WASHINGTON – U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay (search), indicted twice in Texas and forced to step down as House majority leader, has responded by shedding his media aversion and taking to the airwaves.
The powerful Republican — known as "The Hammer" for his arm-twisting in Congress — has portrayed himself as political prey during regular appearances on conservative radio and television programs.
He has proclaimed his innocence, lampooned Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle (search) and accused a Democratic group of pressuring Earle to indthis kind of thing is going to happen," he said on a Houston radio show Monday, the day he was indicted on the money laundering charge. "It's part of the fight. I know Democrats hate me and they hate what I believe in and they hate the amazing things we've been able to accomplish ever since we've been in the majority."
Another grand jury indicted DeLay Sept. 28 on a charge of conspiracy, but questions have been raised about whether the law under which he was indicted was in effect at the time.
The money laundering indictment claims DeLay's political fundraising committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, accepted corporate contributions and then sent $190,000 to the Republican National Committee with a list of seven Texas state House candidates who should receive contributions and how much each should get. The committee then allegedly issued checks to the candidates for a total of $190,000, but DeLay's lawyer says the national party actually sent more than that.
Prosecutors have argued that was a violation of the state's ban on the use of corporate money in local election campaigns.
The money swap is alleged to have been part of a scheme by DeLay and two associates — Jim Ellis and John Colyandro — for a Republican takeover of the Texas House and the U.S. House.
Since his first indictment, DeLay had done about 20 radio and television shows between Sept. 28 and Friday, mostly with conservative talk show hosts but also on MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews and CNN's Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer.
Kathleen Jamison (search), director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, said DeLay has adopted a standard public relations strategy of proclaiming innocence and shoring up his base.
"If you are Tom DeLay, you don't want your constituency to believe the indictments," Jamison said. "You are reassuring them that this is bogus and you are innocent and you are being hunted by people with partisan objectives."
She said DeLay is helped in his strategy by the larger presence of conservative talk radio, where listeners are sympathetic.
"Historically when people on your side decide you need to go, you go," she said. "At that point, you can't argue you are innocent."
DeLay hasn't been known for media openness. He's not one to linger long in Capitol hallways while reporters chat him up. And he isn't a regular on the Sunday news show circuit, although he does do some conservative television.
But that's been changing. Immediately after he was first indicted, he held a briefing with reporters.
DeLay's media machine kicked into gear the same way last year after he was admonished by the House Ethics Committee on a complaint brought by former U.S. Rep. Chris Bell (search), D-Houston.
The ethics committee found he created an appearance of impropriety by meeting with members of an energy company while legislation they were interested was pending. DeLay also was accused of offering to back the campaign of a lawmaker's son in exchange for his vote for the Medicare bill and using the Federal Aviation Administration to track down Texas state Democratic legislators who had fled to Oklahoma to prevent a quorum on a redistricting bill DeLay backed.
DeLay, fellow Republican lawmakers and his supporters claimed victory, saying the committee exonerated him, even though the committee had admonished DeLay and warned him in a letter to "temper your future actions."
DeLay continues to say he was exonerated.