GOP Ignores Lessons of Democrats' Past Mistakes

By Terry M. Neal Staff Writer
Wednesday, September 28, 2005; 6:27 PM

In response to the criminal charges he now faces, House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) has offered up the time-honored defense of Washington politicians: My enemies are out to get me.

In a Capitol Hill news conference, DeLay lashed out, calling the Texas prosecutor who brought the felony charge against him an "unabashed partisan zealot" and a "fanatic." DeLay's supporters echoed the theme. House Majority Whip Roy Blunt (Mo.) -- the man who will fill in for DeLay -- said: "Unfortunately, Tom DeLay's effectiveness as Majority Leader is the best explanation for what happened in Texas today."

It didn't take long for DeLay's supporters to get the talking points. In a statement e-mailed to reporters hours after news of the indictment broke, the Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, leader of the Traditional Values Coalition, said DeLay was "a Christian man" and accused prosecutor Ronnie Earle of exacting "political retribution."

Yet, The Washington Post's Jeffrey Smith reported last year that "Earle, an elected Democrat who oversees the state's Public Integrity Unit, previously prosecuted four elected Republicans and 12 Democrats for corruption or election law violations."

And the Associated Press reported last December that Earle had prosecuted some of the biggest Democratic names in the state, including, "former Texas House Speaker Gib Lewis, former Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox, former State Treasurer Warren Harding and former Texas Supreme Court Justice Don Yarbrough."

Buried under a sea of political scandal in the late 1980s and early 1990s, congressional Democrats often evoked the same defense. And it didn't work .

"Common Cause has made itself the handmaiden of a partisan political initiative," Democratic House Speaker Jim Wright (Tex.) complained in a May 18, 1988, press release -- the day the nonpartisan watchdog group filed an ethics complaint against him in the House.

Wright resigned the next year in disgrace. Republicans exploited Wright's troubles and a series of other Democratic foibles to put an end to the Democrats' four-decade reign in Washington in 1994.

The reason was simple: It is entirely possible both that your enemies are out to get you and that you did exactly what you are being accused of doing. The two concepts are not mutually exclusive.

Ask Bill Clinton.

DeLay is innocent until proven guilty. Yet whatever his intentions, the timing of Earle's indictment couldn't have been worse for the Republican Party. Going into next year's midterm elections, the second most powerful person in the House is under indictment, and the most powerful person in the Senate, Majority Leader Bill Frist (Tenn.), is being investigated by both the Securities and Exchange Commission and federal prosecutors. In addition, a special prosecutor is investigating whether top White House officials may have leaked the name of CIA operative Valerie Plame to reporters.

On top of that, the White House's top procurement officer, David Safavian, was arrested last week on charges of lying and obstructing a criminal investigation into Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff's dealings with the federal government. And Abramoff, once one of Washington's top lobbyists, is being investigated for his lobbying activities on behalf of Indian tribes and his role in paying for overseas trips for DeLay. DeLay has said he didn't know Abramoff paid the expenses.

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