Tom DeLay Says He Will Give Up His Seat

    By Mike Allen
    TIME Magazine

    Monday 03 April 2006

The embattled former Republican leader
tells TIME that
he will leave Congress and not seek reelection.

US Representative Tom DeLay on Capitol Hill.

(Photo: TIME Magazine)

    Rep. Tom DeLay, whose iron hold on the House Republicans melted as a
lobbying corruption scandal engulfed the Capitol, told TIME that he will
not seek reelection and will leave Congress within months. Taking
defiant swipes at “the left” and the press, he said he feels “liberated”

and vowed to pursue an aggressive speaking and organizing campaign aimed
at promoting foster care, Republican candidates and a closer connection
between religion and government.

    “I’m going to announce tomorrow that I’m not running for reelection and

that I’m going to leave Congress,” DeLay, who turns 59 on Saturday, said

during a 90-minute interview on Monday. “I’m very much at peace with
it.” He notified President Bush in the afternoon. DeLay and his wife,
Christine, said they had been prepared to fight, but that he decided
last Wednesday, after months of prayer and contemplation, to spare his
suburban Houston district the mudfest to come. “This had become a
referendum on me,” he said. “So it’s better for me to step aside and
it be a referendum on ideas, Republican values and what’s important for
this district.”

    DeLay’s fall has been stunningly swift, one of the most brutal and
decisive in American history. He had to give up his title of Majority
Leader, the No. 2 spot in the House Republican leadership, in September
when a Texas grand jury indicted him on charges of trying to evade the
state’s election law. So he moved out of his palatial suite in the
Capitol, where he once brandished a “No Whining” mug during feisty

weekly sessions with reporters, and moved across the street to the
Cannon House Office Building, home of many freshmen.

    The surprise decision was based on the sort of ruthless calculation that
had once given him unchallenged dominance of House Republicans and their
wealthy friends in Washington’s lobbying community: he realized he might
lose in this November’s election. DeLay got a scare in a Republican
primary last month, and a recent poll taken by his campaign gave him a
roughly 50-50 shot of winning, in an election season when Republicans
need every seat they can hang onto to avoid a Democratic takeover of the

    “I’m a realist. I’ve been around awhile. I can evaluate political
situations,” DeLay told TIME at his kitchen table in Sugar Land, a
former sugar plantation in suburban Houston. Bluebonnets are blooming
along the highways. “I feel that I could have won the race. I just felt

like I didn’t want to risk the seat and that I can do more on the
outside of the House than I can on the inside right now. I want to
continue to fight for the conservative cause. I want to continue to work
for a Republican majority.”

    Asked if he had done anything illegal or immoral in public office, DeLay
replied curtly, “No.” Asked if he’d done anything immoral, he said
a laugh, “We’re all sinners.” Asked what he would do differently,
said, “Nothing.” He denied having failed to adequately supervise members

of his staff, even though two of his former aides have pleaded guilty to
committing crimes while on his staff. “Two people violated my trust over

21 years,” he said. “I guarantee you if other offices were under the

scrutiny I’ve been under in the last 10 years, with the Democrat Party
announcing that they’re going to destroy me, destroy my reputation, and
that’s how they’re going to get rid of me, I guarantee you you’re going
to find, out of hundreds of people, somebody that’s probably done
something wrong.”

    DeLay brushed off the torrent of investigative news articles questioning
the funding behind the golf, private planes and resort hotels that
marked his travel at home and abroad. He even accepted a plane from R.J.
Reynolds Tobacco to go to his arraignment. “There’s nothing wrong with

it,” he said. “They had a plane available. My schedule was such that
couldn’t do it commercially – that I had to get up there and then get

back and do my job. And that’s the only plane that was available at the

    “You can’t prove to me one thing that I have done for my own personal

gain,” he added. “Yes, I play golf. I’m very proud of the fact that
play golf. It’s the only thing that I do for myself. And when you go to
a country and you’re there for seven days and you take an afternoon off
to play golf, what does the national media write? All about the golf,
not about the meeting that went to. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve
done. I’ve never done anything in my political career for my own
personal gain. You can look at my bank account and my house to
understand that.”

    “I don’t care what history writes, ” he continued. “What I care
what’s important to me is who I am, what I’ve done and what I can
accomplish in the future. What I care about it what I believe in and how
I conduct myself in fighting for what I believe in.”

