Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R.-Tex.) announced last week that he was resigning from Congress. The move came after DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, pleaded guilty to taking things of value from convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff in return for acts Rudy took as DeLay’s aide.
While Rudy is now cooperating with federal investigators, he reportedly has not implicated DeLay. DeLay, meanwhile, is adamant he was not involved in any wrongdoing and was unaware of the illicit activities Rudy has now admitted to conducting in DeLay’s leadership office.
After DeLay announced his resignation, he held an on-the-record briefing for a group of conservative journalists, including Human Events Editor Terence Jeffrey. DeLay said he had had his own lawyer, a former U.S. attorney, investigate his 20-year congressional career and that, in December, he had voluntarily given to federal investigators all materials (such as papers and e-mails) that he believed could be relevant to the Abramoff investigation, even though the Justice Department had never asked him to do so.
Ultimately, DeLay said, he resigned because he faced an extraordinarily tough, perhaps futile, campaign to win re-election in November and wanted to make sure his seat was retained by a Republican.
In the days ahead, he said, he hopes to continue as a conservative leader and activist.
In light of last week’s Senate debate on immigration reform, DeLay recalled that he had told Republican House members that the House would not participate in a conference committee with the Senate if the Senate passed a Kennedy-McCain-type guest-worker program. "[W]e told our members," he said, "that we would not conference with the Senate if they had an amnesty program." He did not know, however, what the current Republican leadership has in mind. "I don’t sit at the table anymore," he said.
Here are excerpts from DeLay’s briefing.
Do you have any reason at all to believe federal investigators are looking at anything you did personally?
None at all. I spent a ton of money, four months of lawyers investigating me as if they were prosecuting me. My lawyer Richard Cullen is the former U.S. attorney. We hired him because he was a former U.S. attorney and prosecuted some pretty good cases. They have looked at everything I’ve got for 20 years, the whole time I’ve been here.
This is the Justice Department, this isn’t Texas?
No, this is Richard Cullen, who I hired to investigate me and they spent most of the fall of last year. There is absolutely nothing illegal in my operation. There is nothing untoward. There is nothing unethical.
You hired him to investigate you?
Right, and we also cooperated with the Department of Justice. We have given them everything we’ve got.
Did they ask for it?
No. We just gave it to them.
What do you mean materials? You mean papers, e-mails?
Yes, e-mails, papers. Anything they would normally want.
How long ago was that, congressman?
This was back in December.
Why would you give them something they didn’t ask for?
Why not? Help out on the investigation.
You decided what was relevant based on?
Anything connected to Tony Rudy or Ed Buckham or [Jack] Abramoff or [Michael] Scanlon.
Have you had any contact at all?
None. We haven’t spoken. And they have told my lawyers I’m not a target of the investigation. Of course, we have been saying that for three months but the press refuses to write it.
So go through, if you would, your decision not to run.
… After the primary — you get a sixth sense about this stuff. You know your district. You don’t need polls when you’re a member of Congress. They can sense what’s going on. But we ran a poll anyway and the poll showed, basically, that I had a 50/50 chance of winning. Right after the primary I started thinking about …
When was the 50/50 poll?
It was about two weeks after the primary. [A DeLay aide interjects that they also did a poll in mid-December before the primary.]
And what was the difference in the polls?
The one after the primary was slightly worse than the one in December. That wasn’t feeling right. I said that I was going to look at it after the primary, because 62%, it was kind of a lift around here, and people gave me a lot of credit for 62%, but for a 21-year incumbent 62% ain’t — I mean it’s good — but it should have been 70% plus, 62% means 38% voted against me. So, I wanted a poll done. Did the poll. I was going to spend whatever it took to decide what I was supposed to do, whether to get in or get out. At the beginning, I spent a lot of time in prayer. At the beginning, I spent all my time in prayer really.
Right after the primary. And I talked to people that I respect and value and that are closest to me. And I thought right at the primary I was supposed to go through this. What’s that saying? Hardened by fire? But as time went on, it was quite evident that I was supposed to evaluate the election and face reality and the reality was many-faceted, but the reality was I wasn’t supposed to go through this. I’m supposed to get involved outside the House. I can do more good outside the House in the next few months than being locked in the 22nd District trying to fight reelection.
