Friday, October 07, 2005

Payoff time in Washington

Tom Delay (R-Texas)

THE fall of Tom DeLay, erstwhile leader of the Republican majority in the US House of Representatives, over charges of violating election financing laws coupled with criminal charges linked to money laundering, is a major blow to US President George W Bush.
The DeLay affair has sent tremors through the White House and the Republican establishment in Washington, raising fears that the party's 11-year grip on the House of Representatives could be ended by November 2006's Congressional mid-term elections.
Bush is already in serious trouble. The credibility of his administration has steadily plunged, depressed by revelations after revelations that many of its senior figures had plotted the war against Iraq even before they came to power and they engineered the invasion of Iraq and ouster of Saddam Hussein through lies and deceit.
The anti-war movement is gaining strength throughout the US.
The glaring shortcomings in the way the administration dealt with Hurricane Katrina have drawn such bitter criticism that Bush is the worst president that the US ever saw.
Add to that the controversies that surrounded Bush's nomination of John Bolton as the US ambassador to the UN, John Roberts as Supreme Court justice and Harriet Miers as associate chief justice of the Supreme Court.
Add to that the increasing talk among Americans that pro-Israelis are leading the Bush administration by the nose; and then take note that the first public appearance of DeLay after being indicted and forced to leave his leadership position was at a s dinner hosted by "Stand for Israel," a group of Israel-supporting evangelical Christians and Jews.
On Monday, a Texas grand jury indicted DeLay for alleged involvement in money laundering related to the 2002 Texas election, raising new and more serious allegations than the conspiracy charge lodged against the former House of Representatives majority leader last week.
The surprising new indictments followed by a matter of hours a motion by DeLay's lawyers to quash last week's charge on grounds that the Texas prosecutor in charge of the case lacked authority to bring it. The lawyers alleged that the crime of conspiracy was not covered by the state election law at the time of the alleged violation.
The new indictment accuses DeLay of illegally circumventing the state's law against corporate campaign contributions.
Specifically, DeLay, 58, is accused of conspiring with Jim Ellis of Washington, D.C., and John Colyandro of Austin to convert $190,000 in donations from several corporations into campaign contributions on behalf of seven Republican state House of Representatives candidates.
According to the district attorney's office, that corporate money was sent from Austin to Washington, and then sent back to Texas in the form of contributions to candidates for the state Legislature. Texas law makes it a felony for corporations and labor unions to contribute to political candidates.
If convicted on the money laundering charge, which is a first-degree felony, DeLay would face a sentence of up to five years' probation to life in prison, and a fine of up to $10,000. Conspiracy to commit money laundering is a second-degree felony punishable by to 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
By contrast, the original conspiracy indictment carried a sentence of two years in a state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Delay is due to appear in a Travis County courtroom in Austin on Oct. 21 to formally hear the charges against him.
But then, the charges are only the tip of an iceberg. Critics accuse DeLay of massive influence peddling and assuming and even exercising political clout equivalent to that of the president itself.
Democratic politicians were quick to condemn both DeLay and the Republican leadership.
"The second criminal indictment of Congressman DeLay is yet another example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption and cronyism at the expense of the American people," said Jennifer Crider, press secretary to House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi.
DeLay's departure as majority leader in the House of Representatives deprives the Republicans of arguably its most powerful figure on Capitol Hill, an unmatched political organiser and enforcer who has done more than anyone to drive Bush's agenda through a divided and partisan Congress.
But not only on Capitol Hill has he ruled the Republican flock with a rod of iron. The 58-year old Texas Congressman has also been a prime architect of his party's so-called "K Street Project," using a combination of carrots and sticks to place Republicans at the head of the lobbying firms and business interest groups who play a central role in shaping legislation here.
Even Democratic opponents who detest him grudgingly admit there has been no more effective majority leader from either party in the last 20 years.
Congressional watchdogs sketch a different legacy: That of a man who repeatedly skirted the edges of ethics and campaign finance rules to consolidate power for his party, eventually pushing the envelope too far.
"DeLay's raw power grab has relied on a complex influence-peddling scheme designed to consolidate his own power and that of his party's while giving corporate interests private access to steer the wheels of government at the expense of citizens," said Joan Claybrook, head of Public Citizen, a watchdog group.
Commentator Rupert Corn wrote in the Independent of London:
"I make no bones about it. I cannot abide DeLay, his ruthless ways and narrow conservative views, all wrapped in the cloth of God. For me, he is emblem of much that is wrong with US politics. Arguably, though, he is the most powerful man in Washington apart from George Bush himself. A colleague once described DeLay as a cross between a concierge and a mafia don: "They can get you anything you want but it will cost you." How delicious it is that he seems to have received his comeuppance - those who live by the sword die by the sword, and all that."

Congressional Republican leaders have replaced DeLay with Missouri Congressman Roy Blunt on a "temporary" basis — on the assumption that the Texan's protestations of innocence are true, and that he will be speedily exonerated.
But Blunt is under a small ethics shadow of his own. Records on file with the Federal Election Commission show that Blunt's political action committee has paid some $88,000 in fees since 2003 to a consultant facing indictment in Texas in the DeLay case.
But for Republicans, the DeLay affair is only the latest in a series of ethics controversies involving major party figures, stretching from Capitol Hill and the lobbying industry into the White House itself.
Known as "The Hammer" for his ruthless style, DeLay helped create the current Republican golden age in Washington. He was a close lieutenant of former speaker Newt Gingrich, who led the party to victory in the 1994 mid-term elections, by seizing on public discontent with an entrenched, corrupt and complacent Democratic majority. The wheel may now be turning full circle.
The host of scandals now threatens to tar the Republicans in exactly the same fashion. Just like Republicans 11 years ago, Democrats scent blood. The DeLay affair, charges Pelosi, is "the latest example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption." The pile of supporting evidence for that claim is growing almost by the day."
From a Republican perspective, the best hope is that DeLay himself will be sidelined for only a few weeks. At worst, however, he could find himself being handcuffed and photographed as an alleged felon.
Meanwhile Bill Frist, his counterpart in the Senate, is under separate federal probe for possible insider trading, in connection with the sale of shares in his family hospital company, shortly before the stock price fell sharply. Like DeLay, Mr Frist denies any wrongdoing, but the very fact of an investigation is embarrassment enough.
Related trouble is brewing on the lobbying front. Jack Abramoff, a disgraced top Republican lobbyist who once had close ties to DeLay, has been charged with fraud, and may be tempted to incriminate leading party figures as part of a plea bargain with FBI investigators.
The same goes for David Safavian, a former senior White House budget aide who resigned earlier this month — just days before he was indicted for perjury and obstructing the Abramoff probe.
That case has only escaped wider coverage because it has been overshadowed by greater disasters for Bush, in the most troubled spell of his Presidency. They include the seemingly intractable insurgency in Iraq , his inept response to Hurricane Katrina and public disgruntlement at soaring petrol and fuel prices, always an especially sensitive issue for a US leader.
In the meantime the White House is bracing for the conclusion of the investigation by an independent prosecutor into the leak of the name of Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative Valerie Plame, which has already seen Karl Rove and other top administration officials testifying before a federal grand jury.
Many say that if the prosecutor does his job, then even Bush and Vice-President Dick Cheney could be named as having been instrumental in "outing" Plame in retaliation for her husband's revelation that "evidence" Bush cited to support his charge that Iraq had a nuclear weapons programme was based on a false intelligence report.
It is time for payoff for the Bush administration, but one does not really know in what currency, at least not yet.

Compiled from wire agencies, newspapers and websites