This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," May 5, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.
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(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)
REP. MARTY MEEHAN, D-MASS.: The scandal is not just that some people may have broken the rules. The rules themselves are a scandal.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BRIT HUME, HOST: And the rules that have been in the news lately are the ones governing travel by members of the House, their staffs and families. Tom DeLay (search) is accused of violating those rules, but some, like Congressman Meehan, think the problem, as you heard him say, is not what the rules forbid but what they permit.
And for more on this, I'm joined by FOX News contributor Jeff Birnbaum who has been looking into this whole matter for the Washington Post, which he serves as columnist.
All right, so, as I understand it, Jeff, what Tom DeLay is accused of doing is taking trips as a member of Congress, his staff sometimes accompanying, wife sometimes accompanying, paid for by outside institutions, and in some cases, paid for, whether he knew it or not, by lobbyists.
Now, what do the rules allow and what do they forbid?
JEFF BIRNBAUM, FOX NEWS CONTRIBUTOR: Well, let's take what they forbid and what Tom DeLay apparently is caught up in. They forbid registered lobbyists from paying for travel, which did apparently happen. Here we see Tom DeLay. He was paid for by a lobbyist who was close to DeLay, Jack Abramoff, a trip to the United Kingdom, both to London and to Scotland. That's not permitted.
Also, it's not permitted, a registered foreign agent, meaning a lobbyist for a foreign country, cannot pay for a trip. And that clearly happened for a trip that DeLay took to South Korea.
HUME: Now, do the rules require that the member of Congress be aware of where the money's coming from?
BIRNBAUM: Yes. That is the heart of DeLay's defense here. A member of Congress cannot knowingly accept the payments that we just discussed. But Tom DeLay said he knew nothing about it. In either case...
HUME: Where did he think in this case the money...
BIRNBAUM: He thought the money was coming from — in the Korea case - - an organization that was not a registered foreign agent. He didn't think it was a foreign agent. And from the money that was paid, put at least on a credit card that Jack Abramoff had, he thought all of that money was coming from a nonprofit think-tank, a research institution, that Abramoff was a board member of.
So he thinks that he can get let off the hook, even though he has these technical violations of the ethics rules.
HUME: Well, what do the rules permit with regard to who can pay for trips?
BIRNBAUM: Well, that's one of the most amazing things here. Almost anybody can pay for trips, except for registered lobbyists and registered foreign agents. Corporations can pay, labor unions can pay, think tanks can pay...
HUME: But they can't just pay for your vacation?
BIRNBAUM: No. These trips have to be part of your official duties or for educational reasons. And they are limited in the amount of time that you can take away from Congress here. But...
HUME: Well, what kinds of events are OK?
BIRNBAUM: Well, it's OK, for example, to go to a conference somewhere, even overseas, even paid for by a foreign company or a foreign country, as long as you are learning something about your official duties.
Let's say you are on the Foreign Affairs Committee. If you are learning about a foreign country, that's perfectly OK.
HUME: So in the case of the think-tank that's supposed to have paid for the trip — that DeLay claimed was paying for the trip to the U.K., there was some kind of conference over there was there or educational...
BIRNBAUM: Well, DeLay says that he met with leaders in England, which he did, in fact. The questions are...
HUME: And under the rules, if the think-tank paid the freight and he went over there and had meetings related to his official duties, that's on the up-and-up, right?
BIRNBAUM: That's completely on the up-and-up. The questions are...
HUME: But it turned out, of course, that part of the trip money had been put on the credit card of a lobbyist.
BIRNBAUM: That's right, which sends it right over the edge. If DeLay had any reason to know that the lobbyist was actually paying...
HUME: Which he says he didn't.
BIRNBAUM: Which he says he didn't.
HUME: All right. Well, let me get back to this question of what's permitted now. So let's assume that you have Lobbyist A, who represents — just to pull a company out of the hat — General Motors, or some other big corporation.
HUME: The lobbyist cannot pay for the person to go to a General Motors-sponsored conference somewhere.
BIRNBAUM: That's correct, right.
HUME: But General Motors can?
BIRNBAUM: Absolutely, and does.
HUME: So the lobbyist can't pay for the trip, but the client can?
BIRNBAUM: That's right. In fact, you don't really find many lobbyists who want to pay for these trips. They want their clients to pay for it. And that would be OK, as long as it's a real bona-fide trip for educational purposes.
HUME: OK, all right.
BIRNBAUM: You just can't go golfing, you know. You just can't go golfing.
HUME: All right. But if you go — let's assume, for example, that the auto industry or an auto company is sponsoring a big meeting and discussion somewhere like Hawaii that has to do with the latest technology, and the regulator issues that are associated with it, and legislation that might be needed or not needed or whatever, that part's OK?
HUME: And if, in the afternoons, there's plenty of time to play golf and have luaus, that's OK?
BIRNBAUM: That's fine.
HUME: Right. And then can your family travel along, too?
BIRNBAUM: One of your relatives can...
HUME: So your wife can go, or your son, right. And what about members of your staff?
BIRNBAUM: Staffers can go...
HUME: That's all OK?
BIRNBAUM: That's perfectly fine.
HUME: But if the person who representing that organization in Washington and is registered to do so were to pay for it, even though if the money was originally charged back to the auto company, that's not OK?
BIRNBAUM: Right. You get in as much trouble as Tom DeLay has been, at least in the printed press lately.
HUME: Now, what do we know about the numbers of people from both parties who have taken these trips?
BIRNBAUM: Well, that was a study by the Medill News Service and the association that it works with that showed that Democrats actually have more trips than Republicans over the last four-and-a-half years. Here are the numbers, Brit.
Democrats had 2,700 trips. Republicans just about 2,100.
HUME: And we're talking about $7 million and change versus $6 million in change?
BIRNBAUM: That's right. Over four-and-a-half years.
HUME: So this really is true, that a lot of people do it in both parties?
BIRNBAUM: It's as common as rain here in Washington, except it's not raining here. It happens to be raining mostly in warm places, like Florida and Hawaii.
HUME: Got you, Jeff. Thanks a million.
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