WASHINGTON – Congressional Democratics and some members of the media pounced on President Bush Thursday after an interview with FOX News Wednesday in which he said that he hopes former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay returns to his post.
DeLay was indicted in September on charges that he violated campaign finance laws in Texas. Bush told FOX News' Brit Hume in an exclusive interview Wednesday that he believes DeLay is innocent and hopes he returns to lead the House Republican Caucus.
Click in the video box to the right to watch a report by FOX News' Major Garrett.
"I don’t know whether I can expect that. I hope that he will, 'cause I like him, and plus, when he’s over there, we get our votes through the House," Bush said.
In response Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid and Sen. Charles Schumer of New York joined a chorus of Democrats who accused Bush of recklessly prejudging DeLay's campaign finance case.
"The president of the United States announced that the jury need not assemble in Texas, that Tom DeLay is innocent," Reid of Nevada said. "To have someone of his stature that is the president of the United States prejudge the facts on a case is something I've never heard of before. And here is a president who believes in law and order?"
In the interview, Bush declined to discuss Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle, who has been accused of indicting DeLay for political reasons. But Bush offered his opinion of DeLay's legal status.
"I want this trial to be conducted as fairly as possible. And the more politics that are in it, the less likely it's going to be fair," Bush said. Asked if he thinks DeLay is innocent, Bush responded; "Yes, I do."
White House officials have refused to comment on the ongoing CIA leak probe that focuses on the release of operative Valerie Plame's name, and aides won't discuss this week's statement from columnist Robert Novak, who first outed Plame in the press, that he is "confident" the president knows who leaked Plame's identity.
"If the president can comment on an ongoing investigation relevant to Mr. DeLay, he can comment on an ongoing investigation relevant to the Plame affair," Schumer, D-N.Y., said.
Presidential spokesman Scott McClellan said the White House policy will be to continue to say nothing about the ongoing Plame investigation. During Thursday's daily press briefing, he then tried to explain the difference with DeLay.
"We've put a policy in place regarding this [Plame] investigation ... We don't typically tend to get into discussing legal matters of that nature. But in this instance, the president chose to respond to" the DeLay question, McClellan said. "Call it presidential prerogative."
In the arena of prejudging DeLay's case, Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean appeared to convict DeLay even before a single indictment had been issued. In a May speech to Massachusetts Democrats in Boston, Dean said DeLay "ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence."
Though often railing against what she says is a Republican "culture of corruption," House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said Thursday that she too considers DeLay innocent until proven guilty. That didn't mean she doesn't want to hear more from the president about the Plame case.
"I don't know what the president knows, and it would be interesting to know what the president knows about Mr. DeLay, what he knows about the Plame case, what he knows about who leaks and the rest. The president seems to becoming an expert on these subjects," she said.