House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.), in his first detailed written response after weeks of questions about his dealings with lobbyists and handling of ethics matters, issued a broad denial that he violated any law or House rule in accepting trips abroad, and he implored supporters back home to accept his version of what he called "the real story."
DeLay's overseas travel, his ties to Washington lobbyists and his hard-edged political style that prompted three admonitions from the House ethics committee last year have received intense media scrutiny. One question raised has been whether DeLay's travel was paid for by nonprofit groups or by lobbyists and private interests working through those groups.
In a message e-mailed to supporters in his suburban Houston district that was provided to The Washington Post yesterday, DeLay blamed the reports on Democrats, liberal groups and the "legion of Democrat-friendly press" who were trying to undermine Republican control of Congress. "It is abundantly clear that their fundamental strategy revolves around attacking me and working to tear down Republican leadership," he said.
DeLay said in the message, titled "What the Press Isn't Telling You" and covering about six single-spaced pages, that his overseas trips were "proper" and "properly vetted and undertaken" and that if there were any question about the source of funding for that travel, no member of Congress "should be responsible for deceptive behavior by outside organizations."
He stressed that he has never been found in violation of any law, and that the three admonitions from the ethics committee did not constitute a "sanction."
"It would be quite easy to write an entire book about how Democrats, and many in the press, have chosen to selectively report and strategically ignore many FACTS about me and my work as Congressman for the 22nd District," DeLay wrote.
His written statement is an effort to rally support after a week in which two House Republicans urged him to step aside as leader and former House speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) said it was time for DeLay to stop blaming Democrats and do more to explain himself and address the mounting criticism. While DeLay did not offer any new details about the ethics controversies, the e-mail wraps together many of the individual arguments DeLay and his aides have used to try to deflect or respond to the criticism.
In recent weeks, The Post and other news organizations have reported new details about DeLay's foreign travel and the involvement of lobbyist Jack Abramoff and other groups in arranging it.
Most of the disclosed cost of a trip to England and Scotland in 2000 was indirectly financed by an Indian tribe and a gambling services company, said people who helped organize it. A Moscow trip in 1997 was indirectly underwritten by Russian business interests, said people with firsthand knowledge of the arrangements. A trip to South Korea on 2001 was paid for by a tax-exempt group created by a lobbyist on behalf of a Korean businessman.
DeLay has said he did not know about the indirect funding. He said in the e-mail that trips to Russia and Britain "were proper" and that "if the sponsor of a trip ultimately obtains funding for a trip, a Member is not and should not be responsible for that information."
DeLay repeated his contention that the trips to Russia and Britain were funded by the National Center for Public Policy Research, as he maintained on his House disclosure forms, and not by lobbyists who are barred from funding House members' travel. He was accompanied on the trips by Abramoff, a lobbyist who was close to DeLay and is now under criminal and congressional investigation for his huge billings to Indian tribes.
"The Center invited DeLay on these trips, organized them, paid for them, and reported the costs to him," the e-mail to supporters said.
DeLay said that the South Korea trip "was properly vetted and undertaken." He said he and two other members were invited "by a charity," the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council. After the trip was organized, the group registered as a foreign agent, making it ineligible to pay for trips for U.S. lawmakers. DeLay has said he did not know about the registration. His e-mail notes that officials of both parties have accepted trips from the group, "including a staffer for Nancy Pelosi," the House Democratic leader.
DeLay also maintained that changes to House ethics rules on a party-line vote in February were made "in fairness to all members," in contrast to a contention by Democrats that they were inspired by an effort to protect DeLay.
Rep. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.), who as chairman of the House ethics committee presided over last year's rebukes of DeLay, was replaced by the House leadership in January. Hefley had said he was willing to stay, but DeLay said in the e-mail that his replacement and other changes to the committee's makeup "were in the normal course of House business."
DeLay pointed out that Hefley had served the normal number of terms that are permissible, but Republican leaders and aides have acknowledged he was not given an extension because party leaders did not trust him.
DeLay said that a grand-jury investigation in Austin by prosecutor Ronnie Earle is "about politics, not DeLay," and that the indictment of three of his former associates last year constituted an attempt by Earle, a Democrat, "to criminalize politics." The investigation continues and Earle has declined to say whether DeLay is a target, but he has said he will take the investigation where it leads him.
DeLay aides said the e-mail was sent late last week by his reelection campaign. He took 55 percent of the vote against a little-known opponent in November and ran considerably behind President Bush. Democratic leaders said they plan to mount a better-financed campaign next year. A separate two-page document titled "The Facts" was provided to Republican opinion leaders in Washington who may be asked to defend him on television.
DeLay's e-mail to his district is signed, "Take care and God Bless, Tom."
"Many of you have requested a 'fact versus fiction briefing document' that can be shared via e-mail or in clubs, organizations, or groups you are affiliated with," he wrote.
Staff writers James V. Grimaldi and R. Jeffrey Smith contributed to this report.