Transcript: House Whips on 'FNS'

The following is a transcribed excerpt of '"FOX News Sunday," April 17, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, FOX NEWS: There's a classic Washington feeding frenzy these days about House Majority Leader Tom DeLay: allegations of ethical lapses, his controversial attack on judges. And underlying all of it, this one question: Can DeLay survive?

We want to talk about all this with two of the top leaders in the House, Republican Whip Roy Blunt and Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer.

Gentlemen, welcome. Good to have you here today.



WALLACE: As we mentioned, Congressman DeLay spoke last night to the National Rifle Association. He noted all the attacks against him and then he referred to Sarah Brady, the wife of the former Reagan Press Secretary Jim Brady, who was shot in the assassination attack against the former president. Let's watch.


U.S. REP. TOM DELAY, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: Sarah Brady said that when a man's in trouble or in a good fight you want all your friends around them, preferably armed. So I feel really good.


Congressman Hoyer, has Tom DeLay broken any law, violated any House regulation that makes him unfit to serve as majority leader?

HOYER: Well certainly the Ethics Committee has, on a number of occasions, admonished Tom DeLay and said that he's come very close to doing all of those.

But that's really not the issue, Chris. What the issue here is the abuse of power. And it's not just Tom DeLay. Very frankly, with all due respect to my very good friend, Roy Blunt, it's Republican abuse of power. It's abuse of power in the House rules. It's abuse of power in the ethics process. It's abuse of power in threatening judges. It's an abuse of power of threatening...

WALLACE: But if I may ask: Has Tom DeLay — because we're really talking about Tom DeLay, not the Republicans — has he broken any law? Has he violated any House regulation that makes him unfit to be majority leader?

HOYER: Well, I think that's going to have to be determined. The problem is we can't get the ethics process to work properly because the Republicans, in a partisan fashion for the first time in history, have changed the rules to the consternation and angering the chairman of the Ethics Committee, the Republican conservative from Colorado, Joel Hefley, who's saying they did the wrong thing and we ought to go back to the old rule so the Ethics Committee can operate. So I don't know the answer to that question.

But certainly Tom DeLay, as the leader of the majority, has abused the rules of the House, has abused the rules of law in our country, has tried to impose his own personal views, has been accused by a member, Mr. Smith, of threatening and other members of bribing, during the prescription drug vote.

HOYER: So abuse of power is the issue that is at issue here. And Tom DeLay, of course, represents particularly the use of power, and in our opinion, the abuse of power and very frankly the abuse of power, apparently, Tom Tancredo, conservative Republican from Colorado and other Republicans, Chris Shays...

WALLACE: We'll get to at the Ethics Committee and that whole fight in a moment.

But Mr. DeLay has been admonished as Congressman Hoyer noted, Congressman Blunt, three times for various violations. There are now questions about other trips that he took that allegedly were paid for either by lobbyists or special interests.

And I want you to take a look at an editorial that the conservative Richmond Times Dispatch wrote this week. The editorial under the title, "DeLay Must Go," said Republicans would be wise, quote, "to break the cycle of sleazy."

Question to you Congressman Blunt: Has Tom DeLay done anything wrong?

BLUNT: Well, I certainly don't believe he has, and there's nothing to indicate that he has.

What's amazing to me is how highly we've elevated the discussion here of — Steny just said that Tom DeLay's broken the rule of law, broken the rules of the House, been accused of bribery. These are pretty radical accusations to make. And they're just — they're ill- founded.

What we have here is our ability to move an agenda forward, which we continue to do. I think our friends on the other side, in frustration, looking for a way to stop us from doing that.

This idea that Tom DeLay was admonished by the Ethics Committee, that's not even something available to the Ethics Committee.

The Ethics Committee is supposed to say you violated the rules of the House or you did not. They're not supposed to say publicly: You're too close, we think you should be more careful about the rules. That's why the rules, that's why the lines are drawn where they are.

This has never been a committee that evaluated how a member acted within the rules, and in fact, by saying you're not over the line but we think you're a little close, they're actually saying you're in the rules of the House.

Tom DeLay — all of this information on travel and other things — properly filed at the proper time within 30 days of taking the trips that he took. And members do this. That's why we have that disclosure.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about the travel because a number of the questions involving Congressman DeLay involve travel and his relationship with a lobbyist named Jack Abramoff, who was very close to DeLay.

The leader took several expensive trips to England, to Russia that were supposedly paid for by a nonprofit foundation. But allegations are that it was a Abramoff who actually paid for these trips with money that he had gotten from some of his clients, including Indian tribes and Russian businessmen.

And we just got this. This is going to be in tomorrow's edition of Time magazine, which reports that DeLay, in effect, treated Abramoff as a kind of hotel concierge, according to one of former top DeLay aide, one of these anonymous sources. But he's quoted as saying that he, Abramoff, ran all the trips: "You asked where the itineraries came from, who made all the travel arrangements. It all came out of Jack's shop." And Jack Abramoff is a lobbyist.

BLUNT: Well, I think that the organization that paid for these trips was an organization fully empowered and meeting all the standards to do that.

How they funded those trips, I don't believe Tom DeLay was aware that they funded them in any way other than a totally proper way.

And members do this kind of travel. I don't do a lot of privately financed travel. I think Mr. Hoyer and I both — I know we occasionally take our freshman Democrats and freshman Republicans to Israel on a trip similar to this...

WALLACE: But Abramoff was on the trips with him. Shouldn't that have — this is the lobbyist who was traveling with him to go golfing at St. Andrews or to go golfing in Russia. Shouldn't that have just...

