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Resigning DeLay: 'I'm in God's hands'

Former majority leader admits no mistakes, vows to help GOP

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Republican Rep. Tom DeLay of Texas

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Tom DeLay

(CNN) -- Embattled former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Tuesday that he will quit Congress and drop his bid for re-election.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer spoke later in the day with the Texas Republican about his decision, asking him what has changed since he said January 7, "I plan to run a very vigorous campaign, and I plan to win it."

DELAY: Well, it became quite obvious to me that this election was going to be a referendum on me and not the values and priorities of my constituents. It's going to be nasty. Millions of dollars would be spent by the Democrats to take this seat.

I have worked my entire adult life for the Republican majority and the conservative movement, and I felt like that the best course of action would be to step aside so a Republican who -- any Republican -- can take this seat. And I can take my talents elsewhere and work for the conservative movement outside the House.

BLITZER: You mean someone who is new to the business, in effect, not as experienced as you, a Republican, would have a better chance of winning that seat than Tom DeLay?

DELAY: Yes, they would.

I think I could win. But the damage that would be done not only to me personally in my career, but the damage to the district that would be done, isn't good for the district. And my constituents deserve better; they deserve a Republican.

BLITZER: Some of your critics already have come out, and you know this quite well, and they say there are other reasons in effect right now -- that the timing of your decision, coming on the heels of a couple of your former top aides pleading guilty and now cooperating with federal prosecutors in this expanding lobbying investigation involving Jack Abramoff -- that that may have had a role to play in your decision to step down.

DELAY: I made this decision before I even knew that Tony Rudy was going to plead guilty. Those [critics] are people that believe in the politics of personal destruction. They've been trying to destroy my reputation for 10 years.

They're trying to criminalize politics. The Democrats have no agenda. They have no ideas. They have no solutions. All they have is the politics of personal destruction.

There is nothing that connects me to Abramoff or any of the activities that they have. I am not a target of this investigation. I haven't even been interviewed by these investigators.

BLITZER: How do you know you're not a target of the investigation?

DELAY: The Department of Justice has told my lawyers that I am not a target.

BLITZER: They have formally told your lawyers you are not a target?

DELAY: Exactly right.

BLITZER: Because in the past, sometimes that can be conflicting. That doesn't necessarily mean you're not a target, even if they say so.

DELAY: Well, I know I'm not a target because I know I haven't done anything wrong. I've paid lawyers. They spent four months investigating me as if they were prosecuting me -- looking through everything for the 20 years I've been in Congress, and they have found nothing that is even unethical, much less illegal.

BLITZER: What about your wife?

DELAY: My wife is the same. She's an honorable woman of great integrity. She has the right to work in this country, just like anybody else. And she has the right to be paid.

BLITZER: The suggestion by federal prosecutors, these former aides of yours -- Tony Rudy and Michael Scanlon -- that there was, in their words, a far-reaching criminal operation being run out of your office when you were the House majority leader, that's a powerful accusation.

DELAY: No, that's a powerful indictment of what they were doing. And none of us ...

BLITZER: And then they pleaded guilty and they're cooperating with federal prosecutors right now.

DELAY: It has nothing to do with the people that worked in my office or us. They were doing that on their own.

You know, I have hundreds of people that have worked for me -- wonderful young people. These are two that may have done something wrong.

And a leader's office is a whirlwind of activity every day. And so you hire people and you trust them with the responsibility that you give them.

If they violate that trust, they do that on their own. It has nothing to do with our operation or the way we do things and did things in my office.

BLITZER: The normal procedure with these federal prosecutors -- as you well know, these investigations -- they go after relatively small fish to find and catch a big fish. You would obviously be a huge fish in this operation.

How worried are you that these former aides of yours might say something or provide some sort of evidence or suggestion that could further cause you grave, serious legal problems?

DELAY: I'm not worried at all. I know I haven't done anything wrong.

Wolf, I'm not stupid. The Democrats have scrutinized my operation -- every part of my operation -- for 20 years and, most particularly, in the 11 years we've been in the majority.

