Transcript: Rep. Tom DeLay on FNS

The following is a transcribed excerpt of "FOX News Sunday," Oct. 2, 2005.

CHRIS WALLACE, HOST: We are joined now by our exclusive guest this Sunday, Congressman Tom DeLay (search), who had to step down this week as House majority leader after being indicted on a charge of criminal conspiracy.

Congressman, welcome.

REP. TOM DELAY, R-TEXAS: Thank you, Chris.

WALLACE: Thank you for talking with us.

DELAY: Thanks for the opportunity.

WALLACE: There's a lot of talk this week from Republicans and from the media that the DeLay era, as they call it, is over, that you will never again be, perhaps, the most powerful man on Capitol Hill.

Are you done as a major force in Congress?

DELAY: Oh, I don't think so.

This is a frivolous indictment. I am indicted just for the reason to make me step aside as majority leader. This is politics at its sleaziest, and people will recognize that and see it for what it is.

And we're just — go through it. I think it will be over and be over very, very soon. And I think I will go back to be majority leader.

And at the same time, I'm still a member of Congress. I'm going to be working on the agenda and doing everything I can to make good things happen.

WALLACE: Let me ask you about the timing, because some people are saying that if this case drags on into the beginning of the next year that there are going to be a lot of hungry Republican politicians who are going to want to move up to majority leader and whip, and Tom DeLay will get shunted aside.

How quickly do you think you can beat this case?

DELAY: Well, I don't know, but my lawyers tell me that this is so frivolous, so over-the-top, so embarrassing to the judiciary that we ought to be able to get it out of here pretty quickly.

And, listen, my lawyers tell me that Ronnie Earle (search) manipulated or manufactured an indictment based upon a Texas statute that does not apply to me. So we'll see what happens.

WALLACE: We'll get to the details of the case in a minute, but let me ask you about your standing. House Speaker Dennis Hastert (search) told you this week that even though you had to step aside as majority leader that you will keep a prominent role in the leadership.

On a practical basis, what does that mean?

DELAY: What that means is I get to continue my partnership with the speaker. The speaker and I have been leading the House for, what, eight years now, doing some pretty amazing things, and it's because we get along together. We think the same. I mean, we are simpatico, if you will.

WALLACE: When you say continue your partnership, does that mean — will you keep...

DELAY: Our personal partnership and our professional partnership.

WALLACE: Will you continue to raise millions of dollars?

DELAY: Absolutely.

WALLACE: Will you continue to help set strategy and push party discipline on the House floor?

DELAY: I will advise the speaker, and I will work on the agenda. We have a very ambitious agenda that we need to get through in the next eight months.

We need to do something about gas prices, and we start that next week. We need to cut spending, reform entitlements, provide for border security, show people that we can enforce our immigration laws, and cut taxes.

We want to do that all in the next eight weeks, and so we have to really work hard, and the speaker wants me to continue to work on that.

WALLACE: So you're going to continue to help run the show in the House even from the wings?

DELAY: I wouldn't call it "run the show." I call it working together to get our agenda done, just like we've done for the last 11 years.

WALLACE: OK, let's talk about the criminal charge against you. And we put together a graphic, and let's put it up on the screen, that may help.

Here's a graphic that shows the allegation, that TRMPAC (search), a Texas political action committee that you set up, raised corporate funds, which are barred in Texas, for state races. Then TRMPAC sent a check, the one we see there, for $190,000, including corporate money, to an arm of the Republican National Committee.

Along with the check, one of the people who ran TRMPAC allegedly sent a list of seven Texas Republican candidates, and they received contributions from another account of the Republican National Committee.

Before we get into your involvement, did all that happen?

DELAY: I don't know if it happened or not, the way you said it. The way I've read it, probably so, but let me tell you, this is an open and transparent process. Both Democrats and Republicans do it almost every day during the election season. And in our case, it's Republican groups working with each other to help elect Republicans.

