Blogs > Cliopatria > DeLay No More ...

Oct 10, 2004 5:52 am

DeLay No More ...

Regardless of the results of elections for the House of Representatives in November, House Republicans must shed themselves of Tom DeLay as their leader. How many more ethics violations, how many more grand jury investigations, how many more unanimous admonitions from the bi-partisan House ethics committee will it take before his leadership is too great a burden to bear? Why is House Speaker Dennis Hastert still defending DeLay, in spite of the bi-partisan findings? His ethical violations go far beyond the infractions that drove Jim Wright or Newt Gingrich from authority. Must Karl Rove pull the plug? Why are DeLay's ethical violations tolerable, when Trent Lott's racial insensitivity was not? Where is the hue and cry on DeLay from Daniel Drezner? Oxblog? Glenn Reynolds? Andrew Sullivan? Eugene Volokh?

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Andrew Ackerman - 10/11/2004

Fair enough.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/11/2004

I'm not going to quibble anymore on whether a letter of admonition is a form of punishment -- it seems to me that it is, and that I made too much of the fact that it's not within the range of punishments to come out of formal investigations. It's a form of punishment for circumstances of less serious violations, or less compelling evidence. It seems appropriate to me in cases that reflect poorly on the accused' judgment, even if he hasn't been found to have broken a law or a more specific rule. DeLay plays close to the line, and he doesn't have much of defense when the referee says he stepped over.

Andrew Ackerman - 10/11/2004

Yeah... DeLay isn't the whip any more. I didn't mean that.

Andrew Ackerman - 10/11/2004

My understanding is that the memo is the report. The most recent memo is 40-odd pages long. There’s another one, released on Sept. 30, that also rebukes DeLay and is 70-odd pages long (but was prompted by a complaint against another congressman). Considering the bulk of these “memos”, I’d say they’re what everyone else is referring to as reports. Or maybe the “report” consists of the memo plus all of the ancillary stuff – hundreds of pages of attachments and letters between the Congressman and the Ethics folks.

I don't know enough about the two previous precedents to say if this DeLay flap rises to the same level of impropriety. That's not a dodge. I just don't know. Aren’t you guys historians? Heh.

It's clear though that the current mess with DeLay is far from over. A final ruling on the alleged ethical lapses cited in Count II of the memo we've been discussing -- which claim that DeLay funneled corporate money to Texas state campaigns, in a state where corporations are prohibited from contributing to state campaigns – was deferred until an ongoing state investigation wraps up. Several people who are close to DeLay’s inner-circle have already been indicted, as have executives at Westar, the very energy company DeLay was reprimanded for soliciting donations from at that fundraiser cited in Count I of the complaint. The Ethics panel could revisit this once the state investigation concludes and if DeLay is found to have had a hand in this illegal activity. Tactically, it'd be smart for the Republicans to strip DeLay of his official leadership title before the shit really hits the fan, wouldn't it? Even if you ignore the complicated and unresolved bit with the PAC contributions, the repeated ethical admonitions should be enough to prompt GOP leadership to give someone else the whip job. Of course, DeLay is such a powerful and intransigent figure that there're probably few people capable of forcing him to give up his title and he'll probably never give it up voluntarily. But why not announced new leadership, to begin when the Senate returns in January?

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/11/2004

I think you're right that he violated the appearance of impropriety rule, which goes beyond illegality. You say Ralph's criticism of DeLay is well-founded. Does that mean you concur that the infractions went far beyond what drove Wright and Gingrich from power? I ask only because the rationale for admonitions given by the memo suggests otherwise.

BTW, I'm beginning to think there is no separate committee report, and that the committee simply unanimously voted to adopt the recommendations of the chairman and the ranking member.

Andrew Ackerman - 10/11/2004

Sorry for the editing mistakes above. Alas. I accidentally posted the wrong draft.

Andrew Ackerman - 10/11/2004

I think Richard Henry Morgan's reading of the memo is accurate, but he's too dismissive of the whole thing-- "the committee didn't issue anything it is authorized to call a punishment". DeLay has not been caught doing anything illegal, but the House rules are more broad than that. They require all Members and employees to "conduct himself at all times in a manner that shall reflect creditably on the House." Delay's claim that he was just a little overaggressive in pursuing his legislative agenda is not a "mitigating factor," the Ethics chair wrote in a letter to DeLay, for behavior that is not scrupulously faithful to the code of conduct.

So, you don't have to demonstrate transparently illegal behavior for the Ethics committee to act to condemn a congressman's behavior. It's sufficient cause to warrant reprimand if you schedule a fundraiser for energy contributors the very week (or the week before) a House-Senate conference committee on which you serve is to meet to hammer out an energy bill. The line of "creditable" behavior has also been passed if you, as a Federal official, interfere in a state political controversy (Texas redistricting) and seek aid from a federal agency and its personnel. Lives weren't lost. Money wasn't improperly spent. Kickbacks weren't, um, kicked around. But that's not the threshold to which House members are accountable. And this report is not trivial.

The funny thing about kickbacks is that DeLay appear to have offered one was reprimanded by the same Ethics committee on Sept. 30 for engaging in such behavior. He apparently offered $100,000 -- an explicit quid pro quo -- to Rep. Nick Smith. The money was to be used for the primary campaign of Nick's son, Brad, whom the elder Smith wanted to succeed him. In exchange, Smith would have to vote for the administration's Medicare prescription drug plan. In the end, he didn't and the bill passed anyway.

