Transcript

Rep. Tom DeLay Indicted

Tim Curran
Editor, Roll Call
Wednesday, September 28, 2005; 3:00 PM

Tim Curran , editor of Roll Call , was online Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 3 p.m. ET to discuss the indictment of Rep. Tom DeLay .

Read the latest: DeLay Indicted in Campaign Finance Probe.

The transcript follows.

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Montreal, Quebec: Who do you think will replace DeLay as majority leader? Who are the possible candidates?

Thank you.

Tim Curran: The succession plan already appears to have changed. Earlier today we were being told that when DeLay stepped aside as Majority Leader, Majority Whip Roy Blunt would temporarily take over that post. Eric Cantor, who is now Blunt's chief deputy whip, was expected to assume the Whip's duties.

But now it appears that David Dreier, a Californian and chairman of the very influential Rules committee, is most likely to move into the Majority Leader's job. The decision to put Dreier in there could be an effort to avoid giving anybody a leg up in a future leadership race.

If DeLay is convicted or is defeated for re-election next year (both of which still feel like longshots at this point), the race to replace him would really be something to watch. One name to look out for under that scenario would be Ohio's John Boehner.

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Washington, D.C.: What are the chances that today's indictment will mean that Tom DeLay could be defeated at the ballot box in November 2006?

Tim Curran: Democrats believe they have their best-ever shot at knocking off DeLay, but it's hardly a sure thing. He was held to 55 percent of the vote last year and Nick Lampson, a former Democratic Congressman, has already announced he'll run against DeLay. Raising money won't be a problem for either man, but make no mistake: This is still a solidly Republican district. One other thing to watch in this race will be the influence of the dreaded "outside groups," such as 527 organizations, which can still spend soft money to run television ads, etc. I would expect that groups on both sides will spend more money here than they will in any other House race in the country. We're talking in the tens of millions of dollars, at least.

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Foothill Ranch, Calif.: What are the chances the case will be concluded prior to the primary filing deadline in DeLay's district? If the case is not concluded by then, what do you think are the chances that DeLay will not run for re-election? In your opinion, does or does not this case seem to have any more substance than the one pursued by this DA against Kay Bailey Hutchinson?

Tim Curran: It's hard to imagine this case being wrapped up much before next year's election, and unless I'm mistaken, Texas has one of the nation's earliest filing deadlines. It's even harder to imagine that DeLay, who seems to live for political battle, would let a prosecutor he clearly loathes take him out without a fight.

Great point about the Hutchison indictment. That was kind of a black-eye for Earle and I'd expect to hear Republicans invoking it at every turn.

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Brunswick, Maine: With DeLay's indictment, serious questions about Frist's so called blind trust, and serious questions about Karl Rove's role in outing a CIA agent, does it appear that the Republican majority machine is starting to break apart?

Tim Curran: It's certainly the last thing Republicans needed right now, and to say that they're shell-shocked today would be an understatement. Behind closed doors, Republicans in both the House and Senate have been howling about their constituents' complaints about Iraq, the plans to overhaul Social Security, gas prices, and hurricane response. Now the one-two punch of the investigation into Frist's stock sale and the DeLay indictment have left them reeling. The best news for Republicans is that the 2006 elections are still 13 months away.

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Washington, D.C.: This may seem slightly tangential, but what do you think the Democrats' chances are of retaking the House in 2006?

Tim Curran: Right now, the chances of that happening aren't very high. Redistricting has really limited the number of competitive House seats around the country, and re-election rates for incumbents are remarkably high. Democrats would need to net 15 seats to take back the majority, and they just don't have that many opportunities right now. If there are a huge number of unexpected Republican retirements - or things keep going the way they have for the next 13 months - I may have a different answer. But I guarantee you that Democrats will make DeLay a centerpiece of that effort.

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Rockville, Md.: Scott McClellan: "Congressman DeLay is a good ally and a leader who we have worked closely with to get things done for the American people."

Is the White House now trying to marginalize itself? Declaring your allegiance with someone so synonymous with "ethics violations" seems a curious tack. Maybe America should start taking the administration at its word, however.

Tim Curran: The White House's approach to DeLay has been really interesting. They have constantly backed him up, even having him join the President on a flight back to Texas at a time when DeLay's problems were really getting a lot of ink. I think the simple fact is that the White House knows they need him if they want to get anything done in the House. They also know they owe him a great deal.