It is legal in Texas to raise corporate funds to pay for administrative purposes. That's what TRMPAC did — legal. They had money left over and wanted that money to go legally to other candidates, so they send it to the Republican National State Elections Committee, who then takes that money legally raised and sends it out to candidates in 26 states that can take that kind of money.


DELAY: On the other hand — let me finish. This is very important.

And that's one track. The other track is the RNSEC was already sending money to candidates in Texas. They knew who the targeted races were. You didn't have to tell them. They pick up the phone and call the state chairman and ask them where the races are.

So they send money raised from individuals to the candidates in Texas — all legal, has been legal for years. Nothing's wrong with it, and yet Ronnie Earle seems to think that he can change election law through the courts.

WALLACE: But if they sent the $190,000 check with banned corporate money, banned to go to state races, and send that along with a list of "Here are seven candidates, and give this one $20,000, give this one $10,000," isn't that, in effect, a form of money laundering, that you're taking money that's banned from Texas state races and funneling it through the Republican National Committee (search) to get it back to the Texas state candidates?

DELAY: It hasn't been proved that there was a list provided along with the check. That's what the courts are for.

WALLACE: Well, let's say there is a list.

DELAY: I can't speculate that. I'm not going to say — all I know is John Colyandro (search) and Jim Ellis (search) did everything with lawyers checking and accountants checking everything. All these organizations have lawyers watching this money to make sure that it's raised properly and legally and that it's dispensed properly and legally.

WALLACE: All right.

DELAY: Everything goes through lawyers, so you don't have an intent to commit a crime if a lawyer tells you you haven't committed a crime.

WALLACE: Let's get to the key question. How much did Tom DeLay know about this?

DELAY: As it was going on, nothing. I had nothing to do with the day-to-day operation. It was my idea to form this group. I helped to organize it. I have other things to do. I stepped away and moved on.

In two years I went to five fundraisers for them to help them raise money. They used my name in fundraising letters. I knew about this after it happened, because Jim Ellis in passing said, "Oh, by the way, we sent some money to RNSEC," and I said OK. That wasn't an approval. That was an acknowledgment that...

WALLACE: Of something that had already happened.

DELAY: Exactly.

WALLACE: OK. Let me ask you specifically. The indictment says that on or about September 13, 2002, that you entered into an agreement, in effect, a criminal conspiracy, along with Mr. Ellis and Mr. Colyandro in Travis County, Texas, the area around Austin.

Do you know where you were on or about September 13, 2002?

DELAY: No, I don't, but I wasn't in Austin, that's for sure.

WALLACE: Do you know if you talked on or about those dates with Mr. Ellis and Mr. Colyandro?

DELAY: We provided Ronnie Earle with all my schedules and proof that I — there was no way that I knew before this event happened it would happen. We proved it to him over and over again that I was nowhere near Jim Ellis and Colyandro. My call records show I didn't talk to those two men.

The first time was in, I think, October — the first time I saw Jim Ellis since that event happened was in October when he does come to a meeting, my scheduling meeting. I think that's when he, walking out of the office, said, "Oh, by the way, we sent money to RNSEC."

WALLACE: Now, let me ask you about this, because you know, I mean, it's maybe a backhanded compliment, but people have a lot of regard for you. You're called the Hammer.

People talk about this network of corporations and lobbyists that you've raised millions from and call it DeLay, Incorporated, the nickname.

DELAY: Both nicknames given to me by the press, by the way.

WALLACE: But they're pretty colorful.

Let's talk about how deeply involved you were with this TRMPAC, the political action committee.

Here's a copy of an e-mail, and let's put it up on the screen, that was sent from TRMPAC to Texas oil man Boone Pickens (search). And it says Tom DeLay agreed to help us and has been an ardent advocate for us at raising money, making phone calls, serving as a special guest at events and providing assistance with leading strategists.

Here, sir, is the e-mail. I mean, it looks like you're a lot more deeply involved than you say you were.

DELAY: This is nothing but telling their contributors what's going on, and most of this I was doing. I was...

WALLACE: Raising money.

