R: Is DeLay the first elected official to fall victim in the corruption case of ex- lobbyist Jack Abramoff?
DeLay's answer is: No.
NPR's Peter Overby reports.
A: Jack Abramoff, whom DeLay once called a close friend; Abramoff's former business partner, Adam Kidan, who has no DeLay connection; Abramoff's former lobbying partner, Michael Scanlan, who previously worked for DeLay; and Tony Rudy, who also worked for DeLay and then worked for Abramoff.
DeLay says he's leaving office not because of these connections, but because of unfavorable poll numbers in his reelection campaign.
Here he is in an interview yesterday with NPR.
TOM DELAY: The Abramoff stuff has nothing to do with me. The Department of Justice has told my lawyers that I'm not a target of this investigation.
: William Canfield agrees. As a republican attorney who's been practicing ethics law for 25 years, he sees DeLay's decision this way.
WILLIAM CANFIELD: I think it was based on politics. I don't think it really was based on, you know, any reading of the law or his prospects in trials.
JOHN BARRON: The reason politics have hurt him so much is because of the legal developments and the unfolding Abramoff scandal that has surrounded him.
: That's another republican veteran of the ethics bar, John Barron.
Barron and other close observers of the case look at Tony Rudy's plea agreement, just last Friday, and they see bad news for Tom DeLay. DeLay's former Deputy Chief of Staff admits that he pushed the interest of Abramoff's clients for three years, while he was on the public payroll in DeLay's office. Rudy says Abramoff sent gifts his way, along with $86,000 in payments to a company run by his wife.
Rudy does not say in his pleading that DeLay committed any crimes. But Tom Fitton says, Just wait. Fitton is President of Judicial Watch, a good government group that called on DeLay to resign back in 2004.
TOM FITTON: You know, Rudy thought he could begin his corrupt acts while he was working for Tom DeLay, and obviously there was an ethic in DeLay's office that encouraged or countenanced that type of activity. And, Mr. DeLay has to be responsible for it.
: Rudy's plea agreement does mention another, even closer aide to DeLay; his former Chief of Staff, Ed Buckham. There may be nobody more important in Delay's political family than Buckham, who counseled DeLay in religious, as well as political, matters.
The legal documents only identified Buckham as "Lobbyist B", who helped funnel the $86,000 to Lisa Rudy's firm. Fitton points out that with each new plea agreement, prosecutors have introduced a new player this way.
FITTON: I think Ed Buckham is the next target of the investigation. And, if he pleads guilty, Tom DeLay ought to be very nervous.
: Just one item that's caught peoples' attention, Buckham's consulting and lobbying firm employed DeLay's wife, Christine. She was paid $115,000 dollars over three years to research the favorite charities of members of congress.
Whether or not DeLay is resigning because of legal troubles, those troubles give him a strong financial incentive to leave now. He's already facing trial on state charges in Texas. He can use his campaign war chest to cover all of his legal expenses.
Back when DeLay was House majority leader, his colleagues competed to raise money for a separate Tom DeLay defense trust, but in the last quarter of 2005, just eight members of Congress contributed to the fund. It's running in the red.
Peter Overby, NPR News, Washington.
: You'll find an extended interview with Tom DeLay at npr.org.
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