HOYER?: I don't think the trips were golfing in St. Andrews or golfing — they have may have done that, but that's not what the trip was all about.

BLUNT: Chris, what you do on these trips, in addition to the work, you clearly — there are guidelines and rules there as to how that's paid for. I'm confident that that was done appropriately.

But that's exactly why Tom DeLay wants the Ethics Committee to reorganize, so he can go to the committee. We made three changes in the Ethics Rules in the Congress that I think are the right kind of changes to make. They don't in any way impair the ability of that committee to function in spite of what our friends are saying...

WALLACE: Congressman, let me get to that. Because don't you have —Congressman Hoyer, don't you have Tom DeLay in a kind of catch 22 here?

You say, for instance, "Look, let's let him clear his name or not by meeting with the Ethics Committee," and yet the Democrats won't meet on the Ethics Committee, so as a result there's no Ethics Committee to clear his name.

HOYER: Chris, we're not going to meet with an Ethics Committee that is neutered by the Republican leadership. That's what they did.

Joel Hefley was fired. Two other members were fired for having the audacity to even admonishing Tom DeLay.

Roy tries to diminish what they did was — and they appointed two people who have contributed to Tom DeLay's defense fund.

So, when we talk about the Ethics Committee, they have neutered it. They've said, "We're going to dismiss complaints if a majority of members..." and this is a committee that's made up of five Republicans and five Democrats, so in effect, what they've said — either side, Democrats or Republicans can stop investigations of ethical lapses in their tracks.

But the issue is not technical violations of reporting or technical violations of travel. It is the incestuous relationship that has come about between the special interests represented by Jack Abramoff, who frankly, apparently (inaudible) Indian tribes for $80 million. What were they buying for $80 million? An hourly rate? No, they were buying special influence. And the irony is they were buying it on both sides, for gambling and against gambling.

HOYER: The issue here is the substantive relationship which is undermining a rational energy policy, which is undermining, frankly,...

WALLACE: I don't want to get into a political speech with all due respect.

HOYER: Well, that's not a political speech. It is the substance of why people are so concerned.

WALLACE: Well, let's talk about at the Ethics Committee because the fact is that after Congressman DeLay was admonished three times last year, Congressman Blunt, the House did — the Republicans did — change the rules, making it harder to launch investigations.

Here's what 10 House Republicans — former House Republicans — had to say in a letter to the speaker this week. And let's put this up on the screen.

"We saw it as an obvious action to protect Majority Leader Tom DeLay." These are former House Republicans saying that the point of these changes was to protect DeLay.

BLUNT: Well, exactly what — the change that appears to be the most controversial is the one that Mr. Hoyer mentioned: that you can't go forward with an investigation unless a majority wants to do that — beyond 45 days initially and then there's almost an automatic extension of that into 90 days. That's why this committee is equally divided.

This is the only committee that has five Republicans and five Democrats, so that when you do pursue someone on ethics violations, it takes someone from the other party to decide to move forward. That was the way the rule was written when those 10 members were in the Congress. We changed that rule.

HOYER: That's not correct.

BLUNT: Steny, it was changed in 1997.

HOYER: That's correct.

BLUNT: Ben Cardin — your good friend and mine — Ben Cardin made the suggestion in that committee...

WALLACE: Gentlemen, we're getting into a little bit of the...

BLUNT: Well, there are three changes. Let me give you the three changes quickly. One is: You have the right to have your own attorney . The ethics committee can't say your attorney is not the right attorney to bring into the room. Two is: If you're being investigated, you have the right to be told. And three is: You can't perpetually just investigate a member unless eventually a majority of that committee's willing to move forward.

WALLACE: Let me...

BLUNT: Four changes which...

WALLACE: I don't want to get into the four changes.

Congressman Hoyer, let me ask you.

BLUNT: If DeLay got indicted, he could still serve as leader. That was so controversial and raised such a firestorm, they backed off that rule change.

WALLACE: What about the argument of Congressman Hoyer that, in fact, there was a lack of due process for people who were being charged?

HOYER: We're not complaining about those two rules. We think there are some questions that ought to be raised about them. Joel Hefley said that, as far as he can remember in the history of the House, rules changes were adopted in this area, on ethics, in a bipartisan fashion. And he said this was not done, therefore he was opposed to it.

And he is co-sponsoring the Mollohan bill, which sends — to put the rules back where they were so that — this is not just a simple change. What it says is: you can't go forward with an investigation unless a Republican agrees. Formerly the investigation went ahead unless it was stopped. Big difference.

And very briefly, Congressman Blunt, because we're really running our of time here, two House Republicans this week jumped ship: moderate Chris Shays has called for DeLay to step down. Conservative Tom Tancredo says that it might be productive for him to step aside while charges against him are being investigated. Any other Republicans?

BLUNT: Well, both of those are in sort of convoluted ways to get there, too. I think Tom Tancredo said: I think these charges are trumped up, but it might not be the worst idea if Tom DeLay stepped aside. I'd assume somebody asked him if it would be a bad idea. That's what he said...

WALLACE: Any other Republicans thinking...

BLUNT: Let me say one thing about Chris Shays. Chris Shays has often been at odds with us on a number of issues but he's never threatened to leave the party. Just this week, he said our party's moving forward an agenda we believe in. We are doing that effectively. I think that's the bottom of this whole discussion. This is an effort to try to derail us from the solid work we're getting done. And we've got a lot of it done already in this Congress.

WALLACE: Congressman Blunt, Congressman Hoyer, we're going to have to leave it there. Thank you both very much for joining us.

BLUNT Thanks, Chris.