Because of the use of an inappropriate currency exchange figure, early editions April 24 understated the cost of some of the expenses incurred by Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) and his aide Susan Hirschmann during a 2000 trip to London. The correct estimates, based on a conversion of English pounds into dollars at the prevailing rate in June 2000, are $790 a night for DeLay's room in London, $145 for room service, $13 for a valet pressing, $302 for a private car from Heathrow airport and $184 at a hotel in St. Andrews, Scotland. Their room bill also lists a charge of $434 for six theater tickets. Hirschmann's hotel room in London cost a total of $3,109 for four nights, and her other charges totaled $129 at the hotel lounge, $75 from the room bar, $34 from the gift shop and $422 for chauffeured cars.
DeLay Airfare Was Charged To Lobbyist's Credit Card
Sunday, April 24, 2005
The airfare to London and Scotland in 2000 for then-House Majority Whip Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) was charged to an American Express card issued to Jack Abramoff, a Washington lobbyist at the center of a federal criminal and tax probe, according to two sources who know Abramoff's credit card account number and to a copy of a travel invoice displaying that number.
DeLay's expenses during the same trip for food, phone calls and other items at a golf course hotel in Scotland were billed to a different credit card also used on the trip by a second registered Washington lobbyist, Edwin A. Buckham, according to receipts documenting that portion of the trip.
House ethics rules bar lawmakers from accepting travel and related expenses from registered lobbyists. DeLay, who is now House majority leader, has said that his expenses on this trip were paid by a nonprofit organization and that the financial arrangements for it were proper. He has also said he had no way of knowing that any lobbyist might have financially supported the trip, either directly or through reimbursements to the nonprofit organization.
The documents obtained by The Washington Post, including receipts for his hotel stays in Scotland and London and billings for his golfing during the trip at the famed St. Andrews course in Scotland, substantiate for the first time that some of DeLay's expenses on the trip were billed to charge cards used by the two lobbyists. The invoice for DeLay's plane fare lists the name of what was then Abramoff's lobbying firm, Preston Gates & Ellis.
Multiple sources, including DeLay's then-chief of staff Susan Hirschmann, have confirmed that DeLay's congressional office was in direct contact with Preston Gates about the trip itinerary before DeLay's departure, to work out details of his travel. These contacts raise questions about DeLay's statement that he had no way of knowing about the financial and logistical support provided by Abramoff and his firm.
Yesterday, DeLay's lawyer, Bobby R. Burchfield, said that DeLay's staff was aware that Preston Gates was trying to arrange meetings and hotels for the trip but that DeLay was unaware of the "logistics" of bill payments, and that DeLay "continues to understand his expenses" were properly paid by the nonprofit organization, the National Center for Public Policy Research.
In 2000, Abramoff was a board member of the group. In a telephone interview yesterday, Hirschmann said the contacts between DeLay's office and persons at Preston Gates occurred because Abramoff "was a board member of the sponsoring organization." Hirschmann added: "We were assured that the National Center paid for the trip."
House rules do not exempt such nonprofit organization board members from the prohibition on lobbyist payments for travel. They also state that this prohibition "applies even where the lobbyist . . . will later be reimbursed for those expenses by a non-lobbyist client."
Burchfield did not dispute that Abramoff used his credit card to pay for DeLay's plane fare, but said in a statement that "the majority leader has always believed and continues to believe that all appropriate expenses for the U.K. trip were paid by the National Center for Public Policy Research." He said that "to the extent that Mr. Abramoff put the charges on his personal credit card, Mr. DeLay has no knowledge of this. But that would be consistent with Mr. Abramoff obtaining full reimbursement from the National Center."
He said further that, in his view, Abramoff's participation on this trip as a board member meant he was permitted to pay for some of the expenses, subject to reimbursement, and that numerous court decisions recognize that different rules may be applicable to the same person acting in different capacities.
Andrew Blum, a publicist for Abramoff's lawyer and spokesman for Abramoff, did not respond to questions relating to the use of Abramoff's credit card for DeLay's plane fare. But he said in a statement yesterday that it was the National Center that "sponsored" the trip, "not Jack Abramoff."
Blum said that DeLay was "one of the center's honored guests on this trip" and that Abramoff "is being singled out for doing what is commonly done by lobbyists -- taking trips with members of Congress and their staff so that they can learn about issues that impact the Congress and government policy." The center's ability to sponsor "this type of educational trip, using contributor funds, is both legal and proper," Blum said.