    Appearing relaxed despite three cups of coffee, DeLay played with his
petite dogs and led a leisurely tour of his home. Upstairs, he offered a
frame-by-frame description of the photos reflecting his past political
clout, such as a private session on the Truman Balcony with the
President and First Lady Laura Bush. The first frame marks the beginning
of his arc from pest-control entrepreneur to a feared and ingenious
power broker. It’s the front page from a local paper, the
Herald-Coaster, from 1978, proclaiming, “DeLay Is House Winner.” That

was the Texas House; voters sent him to Washington six years later,
starting him on a 21-year congressional career. During the tour, he gave
an indication of his early deftness at the political game when he showed
off a picture of his wife, Christine, and their daughter, Danielle, with
President Ronald Reagan. “I had to withhold my vote,” he said, “to
my daughter’s picture with Ronald Reagan as a freshman.” His wife, a
formidable daily force in his office with a voice in nearly all
scheduling and media decisions, pointed to a photo of former Supreme
Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, and noted, “That’s when we thought
she was going to be conservative.”

    Putting the best face on the poll taken by his campaign, DeLay said it
gave him “a little bit better than a 50/50 chance of winning
reelection.” Asked if that didn’t mean that he could lose, he replied,

“Could have. There’s no reason to risk a seat. This is a very strong
Republican district. It’s obvious to me that anybody but me running here
will overwhelmingly win the seat.”

    DeLay said he is likely to leave by the end of May, depending on the
Congressional schedule and finishing his work on a couple of issues. He
said he will change his legal residence to his condominium in
Alexandria, Va., from his modest two-story home on a golf course here in
the 22nd District of Texas. “I become ineligible to run for election if

I’m not a resident of the state of Texas,” he said, turning election law

to his purposes for perhaps on last time. State Republican officials
will then be able to name another Republican candidate to face Democrat
Nick Lampson, a former House members who lost his seat in a
redistricting engineered by DeLay.

    Lampson has made a major issue of the lobbying scandal, and his campaign
home page has a petition headed, “Tell Tom DeLay to Return the Dirty
Money!,” referring to contributions from he and his political action
committees have received from disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff, a
one-time DeLay ally who pleaded guilty in January to three felonies,
including conspiring to defraud clients and bribe public officials.

    DeLay’s decision means that he no longer has to fear any further
sanctions from the House ethics committee, which admonished him three
times in 1994 for official conduct deemed inappropriate by members, but
has been paralyzed for more than a year and has taken no action in the
more recent scandal. Sources close to DeLay said he remains under
investigation by the Justice Department prosecutors, who now have
Abramoff’s cooperation, but the lawmaker said he has nothing to fear
from the feds. “I paid lawyers to investigate me as if they were
prosecuting me,” he said. “They found nothing. There is absolutely

nothing – no connection with Jack Abramoff that is illegal, dishonest,

unethical or against the House rules.”

    Richard Cullen, a former U.S. attorney who is DeLay’s Washington lawyer,
told TIME that in December, the lawmaker’s legal team turned over to the
Justice Department about 1,000 e-mails from his office computers. “This

was to show we had nothing to hide,” Cullen said. “They were everything

we felt related to the Abramoff investigation. None are from DeLay.
They’re from staffers, showing their give and take with Abramoff. There
was nothing that I said to myself or DeLay, wow, this is really bad for
him. Prosecutors are looking to see whether anyone on the government
payroll, whether a congressman or a staffer, performed official acts in
return for a bribe or gratuity.”

    A Texas district attorney, Ronnie Earle of Travis County, indicted DeLay
last year on money-laundering charges for transactions involving Texans
for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), a political action committee DeLay
founded. Earle is a Democrat and DeLay has attacked the charges as “a
political hit job.” He says he did not personally carry out the
transactions and that, in any case, they are standard practice for
parties around the country. Regardless, DeLay was forced to vacate his
post as majority leader because of a House Republican rule (known as
“the DeLay rule,” because it was enacted amid concern about his legal

situation) that requires a leader under indictment to step down.

    DeLay, a Baptist born in the border city of Laredo, said he “spent a lot

of time” praying about his decision and that his personal relationship

with Jesus drives his day-to-day actions. “My faith is who I am,”
said. When DeLay was booked on the Texas charges, he wore his
Congressional I.D. pin and flashed a broad smile designed to thwart
Democrats who had hoped to make wide use of an image of a glowering
DeLay. “I said a little prayer before I actually did the fingerprint
thing, and the picture,” he said. “My prayer was basically: ‘Let people

see Christ through me. And let me smile.’ Now, when they took the shot,
from my side, I thought it was fakiest smile I’d ever given. But through
the camera, it was glowing. I mean, it had the right impact. Poor old
left couldn’t use it at all.”

    Recently, he said, he has been hearing from many people who want his
help on projects outside Congress. He said his decision was cemented by
the thunderous response at a conference in Washington last Wednesday
decrying the “War on Christianity.”

    “You talk to a lot of people, give a lot of people opportunities to give

you message,” DeLay said. “If it’s the wrong decision, doors don’t
– they’re closed to you, and you don’t feel good about it, and you have

doubts. Doors are opening already.” He said he has no plans to write a

book. “I’m not a very good writer, ” he said. In what must be a relief

to his many lawyers, he said he has not kept a diary.

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