By Susan Crabtree and Jordan Fabian - 08/16/10 08:29 PM EDT
Former House GOP Leader Tom DeLay was both relieved and defiant Monday after federal investigators ended a five-year probe into his ties to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
Demonstrating the brazen contempt for critics and opponents that earned him the nickname “The Hammer," DeLay bashed the Justice Department’s investigation as “weak,” attacked the media and Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and predicted he would emerge from a separate pending criminal case victorious.
The Justice Department's investigation of him was “so weak,” DeLay said, that he was never interviewed by investigators and was not required to appear before a federal grand jury. He said he never met with Justice Department officials, but turned over “everything I had” to the probe.
“I instructed all my former aides and my present aides to cooperate fully,” he said. "They couldn’t find anything.”
DeLay said he wasn’t even sure what potential crimes, if any, the Justice Department was investigating. He also decried what he called the “politics of personal destruction” and said the press should not have been so quick to assume he was guilty.
“I know this is the price of leadership, but frankly, it doesn't have to happen this way," he said.
The decision not to charge the dethroned Republican leader comes four years after Democrats won back the majority campaigning against GOP corruption. They now face an ethics crisis of their own.
Reps. Charles Rangel (N.Y.) and Maxine Waters (Calif.), two prominent black members of the Democratic Caucus, have opted to battle the charges in likely back-to-back public ethics trials just two months before a midterm election in which Democrats are set to lose seats.
DeLay had harsh words for Pelosi for urging ethics probes of him during his time in Congress and then using him as a campaign punching bag. Pelosi recently defended her party’s ethics record, referring to GOP reign over the House during the DeLay era as a “criminal syndicate.”
“Nancy Pelosi said she wanted to drain the swamp — well, she was the swamp,” DeLay remarked on Monday.
DeLay, whom the ethics committee admonished several times, said he thought the two-year investigation against Rangel was unfair, both for taking so long and for its timing – just before the 2010 election.
He also said the former Ways and Means Committee chairman’s ethics problems were “totally different from what I have been going through” because Delay was indicted in Texas on criminal charges. Rangel faces 13 violations of House rules and federal ethics statutes.
The move to shutter the investigation comes at a tough time for the Justice Department unit that polices public corruption. Last year prosecutors abandoned the criminal conviction of the late former Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) after a judge ruled that they failed to provide the defense mitigating evidence. Attorneys in the unit had to fight an internal department ethics probe and a separate criminal inquiry launched by the trial judge in the Stevens case, and department leaders have been struggling to reshuffle the ranks in the months since.
DeLay, who stepped down as Republican leader in 2005 and resigned from the House the next year, still faces criminal charges in Texas for allegedly participating in a 2002 effort to funnel corporate money illegally to state campaigns. A hearing in that case is scheduled to occur Aug. 24, and a trial could begin in the fall.
Noting that he advises Tea Party activists on organizations and fundraising, DeLay said he didn't know whether he would make a political comeback, but promised he would emerge victorious from state prosecution.
“I still have this trial I have to go through. I [have to] win that — I know I will,” he said.
When asked what he thought about Abramoff’s conviction for defrauding Native American tribes of tens of millions of dollars, DeLay blamed the tribes.
“It says more about the Indian tribes than Abramoff,” he said. “That they would pay them that kind of money. The tribal councils and chiefs should have been investigated too.”
Regarding his ties to Abramoff he said: “He never asked me to do anything untoward, and I never did anything untoward or unethical.”
DeLay also said he ended his relationship with Abramoff after he found out about his purchase of SunCruz Casinos.
“I told him face to face that our relationship was over,” DeLay said, noting that he had not heard about the deal beforehand and didn't know that Abramoff had leased a corporate jet and flown his two top leadership staffers down to Tampa for the Super Bowl and to gamble on a SunCruz ship shortly after the purchase.
That encounter, DeLay said, took place just months before Abramoff sold the Casino to Ocean Casino Cruises Inc. in February 2004 and before any information about the bank fraud involved in the deal came out in media reports. Abramoff would later plead guilty to falsifying a $23 million payment to the previous owner, Gus Boulis, who was killed in a gangland-style shooting one month after filing suit to prevent Abramoff’s partner from operating the company.
The Campaign for Fair Elections, a nonpartisan watchdog group, decried Justice’s decision to end its probe of DeLay, saying it underscores the extent to which corruption is accepted in Washington.
“The decision by the Department of Justice to drop its criminal investigation into former Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s relationship with convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff is further evidence that the scandal is not what is illegal, but rather what is legally permitted each and every day in Washington, D.C.," the group's campaign manager, David Donnelly, said in a statement.