People say, "Well, isn’t this a defeat?" No, it’s an incredible victory because the 22nd District is going to have a Republican fill that seat. I guarantee you. That’s what my polls show. Any Republican, running as a Republican, will walk into that seat. Not to speak of, but as we all know having been around for a long time, [Democratic candidate] Nick Lampson’s money is going to dry up. He’s going to have to talk about what he believes in. He’s got as bad or worse a Democratic voting record as [Texas Rep.] Sheila Jackson-Lee. We’ve done our opposition research, and he does not fit this district.
So I consider that a victory rather than a maybe me replacing him. We will have a Republican and I will be out doing what I do best and that’s strategizing to lead the conservative cause and elect Republicans. And I’ll enjoy it.
Knowing your district as you do, what was it in your analysis that undercut the support of your Republicans?
Well, I have a very strong base, an incredibly strong base. I’ve never seen anything like it. People that would die for me. I also have a very strong opposition that would kill me if they could get a hold of me. The election is virtually over. The district is incredibly polarized. What’s left are soft, moderate Republicans — sort of like a reflection of our Republican conference — soft, moderate Republicans and independents that will vote for anybody but Tom DeLay, that believe, for whatever reason, he’s a crook or that where there’s smoke there’s fire. The beating that I’ve been taking has had that impact. What I saw was that it would take a ton of money to take that small group that I could appeal to and turn them around — in the face of getting beat up every day by the mainstream media and paid-for by 527’s. … Constant pounding and nasty stuff, and a lot of it created a backlash, but there is that little group that you have to turn around in order to win by 50% and it’s just too risky.
Have you heard anything from Jack Abramoff, through intermediaries or anybody, that he’s certainly not going to implicate you in anything?
Yeah, Vanity Fair [which is running an article in its April edition based on an interview with Jack Abramoff]. By the way, Vanity Fair, that piece was checked by the Department of Justice.
Before it was printed or after?
Before it was printed.
[The key passage about DeLay in the Vanity Fair article, written by David Margolick, says: "’I have admired Tom DeLay and his family from the first meeting with him, and I still do to this day,’ says Abramoff. I mentioned that DeLay once referred to him as one of his closest friends. ‘I am honored that he ever thought that of me,’ he says. ‘We would sit and talk about the Bible. We would sit and talk about opera. We would sit and talk about golf. I mean, we talked about philosophy and politics.’ He adds, ‘I didn’t spend a lot of time lobbying Tom for things, because the things I worked on were usually consistent with the conservative philosophy, and I knew Tom would be supportive.’"]
…What did President Bush say when you notified him that you had decided not to run?
That’s a private conversation, but he was very gracious. He was disappointed, but he wasn’t shocked. …
What do you want Republicans to do in Congress now? For the rest of this year and for the rest of Bush’s term? When you won’t be here to prod them?
I want them to be Republicans.
What does that mean?
I would love for them to come out with a vision, number one, a vision that not only talks about doing things this year but what we will do in the future.
As majority leader, I had one of the most ambitious agendas ever last year. Unfortunately, we didn’t do well getting our message out, but if you look at what we actually sent to the President, it’s pretty impressive. … We spent 10, 11 years turning around 40 years of liberal design, and we haven’t completely completed that job, but we’ve done a lot. Now it’s time, in my opinion, to do things that Republicans can do for the future of this country like tear out the tax code and do a 21st-Century tax code. I am a fair-tax guy, but I’m ready to debate.
Do you have any regrets that you did things for President Bush like, say, the Medicare prescription drug bill or the Leave No Child Left Behind Act that contravened your conservative principles?
I did not vote for No Child Left Behind. I am very proud of Medicare modernization.
There is nothing you did on behalf of President Bush in terms of public policy that you regret and wish you hadn’t done?
I didn’t do the No Child Left Behind.
You opposed it at the time?
Yes, I did. I voted against it. I still maintain what I’ve maintained since the day I got into politics: The federal government has no business in education.
Were there other things that you said that ought to be a part of this vision?