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Washington, D.C.: Delay's statement was a full scale broadside against the politics of the prosecutor and how this is all a vendetta. Any truth in that?

Tim Curran: Ronnie Earle, the Travis County Prosecutor, and DeLay just plain don't like each other, as Keith Jackson might say. What you'll hear out of the Capitol until this thing is concluded is Republicans branding Earle as "an out-of-control partisan prosecutor" jealous of DeLay's success, and Democrats calling DeLay "the poster boy for a culture of corruption" that has overtaken the GOP. It won't be pretty.

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Bronxville, N.Y.: Why was this such an unanticipated indictment? Did the Texas grand jury give mixed signals as to their focus?

Tim Curran: I think there was a real feeling among Republicans that DeLay may have dodged a bullet after he met with Earle recently. (What a meeting to be a fly on the wall for.) DeLay's people were cautiously optimistic that they might be able to get untangled from the mess in Texas and start preparing for any ethics committee action back here, but it didn't work out that way.

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Washington, D.C.: Tim - I'm currently close enough (through my employment in the legislative branch) to Congress to have a real taste of the compromises inherent in doing political business in a free-market country that worships money, and the corruption-lite that is rampant in Congress. What is the general sense of DeLay's behavior on the Hill? Do most see it as a real outlier, or do sufficient numbers realize that, while it might be the most egregious example in a couple of years, there are myriad other examples everywhere on the Hill?

Tim Curran: Even DeLay's closest allies on the Hill are made nervous by the fact that he is constantly pushing the line.

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Washington, D.C.: Do you know how much jail time is possible for the charges listed in the grand jury's indictment?

Tim Curran: The criminal conspiracy charge is a state felony and could carry a jail term of six months to two years, as well as a fine of up to $10,000.

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Falls Church, Va.: Does this indictment raise the likelihood of further House Ethics Committee investigation or action against DeLay?

Tim Curran: Well, first the ethics committee needs to take care of some internal business. A partisan dispute over staff and a number of other issues has essentially paralyzed it since the beginning of this Congress. One school of thought is that the indictment might complicate ethics' job, but in point of fact ethics wasn't likely to spend as much time on the Texas case as it was looking into the improper travel and gift allegations involving DeLay and lobbyist Jack Abramoff. That investigation is also likely to drag well into the election year.

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Sterling, Va.: Are there any murmurs among Republican leaders that DeLay is finally starting to wear thin the tremendous personal loyalty he earned through the years through his constant ethics scandals?

Tim Curran: There are murmurs, but they're coming from the rank-and-file in the Republican Conference, not the leadership. You'll see a lot of Republican backbenchers doing what they can do distance themselves from DeLay, but the leadership has been very solid in their support for him. That's particularly true of Speaker Hastert, despite a lot of talk about a rivalry between the two men.

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Charlotte, N.C.: While I am not asking you to be specific, do you think Tom DeLay be the last big name Washington Republican indicted this year?

Tim Curran: Very interesting time in Washington. It's been a while since we've seen this level of scrutiny of Members of Congress, and we know of at least two FBI probes of lawmakers, Reps. Duke Cunningham, a California Republican who is under scrutiny for his ties to a defense contractor, and Rep. Bill Jefferson (D-La.) who has had his homes and offices searched by the feds in a separate investigation. I would say those are the best shots at seeing another Member indicted.

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La Crescenta, Calif.: You say that it appears unlikely that DeLay will be convicted or defeated.

I find the 1st part of that incredulous, not only because of the three ethics violations that he was "admonished" for last year, but also because of how last year he offered a freshman Texas Congressman $1 million from the DeLay PAC if the congressman would vote for the Medicare Drug Benefit Bill. (Why has most of the media been silent on this?)

My grandparents live in DeLay's district in suburban Houston, and lots of the people there are up in arms, and feel like the things they hear/read about DeLay doesn't measure up with the guy they 1st elected 16 yrs ago. If his constituency is so dissatisfied, why is his defeat so unlikely?

Tim Curran: The indictment has nothing to do with the things you've mentioned, but they're certainly legitimate topics of discussion. The Texas indictment was on a criminal conspiracy charge that he and his aides used a political action committee to use corporate funds to influence state legislative races, something which is illegal under state law.

As for the race for re-election, your point is absolutely fair. Voters have thrown out powerful leaders for less. It should be quite something to watch.

Back to putting out a newspaper. Thanks for all the great questions. Have a feeling we're just getting started on the whole DeLay matter...

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