Tom DeLay Under Fire

This is a partial transcript of "The Big Story With John Gibson," April 14, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

JOHN GIBSON, HOST: Democrats are coming out in full force against Tom DeLay (search). He's an easy target right now. But the reasons behind their attacks may not be quite so clear.

Joining me now from Washington is David Corn, editor of The Nation magazine and FOX News Channel contributor.

David, the big question: Why are Democrats so intent on going after Tom DeLay?

DAVID CORN, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, you know, despite what Terry Holt just told you, it's not just Democrats who are concerned about ethical problems at the top of the Republican leadership.

The Wall Street Journal two weeks ago said that Tom DeLay had a smell problem and was betraying his broader principles. You have Newt Gingrich, a FOX News contributor, two days ago saying Tom DeLay has to get out there and explain himself and come forward with explanations of these ethical allegations.

You have three DeLay associates being indicted in Texas. You have Rick Santorum, a conservative Republican senator, saying that Tom DeLay has to get out there, too. You have the former Republican chairman of the Ethics Committee coming out against the rules changes that Denny Hastert, and Tom DeLay has put forward.

GIBSON: OK. But, David...


CORN: So, listen, it's not just a Democratic issue here, John.

GIBSON: Ethics-schmethics. What ethics? This business...

CORN: What ethics? Well, Tom DeLay...

GIBSON: Well, wait a minute. People are complaining about Tom DeLay hiring his relatives for political campaigns. Anybody notice Dick Cheney's (search) daughter at work? This goes on all the time. How is that an ethics violation?

CORN: When was the last time a sitting House majority leader had been reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee chaired by someone in his own party three times? That happened to Tom DeLay, while he had three of his associates running.


GIBSON: But you tell me, David, is that what this is really all about or is this a Rahm Emanuel (search) project targeting the Republican leadership?

CORN: When the House Ethics Committee, which is chaired by a Republican, not a Democrat, reprimands Tom DeLay three times, it has nothing to do with Rahm Emanuel. When The Wall Street Journal comes out and says he has a problem, it has nothing to do with Rahm Emanuel. Don't make this just a Democratic issue?


GIBSON: When a prosecutor in Texas goes after Tom DeLay's assistants and indicts them, you think that that is not political?

CORN: Well, wait a second. Are you saying when Ken Starr went after Bill Clinton, that was OK, but this isn't?

GIBSON: I never said that going after Bill Clinton was OK.


CORN: I mean, did the Republicans say that? Did the Republicans make a fuss about what party Ken Starr came from? No. They're trying to make this a partisan issue, when, really, a lot of it is not.

GIBSON: David, we can't but, however, be left with the impression that the Democrat attack machine — and you can't tell me there wasn't one — didn't get President Bush and has moved on down the line and found Tom DeLay. And they may have found some good stuff to go after him about.

CORN: But, but, but, but, John...

GIBSON: This is more about attacking Republican leadership. I believe your own Harold Ickes or one of the guys in charge of one of those PACs said Democrats have got to start talking about some specific ideas, instead of just attacking Republicans for the sake of getting a scalp on the wall.

CORN: But, John, what I don't understand is, how is the House Ethics Committee, chaired by a Republican, reprimanding Tom DeLay three times part of the Democratic attack machine?

GIBSON: Well, I mean, you're using it as part of it, David. That's what...

CORN: Well, it happened. I mean, they don't control the House Ethics Committee.

And indeed, there are Democrats out there. You know, John Kerry, he didn't win, but he spent a lot of time on the campaign trail talking about energy independence and alternative policies to Bush. And it happened. Democrats talk about that, too. But as we see on this show right now, those are not the type of things that get a lot of media attention.


GIBSON: But we have Nancy Pelosi (search) saying, essentially saying, the reason that Americans are paying $2.50 a gallon for gas is Tom DeLay. Is that a credible charge, David?


CORN: Let me do something that Terry Holt won't do, because I'm not a Democratic strategist. I'm a journalist who calls it the way I see it.

I think, if Nancy Pelosi said that — I didn't see the quote — it's wrong, and it's stupid and she shouldn't have said that. Now, would we have Terry Holt come in here and attack his party saying that they got something wrong? I think she should not have said that. I don't think anything that he did has anything to do with gas being $2.50 a gallon now. OK? Are you satisfied?

GIBSON: Well, I am satisfied with it.


GIBSON: But does that or does that not demonstrate, then, David, as a journalist observing the scene, that there's a Democratic attack machine at work, and you have to ask why?

CORN: Well, when you say Democratic attack machine, the Republicans came out and attacked Harry Reid when he became the No. 1 Democrat in the Senate. Both parties attack each other all the time. I get 20 e-mails a day from the RNC attacking Democrats.

GIBSON: You can't mistake that — this isn't attack du jour. This is attack to completely undo. This is Jim Wright all over again. We're going to bring this guy down.

CORN: It was the Republicans who attacked Jim Wright. It was Newt Gingrich who attacked Jim Wright. You remember that?


GIBSON: I understand what that was. This is now, we're going to bring this guy down, correct?

CORN: And it was the Republican attack machine that attacked Bill Clinton.

GIBSON: So, what is this?

CORN: This is what partisans do on both sides.


GIBSON: Is this tit for tat? Are you saying that, because somebody did it in the past, we can do it now?

CORN: No, no. No, John, I think you and I — as journalists — have to step back from the partisan nature of this and look at the reality. And the reality is, whether he was reprimanded by the GOP-controlled Ethics Committee, what The Wall Street Journal and other people are saying who are not part of the Democratic attack machine...

GIBSON: But, David...

CORN: And not let the attack machine define the terms. It's way beyond that.

Of course the Democrats are using it to their advantage.

GIBSON: All right, let me ask you a question.

CORN: But that doesn't mean it's illegitimate.

GIBSON: Do you think these ethics charges, as you say, a Republican has lodged against Tom DeLay and The Wall Street Journal has lodged against Tom DeLay — should they undo him? Are they so bad?

CORN: Well, listen, I think if the Republicans want to have as their party leader someone who has been reprimanded three times, whose associates have been indicted, but, more importantly, there have been numerous stories out there.

It may not even be illegal, but how he pressures lobbyists to make contributions to Republicans and he doesn't see lobbyists who won't contribute to the Republican Party. If that's the type of pay-to-play politician they want leading their party and that's the type of person that conservatives want to rally around...

GIBSON: Are you telling me you don't think that went on in the Democratic Party?

CORN: What?

GIBSON: You're telling me you think that that didn't go on in the Democratic Party?

CORN: I think Tom DeLay has perfected this. He has made it an art form. They don't call him the Hammer for nothing. And Republicans on the Hill are afraid to turn against him, because he has so much power and he uses it. And he uses it against lobbyists and staffers and all throughout town.


GIBSON: David Corn, Nation magazine, FOX News Channel contributor, it's always good to joust with you, David. Thanks a lot. Appreciate it.

CORN: I like it, too, John.

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