DELAY: ... raising money, making money phone calls when necessary, letting them use my name on fundraising letters. Yeah, sure.

WALLACE: Well, here's another...

DELAY: By the way, there's nothing illegal about that.

WALLACE: No, no, no, I know. It just speaks to the question of how much you either knew or didn't know about the day-to-day operations of TRMPAC.


WALLACE: Here's another e-mail, and let's put this one up, if we can, on the screen. "DeLay will want to see a list of attendees for this event." This is dated July 26, 2002.

DELAY: I got a list of who's going to be here today. Wherever I go, it is a part of office procedure to give me a list of the people I'm going to meet. I do that every day, all day long, in thousands of meetings over a year.


DELAY: I do want to know, when I walk in a room, who's in the room.

WALLACE: All right. Let me give you one last one. This is from October 1, 2002, the period in question, that says, "I finally have the two checks from Reliant, will deliver to T.D." — I assume that's Tom DeLay — "next week probably."

So the question really is, when you're finding out who's at meetings when you're getting checks delivered to you, you're making phone calls, you're helping with strategists — it sounds like you were more than just an observer of TRMPAC.

DELAY: I want to know what was going on. My name was being used. And one of the first things I did in putting this together was insist that every decision that Colyandro made had to be made with lawyers' approvals.

Look, I'm under scrutiny and have been under scrutiny, intense scrutiny, for 10 years. I knew that people would look at this organization with my name attached to it and do exactly this. So of course we checked everything with lawyers.

In a criminal court, you have to have the intent to commit a crime. They can't find one here.


DELAY: Because if it's checked by lawyers, then it is obvious that you did not intend to commit a crime. In fact, just the opposite. You wanted to make sure nothing was wrong.

WALLACE: Well, all right. That brings us to the question of the case against you. And there's been a lot of criticism from supporters and opponents of you that the indictment that Ronnie Earle has presented so far is pretty thin, doesn't state a lot of facts on it.

DELAY: Doesn't state any facts on it.

WALLACE: There's some speculation that Ronnie Earle, the prosecutor in this case, has gotten someone to flip on you, that someone inside TRMPAC or someone inside the corporations or someone inside the Republican Party will say that you were involved in this.

DELAY: Maybe so, I don't know.

I do know that John Colyandro, Warren Robold and Jim Ellis are the finest young men I've ever seen, and I think it's a travesty that this is happening to them. They are men that are committed to the cause of freedom in America. They have worked their entire lives to elect conservative Republicans because they think that's best for the country, and they did nothing wrong.

WALLACE: And if someone comes forward and testifies under oath that Tom DeLay was up to his eyeballs in this?

DELAY: Ask a lawyer that question. I don't know what happens.

WALLACE: But is it a truth or is it a lie?

DELAY: It's a lie.

WALLACE: No way that somebody could...

DELAY: I did nothing wrong. I did nothing wrong. I broke no laws. I broke no rules of the House. Chris, this has been going on for 10 years. The Democrats announced and put it on their Web site that they were going to take me down.

In 1993, I had ethics charges filed against me — dismissed. 1995, I had ethics charges filed against me — dismissed. I had a racketeering suit filed against me by the Democrat Campaign Committee. It was dismissed. More ethics charges came, and they were dismissed.

I have never been found to have broken any rules of the House, nor any law.

WALLACE: All right.

DELAY: But it's been going on for 10 years, and now this.

WALLACE: All right.

We have to take a break here. But when we come back, more with Tom DeLay. We'll explore why, for years, he has been both the most respected and the most feared man on Capitol Hill. Back in a moment.

WALLACE: And we're back with our exclusive guest this Sunday, former House majority leader Tom DeLay.

Both your friends and your enemies say that you have been a master over the years in raising millions of dollars from major lobbyists and corporations to finance a Republican majority in the House and then to push through the president's agenda.

Any apologies for the way you do business?

DELAY: Not at all. I'm just aggressive at what I do. I fight for what I believe in. And I work very, very hard to make things happen. I'm certainly not apologetic of that.

