really bother me.
COSBY: You loved that job.
DELAY: No, I love what we're doing. The titles don't mean anything. I love what we're doing.
COSBY: Are you still the Majority leader, sort of in the background?
DELAY: No, the Republican majority for the last 11 years have been doing some historic, incredible things. I mean, welfare reform, balancing the budget back in the '90s, cutting taxes — you know, the House of Representatives cut taxes every year for 11 years, but as important as that is, the federal government hasn't raised taxes in 11 years because of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives.
I'm very proud of that record. I'm proud I had a part to play in it, and I'm looking forward to continuing it.
COSBY: If everything is cleared, do you plan to be Majority leader again?
DELAY: If I'm cleared, I have the right to step back into the Majority leader position, yes.
COSBY: Do you want to do it?
COSBY: No question.
DELAY: No question.
COSBY: In 2006, all the House seats are up are up for grabs. The last election, you won by 55 percent. That's a fairly tight race.
COSBY: Are you worried, next go around not too far away, you may not get reelected?
DELAY: Well, that's up to...
COSBY: You've got a dark over — you know, hanging over you now.
DELAY: That's up to my constituents. This agenda of the Democrats has been going on for 10 years. I've had ethics charges filed against me; they were dismissed. This has been going on for 10 years.
My constituents, I think, like what I'm doing for the nation, and for this district, and for the Dallas and Houston area. And they have a right to decide that in November of 2006.
We're working hard to continue what we're doing. My constituents know who I am. They know what this is all about. And, if they want me back, they will send me back.
COSBY: Do you think you'll get reelected?
DELAY: That's up to my constituents.
COSBY: Do you feel like you will?
DELAY: I don't know. I mean, I'm not worried about it. You know, I know what this is all about. My constituents know what this is all about. And if they want me to continue the work that I've been doing for them and for the nation, they'll send me back.
COSBY: If you lose, what will you do?
DELAY: That's speculation. I have no idea.
COSBY: Have you thought about life beyond Congress?
DELAY: No. We've got too much work to do.
COSBY: It's too many things ahead right now?
COSBY: Karl Rove and Scooter Libby have, of course, been front row and center. What do you think is going to happen with that investigation?
DELAY: I have no idea. You know, everybody's speculating about that. The investigation's ongoing. Whatever happens will happen. Karl Rove will have to deal with it, and the president will have to deal with it.
I know Karl Rove. I know that he's never intentionally violated the law. I also know, though, these investigations, because I've been dealing with them, can always sully your reputation, because sometimes these overactive investigators, when they find nothing wrong, then they try to find something else, like perjury or obstruction of justice, just so that they can have something.
That's what's happening in this process. This criminalization of politics and elections, it's incredibly dangerous for our democracy.
COSBY: If he or Scooter Libby is indicted, if Karl Rove or Scooter Libby is indicted, should they step aside?
DELAY: No, that's up to the president. You know, I don't think they will be indicted. But they serve at the will of the president. The president will have to make that decision.
COSBY: Are you worried at all, about all these things going on with you, being such a central figure in the halls of Congress, how that will affect the White House, if this drags on?
DELAY: No, because, to be honest with you — and now you really don't think I'm crazy — I think, because we have such a bold, aggressive agenda, the president has shown more leadership. The Democrats have no agenda. The Democrats have this ethics agenda.
If I can show what they're all about and show the American people that this politics of personal destruction is not helpful for the nation, I think I can destroy their credibility. So when they have nothing, we could have a very robust election in 2006.
COSBY: And could we see a Majority Leader Tom DeLay in 2006?
DELAY: I hope so.
COSBY: Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
DELAY: Oh, I don't know.
COSBY: Have you thought about what's ahead for you?
DELAY: No. I've never done that. I try to do the best job that I can in the job that I have. I think when you do a good job, it's like good policy is good politics. If you do your job and do it the best way you know how, never give up, work as hard as you can, the future will always be bright.
COSBY: What advice would you give to Karl Rove, who is going through the same thing as you?
DELAY: Well, it depends on your faith. That'll get you through.
COSBY: What do you think your legacy is going to be, a fighter to the bitter end?
DELAY: I hope my legacy is, we turned this country around away from the liberals' world view and set it on the right course, a course that is underwritten by the Constitution of the United States, a course that regains the values that Americans hold dear, and continues to build a wonderful, wonderful experiment history has never seen before.
COSBY: You still believe in the political process?
DELAY: Absolutely. Absolutely. Especially when you have the opportunity to stop those that will try to undermine it.
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