Ralph's criticism of Delay is well founded. As he said, there's no coherent reason why Delay's repeated Ethics violations are tolerable while Trent Lott's racial insensitivity was not.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/11/2004


Seems I pulled a brain cramp and forgot one item. Will read up on it and get back to you.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/11/2004

Ralph, you give me more credit for wide reading than I deserve. I cited my source, imperfectly digested with my food.

I haven't been able to find the full committee report on the net. My search did bring up the memo from the committee chairman and the ranking committee, to the other members. I can't imagine (though it's an unlikely possibility) that these two guys signed on to a unanimous report that went against their own findings. So, as a proxy, until I find the report itself (at which time, if it shows any changes from the memo, I'll correct the record), I'll address the memo -- anyone who can post a link here to the report itself would be greatly appreciated.

It's my understanding that the report itself recommends against a formal investigation. That is the thrust of the memo too. In accordance with rule 16, the chairman and the ranking member can either recommend a full investigation, or recommend that it be disposed of in such a manner that requires no House action, to include a letter.

The memo then addresses the three complaints. On Count 1 it exonerates DeLay of the charge of soliciting a contribution. It also says his arrangement of a fundraiser raises the appearance of impropriety.

Count 2 involves a complaint related to a PAC. Under rule 15f, the committee defers action, as it is being addressed by a grand jury in Texas. As I understand it, that grand jury has indicted four others, and not DeLay. And it is convened by a Texas AD that indicted, without effect, Kay Bailey Hutchinson. The courts will have to run their course before the committee can address this.

On Count 3, it dismisses misconduct with relation to the Justice Dept, and authorizes a letter of admonition outlining serious concerns with using governmental resources for politicking (asking the FAA to track Demos who fled Texas to deny a quorum).

The memo then points out that a letter of admonition is appropriate when the conduct either violates or raises concerns, but the circumstances, to include the completeness of the information, and the nature of the violation, indicates that a formal investigation is not warranted. The memo then goes on to say it would be correct to call this a letter of admonition.

The memo then says that DeLay's complaint that the original complaint against him violated rule 15a4, is a matter that should be taken up by the committee, and the chairman and the ranking member voice their commitment and intention to bring it up.

As far as I can tell, given the chance to say that DeLay violated a rule, they instead say he created, at a minimum, the appearance of impropriety. The rcommendation is not to conduct a formal investigation.

I don't think this is, as you put it, violations that go beyond those of Wright and Gingrich.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/10/2004

Richard, I appreciate your willingness to scan NRO Online and the Washington Times for talking points to bring over to Cliopatria. It would be better if you brought only the ones that hold water. The House ethics committee can conduct whatever inquiry it chooses; it doesn't need to recommend an inquiry into the conduct of the lame duck congressman who brought the charge. It has rendered its finding in the cases of the Republican Majority Leader. You can attack the defeated and celebrate the powerful if you wish. Bring better ammo next time.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/10/2004

I find the terms 'apologia' and 'bribery' interesting, inasmuch as I haven't addressed the charges at all, merely pointed out that the committee didn't issue anything it is authorized to call a punishment (while Jim Wright and Newt Gingrich were punished). In fact, were I to address the charges, I would have to point out that the committee rejected the charge of attempted bribery and recommended that the accuser be investigated.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/10/2004

Well, let's start with your apologia for attempted bribery. Have you defended attempted bribery?

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/10/2004

Thanks as always, Ralph, for your gracious comments. And a particular thanks for not addressing a single assertion in my post.

Ralph E. Luker - 10/10/2004

Richard, You have stooped beneath yourself here, but I'm glad to have your defense of Tom DeLay on the record for all to see. Your sniveling defense of ruthless power is disgraceful.

Richard Henry Morgan - 10/10/2004

From what I understand, 'admonitions' don't even fall within the five punishments available to the House Ethics Committee. In fact, given that there are five explicit punishments, the canon of statutory construction (adverse implication) would suggest that an admonition isn't even a punishment. I would note that the report also suggested that the guy who filed the complaint (who DeLay had gerrymandered out of a job) should himself be investigated for ethics violations in connection with his accusations. I only heard that last bit on Fox -- the organization that always seems to find parts of stories that the mainstream media studiously fail to report.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/10/2004

One of my favorite moments in teaching recent Japanese history is when I talk about Tanaka Kakuei. Prime Minister in the early 70s, Tanaka was a powerful faction leader within the LDP, but was forced to resign as PM after revelations that he was taking huge kickbacks from Lockheed in exchange for contracts from JAL. Tanaka was indicted, and reelected. Tanaka was convicted, and reelected. Tanaka was jailed, and reelected. Tanaka was released, and though he was officially expelled from the LDP, he remained the purseholder for the largest clique, dutifully reelected at two-year intervals by constituents who benefited into the 1980s from some of the most intense infrastructure investment in Japan, until his stroke incapacitated him; he did not run for office again. He died a year or two later, during the tenure of his protege, Nakasone Yasuhiro, the longest-serving Japanese PM since the 1960s-70s tenure of Nobel Laureate Sato Eisaku.

I don't know why that came to mind just now.....

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