By Jim VandeHei
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 15, 2005
President Bush said yesterday he is confident that former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) is innocent of money-laundering charges, as he offered strong support for several top Republicans who have been battered by investigations or by rumors of fading clout inside the White House.
In an interview with Fox News, Bush said he hopes DeLay will be cleared of charges that he illegally steered corporate money into campaigns for the Texas legislature and will reclaim his powerful leadership position in Congress.
"I hope that he will, 'cause I like him, and plus, when he's over there, we get our votes through the House," Bush told Fox News's Brit Hume. DeLay was forced to step down as majority leader after he was indicted in the fundraising case, and he is seeking a quick trial in hopes of returning to power early next year.
Bush has refused to speak about the CIA leak investigation or the impending trial of I. Lewis "Scooter" Libby, the former vice presidential chief of staff who was indicted in the case. But the president said he believes that DeLay is not guilty -- weeks before his trial is expected to begin.
It is highly unusual for a president to express an opinion on a pending legal case. Richard M. Nixon, for instance, was widely criticized for declaring Charles Manson "guilty, directly or indirectly" of murder while Manson's trial was ongoing.
In the wide-ranging interview, Bush defended the Republican Party against charges of pervasive unethical behavior after the resignation of Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-Calif.) for taking bribes and the unfolding money-for-favors scandal centered on former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.
"Well, first of all, I feel Duke Cunningham was wrong and should be punished for what he did," Bush said. "And I think that anybody who does what he did should be punished, Republican or Democrat. Secondly, the Abramoff -- I'm not, frankly, all that familiar with a lot that's going on over at Capitol Hill, but it seems like to me that he was an equal money dispenser, that he was giving money to people in both political parties."
According to campaign finance reports, Abramoff and his clients contributed money to Democrats but substantially more to Republicans.
Bush also defended three of the most powerful men in the White House, all of whom have been the subject of speculation that they are losing clout with the president: Vice President Cheney, senior adviser Karl Rove and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld.
Bush said his relationship with Cheney is better than ever, despite Libby's recent indictment and criticism of the Iraq and terrorism policies that were championed by the vice president. "The truth of the matter is that our relationship hasn't changed hardly at all," the president said. "I'd say the relationship -- it's only gotten better. We didn't know each other that well when we first came to Washington, D.C., and my respect for him has grown immensely."
The same goes for Rove, Bush said. Rove remains under investigation in the CIA leak case, and some aides have complained he lied to Bush and White House spokesman Scott McClellan about his role. "We're still as close as we've ever been," the president said. "You know, when we look back at the presidency and my time in politics, no question that Karl had a lot to do with me getting here, and I value his friendship. We're very close."
Bush dismissed rumors that Rumsfeld will leave his post early next year. Asked if Rumsfeld will stay through the second term, Bush said: "Well, end of my term is a long time, but I tell you, he's done a heck of a good job and I have no intention of changing him."