DeLay Office Knew Abramoff Arranged Trip
Saturday, May 6, 2006; 7:03 PM
WASHINGTON -- Prosecutors have e-mails showing Rep. Tom DeLay's office knew lobbyist Jack Abramoff had arranged the financing for the GOP leader's controversial European golfing trip in 2000 and was concerned "if someone starts asking questions."
House ethics rules bar lawmakers from accepting free trips from lobbyists. DeLay, R-Texas, reported to Congress that a Republican advocacy group had paid for the spring 2000 trip that DeLay, his wife and top aides took to Scotland and England.
The e-mails obtained by The Associated Press show DeLay's staff asked Abramoff _ not the advocacy group _ to account for the costs that had to be legally disclosed on congressional travel forms. DeLay's office was worried the group being cited as paying the costs might not even know about them, the e-mails state.
Abramoff's team sought to low-ball the cost estimates and DeLay's office ultimately reported to Congress a total that was a few thousand dollars lower than the one the lobbyist provided, the documents show.
"We should give them the most minimal numbers for cost of the hotel (do not include golf), food and plays," Abramoff wrote two assistants at his Preston Gates lobbying firm in an e-mail from June 29, 2000. One of those assistants, Susan Ralston, now works for top White House adviser Karl Rove.
In a follow-up e-mail to Abramoff, Ralston reported she talked to DeLay's then-deputy chief of staff, Tony Rudy, who suggested numbers that could be used as cost figures on the congressional travel report. Rudy had gone on the trip with his boss.
"Tony said: $6,800 for flights per person. $300 per night for hotel, $120 per day per person for meals, $500 per day for transportation," Ralston wrote Abramoff. Abramoff's credit card bill shows some costs were higher.
Federal prosecutors have secured the cooperation of Abramoff and Rudy, and are investigating whether DeLay filed false public reports to disguise the source and size of political donations, travel and other gifts he received from special interests. Several witnesses have been questioned in recent months about the Scotland trip e-mails.
DeLay's lawyer said Friday he believes the congressman's office asked Abramoff, instead of the GOP group, for the trip costs because the group's top executive was on maternity leave. He noted Abramoff served as director for the group listed as paying for the trip.
"The way I read this was that staff was trying to get it right," lawyer Richard Cullen said of the e-mails. "His (DeLay's) goal and his marching orders to his staff was to do it correctly. And I think staff tried to do it correctly."
An expert on federal disclosure reports said the e-mails raise serious questions about whether DeLay's office filed a false report.
"It clearly shows some members live in a dream world of high-class living and fictional accounting. DeLay's office was part of the public deception. It makes you wonder if there are more filings as fictional as this one is turning out to be," said Kent Cooper, the former chief of public disclosure for the Federal Election Commission.