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Partial Transcript: Charles Babington discusses ethics complaints lodged against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay

SHOW: Morning Edition (11:00 AM AM ET) – NPR

June 15, 2004 Tuesday

HEADLINE: Charles Babington discusses ethics complaints lodged against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay



Today a Democratic congressman from Texas is expected to file an ethics complaint against House Republican Majority Leader Tom DeLay. This complaint, by first-term representative Chris Bell, accuses Tom DeLay of numerous ethics violations. It would be the first such complaint filed by a lawmaker against a House leader since 1997, when the two parties agreed to a sort of truce. This story’s being covered by Charles Babington, a reporter for The Washington Post.

Good morning.

Mr. CHARLES BABINGTON (The Washington Post): Good morning.

INSKEEP: I know there are several charges here. Can you just talk us through them?

Mr. BABINGTON: Yeah. There’s three, basically. One involved a company called Westar that–a few years ago there were some e-mails from company officials who said that they believed if they sent about $56,000 in political contributions to some Republican committees associated with DeLay, they would get special favors from Congress. A second involved a PAC associated with DeLay in Texas, called TRMPAC, that is accused of laundering some corporate donations through the Republican National Committee in Washington so that they could be used in Texas in a way that they ordinarily should not be, according to the accusations. And then finally, if you remember the story about the Texas legislators, the Democrats, who were trying to flee the state to prevent this big redistricting plan from going through that they opposed and that DeLay supported, and he got the FAA to help track down a plane that they thought had some of these members on it. So the accusation there is that–improper use of a federal agency on the part of DeLay.

INSKEEP: Back to that first accusation for a moment, the allegation being that DeLay took campaign contributions in exchange for political favors–isn’t that a charge that’s made against almost anybody in Congress at one time or another?

Mr. BABINGTON: Well, I guess perhaps it is, but in this case there were some e-mails that seemed to suggest that these executives believe that there was, I mean, a quid pro quo. The problem–and, of course, DeLay denies wrongdoing in all of these cases. We should say that up front. And in this particular case, he makes a point that there is no evidence that has come to light thus far that he bought into this idea that he asked them to do this or that he said, ‘If you do this, I will do that.’ So it’s sort of a–there’s only sort of one part of this equation, and he said the other part doesn’t exist.

INSKEEP: Now it’s interesting that one of the other charges involves the battle over redistricting in Texas. Representative Bell lost his re-election bid in the primary in March in Texas. He’s a Democrat, of course. Did he lose because his district was redrawn by Tom DeLay and Texas Republicans?

Mr. BABINGTON: He did, although it’s complicated. And, of course, DeLay and his allies are saying this is sour grapes on the part of Chris Bell. In a way, Chris Bell was collateral damage in this very contentious congressional redistricting plan that went through last year in Texas. What the Republicans, led by DeLay, were doing was trying to pack as many Democratic voters as they could into as few districts as they could to create more Republican districts, and in the end they were able to do that. In the case of Bell’s area in Houston, they sort of redistricted him into what became a majority black district. He’s white. And so in the primary, he lost to a black Democrat, who surely will win the election in November. So the Republicans really weren’t trying to pick up–you know, they didn’t really care which Democrat represents the district; they were trying to increase the total number of Republicans. So it just happened they’ll get a different Democrat instead of Chris Bell.

INSKEEP: So when this ethics complaint is filed against Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, does that end this several-years-long truce between House leaders when it comes to ethics complaints?

Mr. BABINGTON: It looks like it does, Steve. And the question is, what happens next and when it happens. There’s a congressman named John Doolittle of California, who I talked to yesterday, who said, ‘All right, this is it.’ You know, ‘We’re going to start filing complaints against Democrats.’ But he didn’t name a Democrat…


Mr. BABINGTON: …they would go after.

INSKEEP: All right. Thanks.

Charles Babington is a reporter for The Washington Post.

The time is 21 minutes before the hour.

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