With his announcement April 3 that he will not run for re-election in November, Rep. Tom Delay became the latest and greatest political casualty of the corruption scandal that threatens to engulf the Republican Party.
Ironically, his decision may assist Republicans in keeping his congressional seat by depriving the electorate of his increasingly reviled figure to vote against. But whoever ends up representing Texas in his place will lack his once formidable political stature.
DeLay, a Texas Republican who had risen to the powerful post of majority leader in the House of Representatives, was known as “The Hammer” during his heyday. The sobriquet reflected his effectiveness in delivering the votes of fence-sitting legislators on divisive bills the GOP leadership was determined to pass as law. He had earlier vowed not only to overcome an indictment against him in Texas, but to return to GOP leadership. (Under House rules, the Texas indictment, for engineering political campaign donations that are illegal under state law, had forced his resignation as House majority leader.) But the federal indictments of two former top staff members, spokeman Michael Scanlon and, just recently, former Chief of Staff Tony Rudy, put the handwriting on the wall for DeLay. The congressman himself has not been indicted in the corruption probe and denies any knowledge of, or involvement in, the activities that will imprison Scanlon and Rudy.
DeLay and his representatives denied that the investigation influenced him. They attributed his decision to realpolitik – the November election had become winnable only with the greatest difficulty, if at all, and he knew it.
But DeLay casts a heavy penumbra of corruption these days. His ex-staffers Scanlon and Rudy have pleaded guilty, between them, to bribery, the corruption of public officials and the defrauding of clients. In return for cooperating with federal investigators, they hope the Department of Justice will ask for reduced sentences on the charges against them. Jack Abramoff, the former Republican lobbyist and fund-raiser whose misuse of tribal fees and donations sparked the spreading scandal, often worked with Scanlon and Rudy in DeLay’s office. The much-abominated Abramoff became a friend and benefactor of DeLay’s, feasting with him at the downtown D.C. restaurant Abramoff owned, underwriting at least one of his international golfing expeditions, joining his colloquies on opera and the Bible. Abramoff has pleaded guilty to charges similar to those against Scanlon and Rudy, and for the same reason -- hopes of a lighter prison sentence in return for cooperation as the DOJ probe goes deeper.
The Washington Post newspaper, which led its April 4 edition with Delay’s announcement not to seek re-election, had only days earlier summed up Rudy’s guilty plea: “Rudy’s statement admits to a far-reaching criminal enterprise operating out of DeLay’s office, an enterprise that helped sway legislation, influence public policy and enrich its main players.”
DeLay maintains his defense that he simply didn’t know any of this was happening, much less authorize it.