DeLay attacks accuser after ethics panel rebuke

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay shot back at his accusers yesterday after being scolded twice during the past week for political misconduct by the House ethics committee.

In a letter to the chairman of the House Rules Committee, Mr. DeLay’s lawyer said a complaint about the majority leader filed by outgoing Rep. Chris Bell, Texas Democrat, had violated House rules because it was drafted with assistance from a private group.

Mr. Delay’s lawyer, Ed Bethune, in the 33-page letter, said Mr. Bell’s complaint had been submitted “in bad faith” as part of an effort “to raise funds for certain non-Member groups.”

The letter specifically accuses Mr. Bell of receiving “significant aid” from District-based watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). Mr. Bethune accused the group of creating “a media frenzy” that served to “tarnish” Mr. DeLay’s reputation.

Mr. Bell, who attributed his primary loss in March to a redistricting plan backed by Mr. DeLay, filed the complaint at the center of a series of ethics committee reprimands faced by Mr. DeLay, Texas Republican, who, as majority leader, is the second-ranking Republican in the House.

On Wednesday, the committee rebuked Mr. DeLay for two actions: improperly seeking government help to track down a plane carrying Texas Democrats who were trying to thwart his redistricting plan and raising “an appearance of impropriety” by participating in a fund-raiser with energy company officials while the energy bill was being negotiated in 2002.

Mr. DeLay also had been accused of participating in a scheme to illegally funnel corporate money to Texas state campaigns in 2002. The panel deferred ruling on the third charge because it is the subject of a Texas criminal investigation that has resulted in the indictments of three DeLay associates.

Ethics committee Chairman Joel Hefley hadn’t seen Mr. Bethune’s memo, but he said he thought the committee had treated Mr. DeLay fairly.

“If DeLay and his lawyer feel he was treated unfairly, they can come back and we can open it all back up again,” said Mr. Hefley, Colorado Republican.

House Democrats last night failed in a surprise attempt to appoint a special counsel to investigate Mr. DeLay.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, introduced the amendment in the evening, when numerous Republican members were out. But Republicans were able to table the appointment on a 220-178 vote.

In his letter, Mr. Bethune also charged that “Bell and CREW lodged libelous and specious allegations against Majority Leader DeLay … apparently with blatant disregard to the veracity of their statements.”

CREW’s Washington director, Melanie Sloan, shot back yesterday, calling the Bethune letter a “typical attempt to change the subject by a hard-core political bully.”

“To charge us with libel … all I can say is bring it on, go ahead, sue me,” Mrs. Sloan said. “Tom DeLay would not stand a chance in a libel claim.”

Mr. Bell’s spokesman, Eric Burns, said Mr. DeLay was attempting to undermine the ethics committee.

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