Although President George W. Bush is determined to keep and strengthen even the most odious parts of the USA PATRIOT Act and to use extralegal methods to extract information about citizens, he does have a soft spot for one American. The day before the Senate blocked one attempt to extend the PATRIOT Act and the New York Times revealed that the National Security Agency was spying upon Americans - and doing so without obtaining constitutionally-required court warrants - the President declared that Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas), former House majority leader, indicted by a Texas grand jury on two felony counts, is innocent. Not “innocent” as in, “all persons are presumed innocent until proven guilty,” but outright “innocent”. Period.
The President of the United States by historical precedent usually refuses to comment on on-going legal cases. The most recent “no comment” came in the Valerie Plame case, in which the staff of both the President and Vice-President were accused of leaking the identity of Plame, a covert CIA officer, apparently to “punish” her outspoken husband, Ambassador Joseph Wilson. The inconsistency was explained by press secretary Scott McClellan as a “presidential prerogative”. It may be a “prerogative”, but it is also nothing short of jury tampering by a President and Republican-led Congress that appears to be doing everything in its power to protect an 11-term rogue congressman.
Even if you disregard DeLay’s strong-arm tactics of manipulation and subjugation, or his brain-dead absurdity in 1998 that people with “foreign-sounding names” (maybe like the French-sounding “DeLay”?) probably aren’t true Americans, he’s tainted by his own actions. He temporarily resigned his leadership position in September after being charged with money laundering and conspiracy to violate the state election code. His past legal problems include major conflicts of interest, allowing his own political committees to accept six-figure corporate “donations,” accepting money from lobbyists of foreign nations, obstruction of justice, and lying on federal forms. DeLay, wrote syndicated columnist E.J. Dionne, “was a pioneer in something entirely new: a fully integrated political apparatus that linked Republican Party committees, lobbyists, fundraisers, corporations, ideological organisations and the process of governing itself”.
The House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, also known as the Ethics Committee, publicly admonished DeLay three times in 2004. The first time was because he offered to endorse the election of the son of a fellow congressman in exchange for that congressman’s vote on a key piece of legislation. The second time was because he “created the appearance that donors were being provided with special access [to him] regarding the then-pending energy legislation”. The third time was because he “used federal resources in a political issue”. In this case, he ordered the Federal Aviation Administration, the Department of Justice, and the Federal Highway Administration to track down and return Democrat state representatives to Austin to force a quorum vote on congressional redistricting that would benefit the Republican Party.
The state criminal case against Tom Delay originated in 2002, almost entirely as part of that redistricting manipulation. According to court documents, he was a principal force behind the creation of a Texas political committee that is accused of illegally channelling at least $190,000 in corporate funds into a state election, “with the intent that a felony be committed”. Those financial contributions helped assure a Republican majority in the state’s congressional delegation. A year later, using a plan drafted by DeLay and with the House majority leader providing constant advice, the Republican-controlled Texas House of Representatives reorganised congressional districts.
In a 73-page memo of December 22, 2003, five attorneys, an analyst, and a statistician in the civil rights division of the US Department of Justice said the redistricting violated the Voting Rights Act of 1965. According to that memo, revealed by the Washington Post early this month, state officials were aware that their redistricting plan, compared to other plans, was highly discriminatory. However, senior Department officials overruled the staff recommendation. Mark Posner, professor of law at American university and a former Department of Justice attorney, told the Post it was “highly unusual” for political appointees to overrule a unanimous finding.
With the earlier election of 17 Republicans to the House, assisted by funds hidden from public view, and from the new election in 2004 of five more Republicans in blatantly gerrymandered districts, the Republicans had enough members to solidify their control of the US House of Representatives.
The solution to DeLay’s political immorality wasn’t for the House to reduce his Congressional privileges, but to redefine itself. In November 2004, the House, voting along party lines, overthrew an 11-year-old rule that required House leaders to surrender their positions if indicted. In January, exposed by heavy media and public outrage, the House rescinded that vote, but voted to dismiss all ethics investigations if there was a deadlock on the Ethics committee; that committee usually has a 5-5 Republican-Democrat composition. Three months later, after the Democrats effectively shut down the committee, the House relented. It was only a minor problem for the backers of one of the nation’s most powerful congressmen. Speaker Dennis Hastert changed the composition of the Ethics Committee to include Republicans closer to DeLay, including two who had contributed to his legal defence fund.
With previous House admonishments and current legal charges against him, it may be time to rid the nation of this former pest control officer - except that the President of the United States says his Texas buddy is “innocent”.