By Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 16, 2005
Democratic leaders sternly criticized President Bush yesterday for saying former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) is innocent of felonious campaign finance abuses, suggesting his comments virtually amounted to jury tampering before DeLay stands trial.
"The president of the United States said a jury does not need to assemble, that Tom DeLay is innocent," said Senate Minority Leader Harry M. Reid (D-Nev.). "To have someone of his stature, the president of the United States, prejudge a case is something I've never seen before."
During an interview Wednesday on the Fox News Channel, Bush was asked whether he believes DeLay is innocent of the charges of money laundering and conspiracy that led to his indictment in Texas and resignation from the House Republican leadership in September. "Yes, I do," the president replied.
That response pushed the White House on the defensive yesterday. Administration officials have repeatedly deflected questions about other legal probes -- especially Special Counsel Patrick J. Fitzgerald's inquiry into the leaking of CIA operative Valerie Plame's name -- by saying they could not comment on ongoing investigations. White House spokesman Scott McClellan called the apparent inconsistency a "presidential prerogative."
"The president was asked a question and he responded to that question in the interview yesterday, and made very clear what his views were," McClellan said. "We don't typically tend to get into discussing legal matters of that nature, but in this instance, the president chose to respond to it. Our policy regarding the Fitzgerald investigation and ongoing legal proceeding is well-known and it remains unchanged."
"Call it a presidential prerogative," he added.
Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) fired back that Bush's comments on the DeLay investigation should free him to reveal who leaked Plame's name. Conservative columnist Robert D. Novak, who published Plame's identity in July 2003, suggested this week that Bush knows who in the White House leaked it.
Democrats yesterday charged that Republican leaders on both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are going to extraordinary lengths to protect DeLay. Once the House adjourns for the year, it will not reconvene until the end of January, the latest reassembly since 1933, said House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.). Pelosi contends that the timing is designed to protect DeLay from a challenge to his hope of reclaiming his leadership post.
Jessica Boulanger, a spokeswoman for acting Majority Leader Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), said the proposed Jan. 31 return date is only a few days later than those of recent congresses. It is "absolutely false" to say the date was picked with DeLay in mind, she said.
Boulanger said House members are in session unusually late this year, and need time at home. She also said the Senate will devote most of its time to a Supreme Court nomination in January, and thus the House would have little interaction with the other chamber.