WALLACE: But, you know, there are two ways of looking at what you said. You went through a litany at the end of the last segment of all the charges that have been brought against you, and some would say, well, that just shows how much Democrats fear him and it's a witch hunt. The others would say it shows that he constantly is going up to, if not over, the ethical line.

Over the years you've had repeated run-ins with the House Ethics Committee we could find going back to 1997. In 2004, you were admonished for three separate offenses, including offering to back the campaign of a Republican congressman's son if he would vote in favor of the prescription drug benefit.

Now, the Ethics Committee — not Ronnie Earle, but the Ethics Committee — is bipartisan, evenly divided, between Republicans and Democrats. Why do they keep agreeing that you have gone over the line?

DELAY: First of all, they didn't. Admonishments are not sanctions handed out for violating the rules of the House. That's the opinion of the committee as to what I've been doing.

WALLACE: Well, it's not a compliment, Congressman.

DELAY: It's not a sanction. I have not broken the rules of the House in the last 10 years. I have understood that all these years I am under incredible scrutiny and, therefore, even if I did want to break the rules, it would be dumb of me to do so, but I don't. I tried to live within the spirit of the law.

I am creative in how I do things, and I make things happen. But everything's been dismissed that has ever been come at me.

And if you really take a look at what has come at me, it is so frivolous. I mean, a racketeering suit? And do you know what they put in the suit? That I was conspiring to defeat Democrats. Guilty. I'm guilty of that. But that's not illegal.

WALLACE: You think all of these allegations, the ones that you were admonished for, are all frivolous?

DELAY: Yes. They were all dismissed by that same rules committee. I have not...

WALLACE: You mean the Ethics Committee.

DELAY: I mean the Ethics Committee, exactly.

WALLACE: Well, is an admonishment a dismissal?

DELAY: No. An admonishment's like a warning ticket. And read everything. I did not break any rules of the House, but you might want to watch this.

The Ethics Committee also, as part of its function, is to talk to you about rules and how they should be applied and those kinds of things. Frankly, I took that as constructive criticism, but it was not a sanction for violating the rules of the House.

WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about Jack Abramoff (search), a big-time lobbyist you once described as one of your closest and dearest friends. And Mr. Abramoff, in an unrelated case, now faces conspiracy and fraud charges by the federal government.

The Ethics Committee is investigating now a $70,000 trip you took to Britain in May of 2000. You stayed in fancy hotels, you went to "The Lion King," you went on a side golf trip to Scotland to play at St. Andrews.

Did you really think that Abramoff, who you say was one of your close friends and a big-time lobbyist, who was along on this trip — did you really believe he had nothing to do with paying for this trip?

DELAY: Yes, because, again, we checked everything and double- checked and had lawyers check, and — can we do it?

Look, part of my job also, and what I love doing, is being involved in international affairs. I was raised in Venezuela. I was heavily involved in the Contra movement in Central America. I was heavily involved in defending freedom in Taiwan. I stand up for Israel and I fight for Israel.

I'm involved in the conservative movement overseas, too. I went there to meet with Margaret Thatcher and other high-ranking officials talking and working with them on how the conservative party can get back into power.

Sure, I enjoy myself. Am I supposed to be limited? I can't go to the play that is right down the street? I can't play golf? Golf is the only thing I do for myself. I love golf. I can't play golf while I'm there? I can't take an afternoon off and play golf?

WALLACE: You can do all those things. The question is, can you do it if it's paid for by lobbyists?

DELAY: This was totally paid for, legally paid for by a conservative organization, and checked and double-checked. Abramoff helps this organization raise money. That's legal. They go out and they raise money. They...

WALLACE: Well, supposedly, just before this trip, they raised some money, and the money went to this...

DELAY: No, no, no...

WALLACE: ... policy center, and then suddenly you have this big trip.

DELAY: They raise money all the time. They have money, and they're involved in the conservative movement overseas. They want to see it flourish because they think it's good for those countries. And they want people like me to go over there and work with the leaders over there to help them build the conservative movement, and they pay for it.

