House Majority Leader Tom DeLay accused Democrats of shutting down the chamber’s ethics committee to prevent him from being exonerated of the ethics accusations against him.
“The only way I can be cleared is through the ethics committee, so they don’t want one,” Mr. DeLay said yesterday in an interview with editors and reporters of The Washington Times in his office at the Capitol. He also offered a second reason why Democrats want the ethics committee to be hobbled.
“One of their best friends, [Rep.] Jim McDermott, is being investigated, and they don’t want him to be kicked out of Congress,” Mr. DeLay said. “I mean, this guy has been found guilty — guilty by a court of law — and they don’t want an ethics committee.”
Mr. McDermott was the top Democrat on the ethics committee in 1997 when he leaked to the New York Times an illegally recorded tape of a Republican congressman’s cell-phone conversation.
Mr. DeLay was admonished by the House ethics committee last year for his fundraising tactics and use of government authority.
He said he has offered to provide the ethics committee complete documents related to recent accusations against him, but he suggested that the ranking Democrat on the committee — Rep. Alan B. Mollohan of West Virginia — was ignoring his offer.
The latest accusations involve Mr. DeLay’s relationship with former casino lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is under federal investigation for payments he received from various American Indian casinos. Mr. Delay, Texas Republican, said he is innocent of any charges against him.
Questions about Mr. Delay also have been raised regarding an investigation into a Texas political action committee that has ensnared some of the congressman’s associates.
“I know I have been watched and investigated probably more than even Bill Clinton,” he said. “They can’t find anything, so they’re going back to my childhood, going to my family, going to things that happened eight years ago. There’s nothing there.”
Mr. DeLay also dismissed concerns that Republican support for him has softened this week, suggested by the call from Rep. Christopher Shays, Connecticut Republican, to step down and a statement by Sen. Rick Santorum, a high-level Pennsylvania Republican, that Mr. DeLay “should come forward” about his actions.
“Listen, if I didn’t have any support, I’d have been gone a long time ago,” he said. “You need to talk to the members, but my sense is they understand what this is. They’re looking at the charges and they’re just shaking their heads.”
As for Mr. Santorum’s comments, Mr. DeLay said the senator did the right thing.
“There is nothing wrong with what he said,” he said. “He did not attack me, nor did he remove himself from me.”
Asked if he had ever crossed the line of ethical behavior, Mr. DeLay said: “‘Ever’ is a very strong word. Let me start out by saying, you can never find anything that I have done for personal gain. Period.”
Mr. DeLay also lashed out at newspapers and magazines that have published what he said were “old news” stories about his foreign travel, the structure of his political action committee and his relationships to lobbyists. He criticized the New York Times in particular, whose op-ed page actively sought a major Republican to write a piece critical of Mr. DeLay.
“That’s activist journalism,” Mr. DeLay said. “Somebody ought to look at the organizations and ask the New York Times, The Washington Post, the L.A. Times, Time, Newsweek, AP, why they’re spending all these resources they are. … Are they collaborating with all these organizations that are funded by George Soros?”
For weeks, Democrats have hammered Mr. DeLay, arguing that he has caused a shutdown of the ethics committee by trying to unilaterally change the committee’s rules.
Mr. DeLay said yesterday he just wants to fix a “quirk” in the committee that allows the accused member to be “held in limbo” even if the committee hasn’t voted him or her guilty. He said he also wants to allow members to be warned if they are a target of investigation and be allowed to bring along their own lawyer instead of the one appointed by the committee.
The leader said the charges against him have been orchestrated by Democrats in search of an agenda and outside interest groups that are heavily bankrolled by famous liberals such as Mr. Soros, a billionaire investor who spent millions trying to get President Bush defeated last year.
Asked if the attacks on him are undermining his agenda, Mr. DeLay said the Democrats are “solidifying and unifying the Republican conference.”
“This is the Democrats’ agenda,” he said. “They don’t have an agenda.”
Regarding the admonishments by the ethics committee last year, Mr. DeLay maintained that he hadn’t done anything wrong.
Mr. DeLay was “admonished” by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct for attending a fundraiser held by energy companies in June 2002 just as the House took up action on a major energy bill. The committee also admonished him for ordering a staffer to call the Federal Aviation Administration to track the location of a plane carrying Democratic state legislators fleeing Texas during a redistricting dispute in which Mr. DeLay was closely involved.
“I accept their guidance,” he said. “I don’t accept their admonishment.”
There “was nothing wrong with that fundraiser, any different than fundraisers all over this country,” he said. “There is nothing wrong in having fundraisers or going on trips or meeting with the lobbyists or citizens of any ilk. They have a right to petition the government.”
Mr. DeLay called the committee’s fundraising admonishment of himself and Rep. Candice S. Miller, Michigan Republican, unconstitutional because “we didn’t know we were the subject of the investigation, and … we had no right to plead our case. They did not ask us, they just admonished us and turned out the stuff to the public.”
He added: “I don’t accept the way it was done, because I had no due process, and it was put out into the public. Now my admonishments are treated as if I was convicted of a felony in the press.”
Asked if he’d altered the way he raises money since his admonishment, Mr. DeLay said, “Perception now is a new standard for me. … That perception is incredibly important, and so we discuss it and we deal with it that way.”
And there was nothing wrong, he said, with calling the FAA “for information I could get on the Internet.”
“I was called by a constituent, as I see it — the speaker of the House of the Texas legislature — wanting me to find an airplane, and gave me the tail number,” he said. “I asked a staffer to do it, called it up, there’s nothing wrong with that. And there’s nothing unethical about that. My job is to interface with the federal government.”
Mr. DeLay named just one thing he would have done differently: “What I should have done is turned around to my Internet and looked it up.”