"Dedicated to exposing the lies and impeachable offenses of George W. Bush"

House leader lied: He won't investigate DeLay
The Hill
By Alexander Bolton
December 14, 2005

The House ethics committee may not launch an immediate investigation into the activities of former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) once it becomes fully operational after New Year's, according to its chairman Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.).

In April, Hastings pledged to launch an immediate probe of DeLay if Democrats agreed to cooperate with him and allow him to organize the Standards of Official Conduct Committee, as it is officially known.

The panel had been put in limbo by a partisan dispute over rules changes.

Hastings said in a recent interview with The Hill that his offer to investigate DeLay earlier this year was "extraordinary." He said the committee would now operate on regular order. When asked whether his offer was outside regular order, he responded, "Yeah. That was extraordinary. Let's put it that way."

Hastings's original offer was that he and at least three Republican colleagues on the committee would vote at the earliest opportunity to empanel an investigative subcommittee headed by Rep. Melissa Hart (R-Pa.) to "review allegations concerning travel and other actions by Mr. DeLay."

Now, however, his position is that, "We're going to start all over."

"We are now set up at least at the top and there's going to be regular order," he added, referring to the recent hire of William O'Reilly, a partner at the Jones Day law firm in Washington, D.C., to serve in the position of chief counsel/staff director.

Hastings said that the procedures of regular order are described in committee rules. But the rules are not clear on the timing of a probe, and Hastings declined to discuss it in further detail.

The most relevant rule, Rule 18(a) on committee initiated inquiry, states that the committee may consider information indicating that a member may have committed a violation of the Code of Official Conduct or any other applicable standard of conduct and that the chairman and ranking member may jointly gather additional information until an investigative subcommittee has been established.

When Hastings offered to investigate DeLay in April, House Republicans had voted for ethics rules changes that made it easier for lawmakers to defend themselves from complaints and probes. The changes called for complaints to be automatically dropped if the panel's five Republicans and five Democrats deadlocked over whether to pursue them; for the same defense counsel to represent multiple lawmakers under scrutiny; and for preliminary adjudicating hearings. The changes have since been rescinded.

Hastings's revised stance on a DeLay probe raises the question of when the committee will investigate the former majority leader in the absence of a formal complaint, and whether such a probe would be complete before Election Day next year.

It may indicate that Hastings's previous desire to launch an inquiry into whether lobbyist Jack Abramoff improperly paid for overseas trips taken by DeLay was due more to his hope of ending a a stalemate with ranking Democrat Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W. Va.) over committee rules than to any conviction that DeLay had violated ethics regulations.

Larry Noble, executive director for the Center for Responsive Politics, a government watchdog group, said the earlier offer to investigate immediately should not be considered extraordinary.

"The reality is he doesn't want to investigate DeLay and he's looking for excuses," said Noble. "What is extraordinary is not the offer to investigate DeLay, but that the House has done nothing to investigate the former leader when charged with serious violations."

A self-initiated ethics committee probe of DeLay could now wait until after possible inquiries into the activities of Reps. Jim McDermott (D-Wash.), William Jefferson (D-La.), or Bob Ney (R-Ohio), all of whom media reports have linked to ethical controversies.

An immediate probe could complicate DeLay's plans to secure an acquittal on conspiracy and money laundering charges in Texas and return to his former post in the GOP leadership as soon as possible.

Republican colleagues have indicated that DeLay has become a distraction to their work.

Rep. Charles Bass (R-N.H.), chairman of the Republican centrists' caucus, told The Boston Globe this month: "[T]he [GOP] conference would be better off talking about issue differences with Democrats, not trials and ethics issues."

Rep. Chris Shays (R-Conn.), another centrist and one of the GOP conference's most vulnerable members, told reporters recently that DeLay's return to leadership when House Democrats have decided that ethics should be a prominent election issue would be a "disaster."

An immediate House ethics probe could fuel growing GOP conference sentiments that DeLay should be replaced permanently. An inquiry would likely stir-up more behind-the-scenes demands for leadership elections in January, increase the chances that interim Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) or another aspirant win election to the second-ranking leadership slot, and make it more difficult for DeLay to return for power even if later acquitted.

It is unlikely that DeLay will get a verdict in Texas as soon as he would like. State District Judge Pat Priest informed the lawmaker's lawyers that he would not hear pretrial motions until Dec. 27 and would not commit to a January trial, citing the state's right to appeal a decision throwing out a conspiracy charge against DeLay, which Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle exercised yesterday.

Mollohan told The Hill that the ethics committee will have "its full complement" of investigative lawyers no later than Jan. 1 and will be ready to begin work then.

O'Reilly told reporters when he was hired that he would begin working at the committee no later than Jan. 1.

Republicans say Hastings offered the deal to get Democrats to agree to the rule changes and defuse criticism that they were meant to shield the then majority leader. GOP lawmakers criticized Hastings for offering to scrap the preliminary investigation that traditionally precedes the empanelling of an investigative subcommittee.