The fair tax. That’s a revolution that will more than double the economy in less than 10 years. Obviously, winning the War on Terror, homeland security.
Any new thoughts on winning the War on Terror?
Just keep at it. Keep the resolve. Let the military fight it. And do probably a better job of letting the American people know what this is all about. Constantly reinforce that. The real war for the President is to keep the will of the American people to fight it.
Is there a role there for the House Republicans?
Sure. They ought to be home talking about it. Absolutely. The echo chamber for the President. That’s the role we ought to play.
Then on this social side, my favorite is to end abortion as we know it. I didn’t want to leave Congress until I’d done that. And hold the judiciary accountable. We’d just gotten started on that and I hope that they will continue it and keep it up, because we’ve got to first convince the lawyers of America they’ve been brainwashed by their law schools, that the Congress does have a responsibility to hold the judiciary accountable and secondly we do have the right to limit jurisdiction, to break up courts and to impeach judges.
What do you think should happen on the immigration reform?
What we had planned. I hope it will be pared down. It looks like its not.
No guest-worker plan then?
Right. What we had planned was to do border control. What we had planned was to convince the American people that we were serious about border control, that we were serious about enforcing the law. And once we’d done that, once we’d built the virtual wall along Mexico, once we had once and for all gotten rid of the catch-and-release program, and started doing the catch-and-remove program, which is starting to be phased in by executive order — but we can do some things to help them to expedite it. Once you’ve done that and the pressure is on — because shutting down the border and enforcing the law puts pressure on these employers — then you can talk about a temporary worker program. I am for a temporary worker program. But I’m for a real temporary worker program, not a way to get citizenship. We have laws and processes to get citizenship. Those shouldn’t change. But temporary workers need to go home and apply for it in the country of origin. You can’t bring your family in. You can only stay here for a certain amount of time.
Do you think the President can succeed this year in pushing the guest-worker plan through this House?
I don’t know. I’m not privy to what the — our strategy, and we told our members that we would not conference with the Senate if they had an amnesty program.
John Boehner is not saying that. What do you think would be the political impact if the President were to succeed in getting this sort of plan they have before the Senate now enacted?
If it’s McCain-Kennedy, it would seriously undermine our base.
Lose the House?
I wouldn’t go that far. I’m not prepared to say that.
If that happens, if that were passed it would, McCain-Kennedy?
I’m not prepared to say it that way.
What are you saying? McCain-Kennedy would seriously undermine our base?
Especially in the South and Southwest.
If it passed?
Yes. If it became law. McCain-Kennedy, now, I’m not talking about guest-worker.
Who told your members that the House wouldn’t conference with the Senate if the Senate passed [McCain-Kennedy]?
I did. I was majority leader. When we passed — I promised them we would not conference until, or when, we debated a guest-worker program and it was passed by the House.
Was the Speaker with you on that?
Back then he was.
This was in December?
Well, actually, we started the border-control bill like in October.
That’s when you promised them you wouldn’t. So under the conditions they have now, if they passed one in the Senate, it wouldn’t go to conference?
We should not conference with the Senate on something that we haven’t debated in the House.
So, the Speaker has changed his mind?
I don’t know what the Speaker is doing. I’m not, I don’t sit at the table anymore.
Have you thought out how you’re going to function in your new life?
Over the last many months, particularly over this period of time that I made this decision, four or five weeks, I have never felt such a strong sense of support, particularly from the conservative movement and conservative leaders and people in my district. I’ve been a congressman going on 22 years and I’ve never had this situation where I could not eat dinner at a restaurant. Christine and I for the last few weeks have basically stopped going to restaurants because we have people coming up to us, expressing their support, telling us to hang in there, you’ll beat them and all that kind of stuff. I did a speech last week. It was taped by C-SPAN and others, at the Vision America conference on the war against Christianity, and I felt so good about giving that I speech. I felt really good, and most importantly, I felt an incredible love that came my way. And I said: "That’s it. I just need to get out of the House. I need to use my talents that I have and that is to speak out for the conservative movement, continue to try to be a leader in the conservative movement and work to elect Republicans."
I think I can do that. I still have friends. I can raise money, strategize, help people in their campaigns, and be very active.