Tom DeLay- Corporate Whore

If Newt is warning DeLay about ethics, times are bad

By CRAGG HINES Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

Talking with Newt Gingrich about ethics may be like talking to Willie Sutton about bank robbery. You listen carefully to such an experienced practitioner, but you wonder: If he's so smart why did he get caught so often. ADVERTISEMENT No matter. Gingrich is currently as cautionary, if not as vocally indignant, about the House Republican leadership's slide into the muck as he is about debating "patriotic immigration" or "the myth of judicial supremacy."

As usual, Gingrich is taking the long view, not something that current House leaders such as Tom DeLay are regularly accused of doing. "Republicans in the House have to look at the reality that if we make sense as a party right now it's because we are the reform party, and anything that risks being the reform party is more dangerous for us than it is for the Democrats," Gingrich told a journalists' breakfast Tuesday sponsored by the Christian Science Monitor. "They should be very careful."

Well, of course, House Republicans are not being careful. They are profligately displaying their power, including the power to abuse the House's tenuous-at-best policing of itself. Gingrich's advice, minus some more general outcry, may be of limited effect. But Gingrich may have had a hand in stemming some of the abuses lately intended by DeLay & Co. Gingrich spoke out quickly late last year against the House Republicans' rule change to allow indicted leaders to retain their positions at least temporarily. The rule was reversed. But the rollback turned out to be a temporary expedient.

DeLay, sometimes through House Speaker Dennis Hastert, has since exacted revenge against the House Ethics Committee for repeatedly citing him. As a result of subsequent changes in House rules, it is now harder to institute an ethics complaint against a member. Hastert also replaced the fair-minded chairman of the House ethics committee, Joel Hefley, R-Colo., with a leadership stooge, Rep. Richard "Doc" Hastings, R-Wash., and replaced two of the Republicans on the panel. Two of the newly appointed members, including Rep. Lamar Smith, R-San Antonio, have been contributors to DeLay's legal defense fund.

If DeLay's message was not clear enough, Hastings fired the two long-serving senior committee staff members, who were, in effect, the panel's institutional memory. "It was terrible," Hefley told the Chronicle's Gebe Martinez of the staff firings. "Those two guys are very good, very competent professional staff. There was never a nuance of partisanship in either of them."

Gingrich made clear he thinks DeLay is on thin ice. "The Republican Party's majority comes from the Perot voters who want real reform," Gingrich said. "Anything which weakens that is difficult."

The replacement of Hefley and the staff firings are "a fait accompli," Gingrich judged. "But as they move toward the future they should be careful about understanding that to the degree that we are seen as no longer the reform party, we create space either for a third party or for people to just stay home. And both are dangerous for our majority."

For readers freshly arrived from Mars, Gingrich was the mischievous Moses who led conservative Republicans as they took control of the U.S. House in the 1994 election, for the first time in 40 years. He barely got to see the political promised land. Gingrich was House speaker (1995-1999) but was essentially run off after his party only narrowly hung on in the 1998 elections.

In his brief reign, Gingrich was assessed a $300,000 penalty for misleading the House Ethics Committee about his use of a tax-exempt organization for political purposes. He edged past other ethics skirmishes, including 22 checks bounced in the House bank scandal and a $4.5 million book advance from conservative media magnate Rupert Murdoch, which looked a touch too lucrative to be strictly a business deal. He gave it up for a sweet royalties arrangement.

Gingrich also was having an affair with a congressional aide amid one of his divorces, even as he condemned President Clinton for dalliances with a White House intern. "I'm a sinner," a well-practiced Gingrich said when questioned about moral authority. On old form, he quickly told his questioner: "And I expect you are too."

Given his own aggressively partisan background, Gingrich expressed surprise that Democrats aren't piling on more on issues such as Republican contracts with conservative commentators and the White House's admission of a pro-Republican male hooker to the press corps. "It's fair to say that in my career I would probably have found an opportunity to comment on it," Gingrich said.

As for running for president, Gingrich will be in Iowa and New Hampshire soon, but, "It strikes me as implausible." So, there's more than one thing on which Newt and I agree.

Hines is a Houston Chronicle columnist based in Washington, D.C. (

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