Tuesday, April 19, 2005

The Tom DeLay loyalty test


The Tom DeLay loyalty test

When Trent Lott starts lecturing the Bush White House about loyalty,
you know that things are starting to get interesting. Lott, who is
providing advice to Tom DeLay as the House majority leader struggles
through waves and waves of ethics allegations, said Sunday that the
White House "needs to remember that people who fight hard for you as a
candidate and for your issues as president deserve your support,
aggressive support."

It's not like the White House has thrown DeLay over the side just yet.
Although one senior White House official tells Time that DeLay is
handling his troubles "like an idiot," the White House is more or less
standing behind the Hammer publicly. Bush calls the Hammer a friend,
even if White House press secretary Scott McClellan went out of his way
last week to remind reporters that there are "different levels of

One "level of friendship," for example, would be the one that lobbyist
Jack Abramoff and the gambling interests he represented showed to DeLay
and his staff. As Time reports, nothing was too good for DeLay and his
top aides on a London junket Abramoff arranged -- and the gambling
interests paid for -- in 2000. Three sources who worked for Abramoff at
the time of the trip told Time that aides for DeLay ran one of
Abramoff's assistants ragged with ever-changing requests for their
first-class travels. Time says that DeLay's aides "wanted to make sure
DeLay's little delegation had the finest of everything on its weeklong
trip to Britain -- from lodgings at the Four Seasons Hotel in London to
dinners at the poshest restaurants with the most interesting people,
right down to the best tickets for The Lion King , at the time, one of
the hottest shows playing on the West End and one for which good seats
usually meant a six-month wait." The aides told Abamoff's assistant
what they wanted, the sources told Time, and Abramoff delivered.

While there's nothing wrong with a former pest-control impresario
having a high time while traveling, Time explains that the demands by
DeLay's staff raise two problems for the majority leader. First, they
further undercut the notion that DeLay and his staff really thought the
trip was a fact-finding mission being funded by the National Center for
Public Policy Research; if a non-profit were funding your trip abroad,
would you feel comfortable ordering up the first-class digs and the
Lion King tickets? Moreover, if the idea for and details of the trip
came from DeLay's office rather than from the National Center for
Public Policy Research, Time says that DeLay and his staff may have
violated House ethics rules that allow members to accept gifts, under
limited circumstances, but not to solicit them.

Of course, a violation of House ethics rules is important only if
there's a functioning House ethics committee to investigate it. DeLay
has made sure there isn't: He succeeded in replacing Republican
committee members critical of him with supporters, and he got the rules
changed so that no investigation can begin unless Republicans want one.
Appearing on "Meet the Press" Sunday, Rep. Barney Frank put a fine
point on the way in which DeLay has handled his ethical troubles. "I,
15 years ago, had a problem because I behaved inappropriately. The
ethics committee stepped in," Frank said. "Newt Gingrich had a problem.
He was reprimanded; the ethics committee stepped in. The difference
between us and Mr. DeLay is, I think, we changed our behavior. Mr.
DeLay changed the ethics committee."