I would be incredibly stupid to do anything illegal, because they would find it -- even if I wanted to, and I don't.

I have lawyers check every decision that I make. If I come up with an idea, we make sure it's within the spirit of the law or in the House rules. We check everything.

BLITZER: What would you have done differently involving your relationship with the now-indicted Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist? Looking back on that relationship that you had with him, what would you have done differently given what you know right now?

DELAY: I wouldn't have done anything differently. The Jack Abramoff ...

BLITZER: You would have still gone on that trip to Scotland and played golf at St. Andrews?

DELAY: Excuse me, but those trips were vital trips. I was working with Margaret Thatcher in building a conservative movement in England. She had asked me to come over and work with conservatives in England because they had just lost an election and they wanted my advice on how to rebuild their conservative movement.

I worked very, very hard on that trip. And yes, at the end of the trip, I went and played golf. I love golf.

BLITZER: Was that a mistake?

DELAY: No.

BLITZER: Given the appearance that some might say, you know, "He's going to one of the great golf courses in the world at St. Andrews. He's playing golf and" -- what the argument is -- "on somebody else's dime."

DELAY: That's an appearance created by the national media and my detractors. There is nothing wrong. There was nothing illegal. There was nothing against the House rules in taking that trip to help build a conservative movement.

I'm involved all around the world. I've been involved in [fighting] Christian persecution in China. I'm involved in [fighting] Jewish persecution in Russia. I'm involved in supporting Israel. I'm involved in the war on terror in Indonesia and in Malaysia. I have been heavily involved in a lot of issues -- and I travel. And I also play golf.

BLITZER: But everybody makes mistakes, right? You're not perfect.

DELAY: No, I'm not perfect.

BLITZER: You've got to look back and say to yourself -- it's only normal -- "Yes, I would have done a few things differently."

DELAY: No.

BLITZER: There's nothing you would have done differently that could have avoided some of this embarrassment?

DELAY: No. This is trying to create a straw man and trying to demonize me and making me look different than I really am.

I am very involved. I have never done anything -- while I've been in elective office -- for my own personal gain. Yes, I have a hobby. It's called golf. It's the only thing I do for myself. And if people want to criticize me for playing golf after I've worked hard for seven days, then go ahead and criticize me.

I'd still -- wherever I go, I try to play golf.

BLITZER: What do you want to do next? Because a lot of your colleagues when they leave Congress, you know what they do -- they go out and become lobbyists.

DELAY: I want to continue my effort to work with the conservative movement.

I think I can bring a unifying force to the conservative movement. I want to continue to elect Republicans and grow the Republican majority, something I've worked on for 21 years.

And I'm very proud of our record of building a good conservative movement, not just here in Washington, D.C., but all over the country. I think I can do that. And I think I have the experience and the talent to accomplish some pretty amazing things.

BLITZER: Do you want to be a lobbyist?

DELAY: I don't know what the future holds for me.

I'm in God's hands, and he guides me. And whatever I can do to help this country by leading it in a conservative direction, I'm going to do.

BLITZER: There have been a lot of Republicans out there today at least privately saying, you know, it's sort of a collective sigh of relief -- Tom DeLay is stepping down, one less problem that they have to worry about, given the enormous problems the Republicans face right now.

Do you feel a sense of betrayal given the enormously important work that you did, the hard work as the majority whip and then the majority leader? You really hammered that place and got the votes you wanted for the Republicans.

DELAY: Well, that's what brought this all upon me.

We were effective in changing this country. We were effective in changing the culture of this town. We were effective in advancing the conservative movement. Some people ...

BLITZER: Is there a sense of betrayal that you feel right now?

DELAY: Some people don't want to stand up and fight for what they believe in. They would rather just sit in a job and carry on.

I am passionate about what I believe in, and I feel like I have a mandate to stand up for what I believe in, and I'm very proud of that.

BLITZER: Do you feel let down, though, a sense of betrayal at all by some of these comments that are coming out by your fellow Republicans?

DELAY: No, that's their problem. I keep focused on what I believe in and standing up for what I believe in.

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