Monday, April 25, 2005

Gurwitz whitewashes DeLay scandals

It wasn’t illegal and Democrats do it too.

That’s a quick summary of Jonathan Gurwitz’ column on Sunday in which he attempts to defend House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

Of course that kind of defense didn’t go over well with Republicans when Bill Clinton used it. After all, nothing that Clinton did with Monica Lewinsky was illegal. And it was true that Republicans were also guilty of committing adultery - Newt Gingrich, Bob Livingston, Henry Hyde, Dan Burton, Bob Barr, Rudolph Giuliani, and so forth. But they still impeached him anyway.

And the rest of Gurwitz’ attempt at defending DeLay doesn’t stand up to close scrutiny either. He tries to downplay all the charges against DeLay by putting his best possible spin on them:

DeLay's problem is not that he played a major role in the GOP redistricting effort in Texas two years ago. That's hardball politics, Texas-style...

No, the problem is not that DeLay played hardball politics over the re-redicstricting fiasco. The problem is that DeLay may have broken state laws by funneling corporate money into state races as part of that hardball effort. That is what the DA in Austin is looking into.

DeLay's problem is not that Travis County's Democratic district attorney, Ronnie Earle, is on an extended fishing expedition to net him...

Gurwitz tries to pull the wool over his readers’ eyes here by talking about Earle’s 1994 case against GOP Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison for allegedly misusing state telephones for political business. Earle dropped the case after a judge questioned the admissibility of his evidence at a pretrial hearing.

That certainly hasn’t been the case this time.

Following a two-year investigation, Earle has obtained indictments against eight corporations, in addition to three people close to DeLay - John Colyandro, executive director of DeLay’s PAC Texans for a Republican Majority; Warren Robold, a Washington, D.C., fund-raiser for DeLay; and Jim Ellis a key aide to DeLay. The charges include multiple counts of money laundering and the illegal use of corporate contributions.

If Earle had evidence of wrongdoing by DeLay, in all likelihood he would have gotten a grand jury indictment before the November election.

Not necessarily. As any prosecutor knows, it is not always easy to pin blame on the top guy. They are usually well shielded by subordinates who end up taking the fall in their place. In this case, Earle is biding his time waiting to see if one of the underlings will turn on their boss.

DeLay's problem is not that he has taken perfectly legal trips paid for by businesses and trade associations.

No, the problem is he took trips paid for by corporate lobbyists which is not allowed under House rules. As the Washington Post reported this weekend, DeLay’s plane trip to London and Scotland in 2000 was charged to an American Express card issued to Jack Abramoff.

DeLay's problem is not that his wife and daughter drew perfectly legal salaries for work done for his campaign and political action committees. An Associated Press review of lawmakers' hiring practices found that roughly four dozen members of Congress hired spouses and children for campaign and political work, including Sen. Joe Lieberman, D-Conn., and Rep. Pete Stark, D-Calif.

Once again, the “everybody does it” defense falls flat especially when you are caught exploiting the rules to the extent that DeLay does. The half a million dollars paid to his wife and daughter over four years pales in comparison to what most other House members have done. This is like a guy who gets pulled over for flying down the road at 110 mph saying he should be excused because some other folks were going 75 mph.

Finally, Gurwitz concedes that DeLay does have some problems, but he chalks that up to his being too cozy with Washington scoundrels like Abramoff. His harshest criticism of DeLay is that he is starting to act like the Democrats did before they lost control of Congress in 1994. But I would argue that DeLay has far exceeded the level of sleaze that Republicans were willing to tolerate back then. The “musty smell” that Gurwitz refers to is particularly rank this time.

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