DeLay bristles at Abramoff questions

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) yesterday downplayed a recent article linking him to former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is being investigated by a federal grand jury and the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

A National Journal article last Friday said Abramoff listed, among other things, a $4,285 hotel bill for DeLay and his wife, Christine, during a trip to London and Scotland in the spring of 2000 with the DeLays and some of the congressman’s former staff members.

DeLay repeatedly told reporters yesterday that the expense reports he filed from the trip indicate that the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative Washington-based think tank, paid all his expenses.

DeLay said he prefers that “conservative organizations” pay for his travel abroad, rather than traveling in congressional delegations — or “codels” — which are usually paid for by congressional committees.

During the trip, DeLay met with prominent British conservatives, including former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. He also played golf at Scotland’s historic St. Andrews golf course.

Prodded about whose idea the trip had been, DeLay said, “I don’t know whose idea it was. It was five years ago.”

DeLay also dismissed his relationship with Abramoff, who often bragged about his close ties to the majority leader.

“Jack Abramoff is not the only person I talked to in Washington,” DeLay said. He also offered no sympathy for the former lobbyist’s legal woes.

In a related note, hearings began yesterday in a lawsuit filed by five former Democrats against Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), a political action committee run by DeLay’s former fundraiser Jim Ellis. The five Democrats have sued TRMPAC executives, accusing them of funneling corporate donations to Republican candidates for Statehouse in 2002, which is illegal under Texas law.

DeLay characterized the trial as “a frivolous lawsuit” by “a group of losers.”