Doubtless, former House Majority Leader DeLay was hearing the whisper of the ax. Not only were his pollsters telling him that he faced an increasingly uphill fight for reelection, Delay's trial for money laundering and violating Texas election law was approaching and the Jack Abramoff-related indictments and plea bargains were slowly moving up the food chain closer and closer to him.
Abramoff the fraudulent, now convicted lobbyist, sent his Native American clients to the P.R. firm of former DeLay communications director Michael Scanlon. They paid Scanlon millions for his clout on Capitol Hill. In return, he kicked half the net profits back to Abramoff.
Abramoff bribed DeLay deputy chief of staff Tony Rudy with cash, trips and other favors to influence legislation important to Abramoff clients, including an anti-Internet gambling bill. Subsequently, Rudy left the public sector and went on Abramoff's payroll as a lobbyist. According to court papers cited by the Washington Post, "Rudy and Abramoff solicited thousands of dollars from clients for Abramoff's nonprofit Capital Athletic Fund, claiming falsely that DeLay had requested the donations."
All three -- Abramoff, Scanlon and Rudy -- have pled guilty and all three are talking. As the Wall Street Journal noted, "Mr. Rudy didn't accuse the former House leader of wrongdoing. Still, Mr. Rudy's knowledge of the daily operations of Mr. DeLay's office and the Texan's relationship with Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff -- including a famous 2000 golf trip to Scotland -- could prove important to the inquiry."
As Massachusetts Congressman Barney Frank rhetorically asked the Washington Post, "How did Abramoff and Rudy meet -- through J-Date? No, they met through DeLay."
Quoting the Congressional insider newspaper The Hill, NBC News' "First Read" newsletter added that the payoff scheme to which both Rudy and Abramoff copped ran from 1997 through 2004, meaning, "The bribery of members of Congress and their staffs began much earlier than has so far been publicly acknowledged."
The noose also has been closing in on yet another DeLay aide, his former chief of staff Ed Buckham, who became head of the now defunct lobbying firm, the Alexander Strategy Group (for which Rudy also worked and with which Abramoff shared clients). A Washington Post expose New Year's Day told the story of Buckham's U.S. Family Network, a supposed grass roots organization backed by DeLay and almost totally funded by corporations tied to Abramoff. And Sunday's Houston Chronicle reported that Buckham had taken advantage of fundraising activities for the DeLay machine to land clients for his lobbying firm that over a four-year period paid him $770,000.
"While there was nothing illegal about Buckham soliciting clients through DeLay fundraising activities, it shows the synergy between DeLay's political operations and the lobbyists closest to him," the Chronicle noted. "It also is the kind of practice that some congressional reformers are trying to shed more light on by requiring greater disclosure of lobbyist-lawmaker relationships."
Saddest of the recent flurry of DeLay and Abramoff-related articles was Friday's front page story in the Wall Street Journal, telling the dismal story of Emily Miller, the former fiancee of Scanlon, thrown over by Scanlon a few months before the wedding for a 24-year-old waitress (or manicurist, depending on which account you believe).
Both Miller and Scanlon had worked as press secretaries in DeLay's office and were active players in the gotcha game of Capitol Hill infighting. At one point she helped her fiance try to undermine Tony Rudy with rumors that Rudy was violating government lobbying rules. For this, she would later throw herself on DeLay's mercy. The congressman accepted her apology and reassured her, "We are all a part of the DeLay family." It's the kind of uplifting fealty that drives folks to drink Jonestown Kool Aid or scrawl "Helter Skelter" on somebody's refrigerator.
But after the engagement breakup, according to the Journal, "She began questioning how Mr. Scanlon could afford a lavish lifestyle while working summers as a beach lifeguard and doing seemingly little work at his public-relations firm. She talked about the [$4.7 million] beach house he had presented to her, the private jet he flew around in and the $17,000-a-month apartment he rented at the Ritz-Carlton in Washington. Prosecutors would later ask the same questions, and discover Mr. Abramoff's deals with the Indian tribes."
Ms. Miller gave evidence to the FBI, which led to the Scanlon and Abramoff pleas and probably contributed to the process that brought down Tony Rudy, too. Hell hath no fury, etc., and so heartwarming; by comparison, this gang makes the Borgias seem like the Brady Bunch.
TIME Magazine, which broke the DeLay withdrawal story, reported that, "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 with a laugh, 'We're all sinners.' Asked what he would do differently, he said, 'Nothing.'" Gives a whole new spin to that old saying, "Justice DeLayed Is Justice Denied," don't it?
He even was unrepentant about flying an R.J. Reynolds corporate plane to his Texas arraignment: "There's nothing wrong with it," he said. "They had a plane available. My schedule was such that I 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 time." Of course.
"This had become a referendum on me," DeLay told TIME. "So it's better for me to step aside and let it be a referendum on ideas, Republican values and what's important for this district." Of course.
"I feel that I could have won the race," he continued. "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." Of course.
Lest we dance our little Snoopy dance too joyously, DeLay's withdrawal lessens the chances of Democratic candidate and former congressman Nick Lampson taking the seat. The Republicans will field a formidable candidate in a district that leans their way -- a possible setback in the Democratic effort to take back the House. And many of DeLay's congressional proteges and his formidable machine both on the Hill and K Street remain in place. The lobby reform bill passed by the Senate last week is pretty pale ale, with loopholes big enough to fly a corporate jet through.
Still, as Senator McCain said, "The good news is there will be more indictments, and we will be revisiting this issue." To which one can add the comment of Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy at last week's Bush censure hearing: "As of this moment, history's judgment of the diligence and resolve of the Republican-controlled Congress is unlikely to be kind."
And as former House Majority leader Newt Gingrich told the Knight-Ridder newspapers last week, "Republicans are seen by the country as being in charge of a government that can't function. We could lose control [of Congress] this fall."
Which calls for the manufacture of another, hopeful button: "11.07.06." Election Day, coming soon to a polling place near you.
© 2006 Messenger Post Newspapers
Michael Winship, Writers Guild of America Award winner and former writer with Bill Moyers, writes for the Messenger Post Newspapers in upstate New York
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April 3, 2006 (http://www.albionmonitor.com)
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