Bush Declares DeLay Innocent

By Dan Froomkin
Special to washingtonpost.com
Thursday, December 15, 2005; 1:51 PM

In a Fox News interview aired last night, President Bush declared that he believes indicted former House majority leader Tom DeLay is innocent of the money-laundering charges brought against him in Texas.

It's unusual for a president in any circumstance to make such a definitive pronouncement about an ongoing criminal case.

But it seemed particularly at odds given Bush's repeated insistence that his obligation not to prejudice a criminal investigation or trial resoundingly trumps the public's right to hear what he thinks or knows about the role of senior White House officials in the outing of a CIA operative's identity.

Bush last year vowed to fire anyone involved in that leak, but went mum once a criminal investigation was launched. Even after his top aide was implicated and Vice President Cheney's top aide was indicted -- raising widespread concern about the ethics and honesty of his closest advisers -- Bush refused to answer even basic questions, saying it would be inappropriate to comment.

Senior adviser Karl Rove is of course still working at the White House; Scooter Libby resigned after being indicted and received a warm sendoff from both Cheney and Bush.

Here's the transcript and video of Bush's interview with Fox's Brit Hume. When Hume asked if he believes DeLay is innocent, Bush replied: "Do I? Yes, I do."

Jim VandeHei writes in The Washington Post: "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. . . .

"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."

VandeHei writes that Bush also was asked about the charges of pervasive unethical behavior within the Republican Party, including the unfolding money-for-favors scandal centered on former GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

" '[T]he 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.' "

Not so, as VandeHei points out: "According to campaign finance reports, Abramoff and his clients contributed money to Democrats but substantially more to Republicans."

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