WALLACE: Are you and Abramoff still close friends?

DELAY: Unfortunately, because of his trouble, we haven't talked. Look, we were friends, just like I am friends with many lobbyists in this town. Jack Abramoff was a friend. I have no clue what his inner workings of his business and everything else is going to — I don't ask a lobbyist to come talk to me about something and then grill them on how their operations run in town.

And people are trying to make me responsible for Jack Abramoff's actions if he's guilty, and I'm not convinced that he is.

WALLACE: A lot of people in this town — and I don't have to tell you this — think that the Republican agenda is in trouble now. You had to step down as the majority leader. Senator Frist (search), the majority leader in the Senate, is being investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission. The president's poll numbers are down. You've got billions that you're having to spend for Katrina.

Aren't Republicans going to have to scale back dramatically on their agenda over the next couple of years?

DELAY: Absolutely not. In fact, we need to be more aggressive. The way you counter this politics of personal destruction is you go and you're aggressive and you move fast and do something about the gas prices. We're doing that next week.

Do something about spending. We're cutting spending through the appropriations process. Do something about protecting our borders and enforcing illegal immigration. Do something about reforming this government and reforming entitlements.

Move aggressively and boldly with our principles; that's how you win.

WALLACE: What about the Republican majority in the House in 2006? Could all of these allegations — and, at this point, it is just allegations — could they gather a kind of steam where they end up hurting Republican candidates?

DELAY: Now you're going to think I'm crazy. Our opponents, the Democrats, have no agenda. They're the party of "no." They just come up here and say, "No, no, no, no, no."

The only thing they have — and they're the party of "the ends justify the means." And they have an incredible lust for power. The only way they think they can get us is to burn down that house with an ethical cloud over it, and so their only agenda is this kind of politics of personal destruction.

I will get through this. And when people see — I think they have so overreached in this indictment process, and when people see what this is really about, they will be so upset with the Democrats, you might see the biggest Republican election in a very long time in 2006, because then they have nothing.

And we're doing a bold, aggressive agenda and have destroyed their credibility with the American people. That's the makings of a very big election.

WALLACE: All right. Let's talk about credibility. Back in 1994, House Republicans ended 40 years of Democratic control in large part arguing that the Democrats were corrupt and arrogant. But now even some conservatives are saying that perhaps the Republicans are falling prey to the same thing.

I want to put up, if I can, an editorial this week in the reliably conservative Manchester Union Leader that said this: "DeLay is an embarrassment as a majority leader. His mania for power and disregard for good government reflect poorly on all Republicans."

Sir, how do you respond to conservatives who say it's time for you to go?

DELAY: Prove them wrong. Pass a bold, aggressive agenda based upon our principles. Don't look up, stay focused, make it happen. And they will hopefully write an editorial in eight weeks saying they're wrong, that the Republicans have led this nation, particularly the Republicans in the House, for the last 11 years.

Look at what we've done. I mean, people take back and look. I mean, we've cut taxes every year, every year for 11 years. You know, as good as that is, it's been 11 years since the federal government has raised taxes.

We balanced the budget, not Bill Clinton. We balanced the budget in the '90s and paid down the debt. Welfare reform — I could go on and on and on. It's because of the leadership of the Republican House that all of this is happening, and maybe the Union Leader needs to come down here and talk to people.

WALLACE: And on a personal level, Tom DeLay will be back?

DELAY: Absolutely, one way or another.

WALLACE: What does that mean, "one way or another"?

DELAY: Well, I don't know what's going to happen. What I do know is whatever happens, I think it's probably for the good. And I'm just — you know, I'm going to continue doing my job.

WALLACE: And you think you'll be back in the leadership of the Republican Party?

DELAY: Well, I hope so. I can do my job with or without the title. That doesn't concern me.

WALLACE: Congressman DeLay, we want to thank you for talking with us, answering all of our questions. You're welcome back any time, sir.

DELAY: Thank you. Thank you.