WASHINGTON – Bowing to criticism from Democratic and Republican House leaders, a congressionally chartered historical society dropped plans Monday to include imprisoned former Rep. Randy "Duke" Cunningham in a tribute to retiring members of Congress.
But despite complaints from Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., the U.S. Capitol Historical Society is keeping former Majority Leader Tom DeLay on the program for Wednesday's annual event.
So despite the group's about-face on Cunningham, Pelosi still won't attend the event or let her name be used as a co-host, her spokesman said.
"DeLay left Congress under indictment," said spokesman Brendan Daly. "The Ethics Committee said they would have investigated him if he weren't leaving."
Ronald A. Sarasin, president and chief executive of the historical society, said that DeLay is "entitled to the presumption of innocence" as he awaits trial in a state campaign finance case in Texas.
But in a letter Monday to Pelosi, Sarasin said he was wrong to have included Cunningham's name on the list for the Tribute to Retiring Members of the 109th Congress being held in the Capitol's Statuary Hall.
Cunningham, R-Calif., was sentenced in March to more than eight years in prison after pleading guilty to taking $2.4 million in bribes. Sarasin initially had defended the decision to include him and DeLay in the program, saying it wasn't up to the Capitol Historical Society to "pretend they never existed."
"The critics are right and I was wrong," Sarasin wrote Monday.
"Cunningham's name will be stricken from the list and, at the beginning of the program Wednesday evening I will explain how my actions caused this problem and will apologize."
Sarasin said that programs for the event, to which members of Congress and others are invited, will be reprinted to delete Cunningham's name. They won't be ready in time for Wednesday but will be distributed later.
House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., also had criticized plans to mention Cunningham.
"We're pleased they're removing him from the honor roll," said spokesman Ron Bonjean. "We believe that it's inappropriate to have a convicted felon on the honor roll for that event."