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DeLay blames partisan politics for reports alleging ethics breaches

WASHINGTON—House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, fired back at his critics Tuesday, saying that his expenses-paid trips to Scotland and Korea had been handled properly and that reports about his connections to gambling interests were full of "implication and innuendo."

DeLay, who was admonished three times last year by the House ethics committee for excessively aggressive partisan tactics, has been suffering a wave of bad publicity lately from reports about outside groups funding his trips in possible violation of House rules and his ties to scandal-ridden former associates.

Speaking at his weekly news conference in the Capitol, DeLay said he would welcome talking to the House ethics committee about it all.

"When some stories recently emerged about me and the inevitable politically motivated allegations along with them, I instructed my staff to consult the ethics committee to get to the bottom of them," said DeLay. "We want to work with the ethics committee to prove how baseless these and other allegations are."

Democrats and "good-government" groups immediately challenged House Republicans to restore rules they changed earlier this year to make it harder for the House ethics committee to investigate members.

Democrats have refused to go along with the rules changes. Because Democrats comprise half of the ethics panel—formally named the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct—the panel has not been able to operate.

House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., moved Tuesday to rebuild the ethics panel through a bipartisan task force, but Republicans killed her motion.

"Today, the Republicans dealt a blow to the ethical standards of the House by voting to declare their allegiance to the ethical standards of Tom DeLay," said Pelosi, in a sign of the escalating rhetoric, and deteriorating relationship, between the two leaders.

Asked if he was considering stepping down, DeLay laughed and blamed the "politics of personal destruction" for keeping the stories alive.

His state capital's leading newspaper, the Austin American-Statesman, called Tuesday for DeLay to be replaced as majority leader.

DeLay singled out for scorn a Washington Post story revealing that gaming interests had funded DeLay's trip to Scotland in 2000 even though the visit was sponsored by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative nonprofit group.

DeLay said he had no knowledge of the center's funding sources. He was angry that the paper linked his trip to his subsequent vote against Internet gambling. DeLay said that in the Post's "zeal to leave readers with the false impression that I did something that I did not do," it ignored his concerns about the bill's loopholes that were fixed in a later bill that passed and that DeLay supported.

Washington Post spokesman Eric Grant said he had "no response."

In another controversial incident, Delay visited Korea in 2001 and his expenses were paid by the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, which had registered as a foreign agent days before the trip. That would be illegal under House rules. DeLay said he did not know the group had registered as a foreign agent at the time.

Political insiders say there is a quiet undercurrent of concern in Republican circles about DeLay's controversies.

While there are no signs of open revolt, there are cracks in DeLay's support. Rep. Chris Shays, R-Conn., has co-sponsored a resolution with Rep. Alan Mollohan, D-W.Va., the top Democrat on the ethics panel, to restore the former ethics rules. Rep. Joel Hefley, R-Colo., also backs the resolution.

Conservatives and moderates still tend to back DeLay. Rep. John Carter, R-Texas, a former judge, said, "I have full confidence in Tom DeLay."

"I know all about the stuff in Texas," he said, referring to indictments of three DeLay associates in a fundraising investigation. "And it's all a bunch of baloney."

Rep. Peter King, R-N.Y., a sometime DeLay antagonist, said, "I don't sense that much discomfort in the conference," referring to the 232 House Republicans. As for his own view of DeLay's alleged ethical shortcomings, King said: "That stuff doesn't bother me. I have problems with DeLay, but not on that."

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(Recio reports for the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.)

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(c) 2005, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

PHOTO (from KRT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): DELAY

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