DeLay Departing on Own Terms

By R. Jeffrey Smith and Jonathan Weisman
Washington Post Staff Writers
Wednesday, April 5, 2006

Under siege from state and federal probes into his actions and those of his closest aides and advisers, Rep. Tom DeLay had considered resigning on several occasions over the past four months. But he waited until after he had vanquished his challengers in the Republican primary to deny them the chance to become his successor, associates said.

DeLay's decision was also provoked by recent poll results that showed he faced a stiff challenge in November, the associates said.

They also cited what the Texas Republican has privately described at his frustration at no longer being a part of the House leadership, and his diminished satisfaction with rank-and-file congressional life. The lawmaker was forced to relinquish the post of majority leader after being indicted in Texas on a felony money-laundering charge last October; he had served in the job since 2002 and had been majority whip before then.

DeLay's decision allowed him to set the terms of his departure, avoiding what could have been a personally devastating loss at the polls in November. DeLay was determined to hang on to his seat at least through the primary, said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee. That was because he considered his three Republican challengers gadflies and traitors and he was determined to try to block them from succeeding him.

Several associates said DeLay was particularly influenced by poll results he received after his victory in the Republican primary on March 7, which made clear that his "negatives" in the district -- a routine tally of voters' emotional hostility toward him -- were high. That meant a close race would be won only with substantial effort and cash.

An additional impetus for putting off the resignation until now was suggested by John Feehery, a former aide to DeLay and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.). "He needed to raise money for the defense fund. That was the bottom line," Feehery said. "He wanted to make sure he could take care of himself in the court of law." Under federal campaign rules, any reelection money a lawmaker raises can be used to pay legal fees stemming from official duties.

DeLay's decision to resign from the chamber he once ruled with a clenched fist gave some Republicans hope that the party can move beyond a burgeoning corruption scandal as the congressional election season heats up. That scandal so far has led to guilty pleas to corruption charges by lobbyist Jack Abramoff, once a close ally of DeLay's, and former DeLay aides Michael Scanlon and Tony C. Rudy, who worked with Abramoff after leaving their Capitol Hill jobs.

But Democrats vowed that they would not let their opponents slip the noose of what they have labeled a "culture of corruption."

"When a person steps down, it inflates the severity of the situation, and if they think after Tony Rudy, Jack Abramoff and the other guys the country will stop debate on these issues, they've got another thing coming," Rep. Rahm Emanuel (Ill.), chairman of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, said yesterday. "Federal prosecutors don't care about Republican spin."

In a lengthy videotaped statement, DeLay formally said he will resign the suburban Houston seat he has held for 11 terms, taking his trademark jabs at "liberal Democrats" eager for an election fight and those he said are ready to misinterpret his every move.

"With the news of my decision, there of course will be great speculation among the political pundits and media about my reasons both for this decision and its timing. I'm quite certain most will put forth their opinions and conclusions devoid of and unencumbered by accuracy, facts and truth," he said. "I have no fear whatsoever about any investigation into me or my personal or professional activities."

The associates acknowledged that DeLay made his decision against the backdrop of a felony criminal charge in Texas that is unlikely to be resolved quickly, and amid growing interest by the Justice Department and the FBI in his family finances and the official actions he took at the behest of aides who recently pleaded guilty to involvement in a criminal conspiracy.

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