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DeLay Under Fire
Aired April 6, 2005 - 16:30 ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
ANNOUNCER: CROSSFIRE. On the left, Paul Begala; on the right, Joe Watkins.
In the CROSSFIRE: more heat on one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress, questions over payments to Tom DeLay's family and concerns over another DeLay trip. The House Republican leader says they are seedy attempts to make him look bad.
President Bush, his father and former President Clinton travel to Rome to honor the pope. Former President Jimmy Carter isn't going. Was he snubbed by the president?
And how Congress spends your money. The "Congressional Pig Book" is out. You won't believe what has been included in the pork barrel this year.
Today on CROSSFIRE.
ANNOUNCER: Live from the George Washington University, Paul Begala and Joe Watkins.
JOE WATKINS, GUEST CO-HOST: Welcome to CROSSFIRE.
There's more evidence today that President Bush's foreign policies are bearing fruit, progress on the road to democracy in Iraq as they name a president, and Ukraine's president addresses a joint meeting of Congress.
PAUL BEGALA, CO-HOST: Unfortunately, for President Bush, that is, his experiment in democracy here at home not going very well at all. His approval rating is near an all-time low. And his buddy House Republican Leader Tom DeLay is ensnared in multiple ethical scandals, which is where we begin, the best little political briefing in television, our CROSSFIRE "Political Alert."
The stench of the scum that oozes from every pore of Tom DeLay is beginning to overwhelm. "The New York Times" reports today that Mr. DeLay's wife and daughter have been paid $500,000 by DeLay's political action committee and campaign. Now, look, lord knows Bill Clinton's wife did a lot of political work for him, but we never paid her a nickel, much less a half-a-million dollars. And you know why? Because it's inappropriate.
And today's "Washington Post" reports today that yet another DeLay junket is raising ethical questions. This time, DeLay went to Russia courtesy of business interests lobbying the Russian government. DeLay had reported that the trip was paid by a charity. Apparently, that's not the case. The real money reportedly came from a shadowy Bahamas-based company which hired notorious Republican dirtbag Jack Abramoff as its lobbyist.
It seems the man once known as "Hot Tub Tom" is in some very hot water, indeed.
BEGALA: Good luck defending this guy, Joe.
WATKINS: No, no, no. You know what? The only thing that Tom DeLay is guilty of is being one of the most effective conservative Republican legislators we have. He has done a great job.
WATKINS: He absolutely has. And because he's so outspoken in this country, he's being beaten up, because, you know, in this country, you're innocent until proven guilty.
BEGALA: You are outspoken, you're conservative and you are highly ethical. It is possible to be conservative and ethical, Joe Watkins, my example.
BEGALA: It is possible to be conservative and a dirtbag, Tom DeLay, my example.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BEGALA: I mean, the two don't have to go together.
WATKINS: There are two good examples of President Bush's policy to spread democracy bearing fruit today.
Ukraine's president spoke to both houses of Congress. Viktor Yushchenko was elected despite a near fatal poisoning. He asked American lawmakers for help to keep his country on the path of democracy. And he thanked the U.S. for standing behind his efforts to replace the Russian-backed government that was in control.
Meanwhile, Iraq's National Assembly reached a compromise to choose a new president. The selection of Kurdish leader Jalal Talabani is a major step toward Iraq putting a government in place. As part of the deal, both a Sunni and a Shiite were chosen as vice presidents. You know what the best part is? Former strongman Saddam Hussein was forced to watch the proceedings on TV.
BEGALA: Well, let me join in welcoming President Yushchenko to America.
WATKINS: Yes. Yes.
BEGALA: He spoke to a joint session.
Now, you mentioned that he was poisoned.
WATKINS: Yes, he was, yes.
BEGALA: A lot of people believe that he was poisoned by supporters of Vladimir Putin, who is the president of Russia, who our president met with and said, I stared into his eyes and looked into his soul. And he's a good man.
Now, Putin is a former KGB apparatchik. He's a hack and a thug. And why is our president endorsing someone who may have tried to poison Mr. Yushchenko? Why does Mr. Bush like Pooty Poot, as he calls him, so much?
WATKINS: Well, that's all hearsay, of course.
WATKINS: We know that Yushchenko was nearly fatally poisoned, but we don't know who did it.
BEGALA: Well, I'd like to get to the bottom of that one day. And maybe we will.
Well, on another topic, I love HBO. And here's why. It airs brilliant and edgy shows like Larry David's "Curb Your Enthusiasm," the funniest show in the history of television. And how about the mafia drama "The Sopranos" or the groundbreaking western "Deadwood"?
Well, the ayatollahs of the Republican Party don't like HBO as much, I guess. They are threatening to censor those and other cable shows. President Bush's FCC chair, Kevin Martin, is contemplation legislation to regulate content on cable.
And right-wing nut job Congressman James Sensenbrenner is threatening criminal prosecution. Now, look, I have what my wife calls a potty mouth.
BEGALA: But I do, Joe. But I never curse on this program. Look, it's 4:30 in the afternoon Eastern time on basic cable. Kids could be watching. But, in the evening, on a premium channel, that seems to be the right time and place to let loose a few four- letter words, if you feel like it. And, besides, if we're going to start locking people up for dropping the F-bomb in inappropriate settings, can we start with Dick "Go F. yourself" Cheney?
BEGALA: It is so hypocritical.
WATKINS: Well, I like Dick Cheney and I like HBO. As a matter of fact, I really like the show by Bill Maher, you know the one, "Real Time," on HBO? I think it's a great show.
BEGALA: Good for you.
WATKINS: A lot of good shows. And a lot of Republicans love HBO.
BEGALA: Well, that's good. Now, we're self-interested. We're cable. By the way, HBO is owned by the same heartless conglomerate that owns CNN.
BEGALA: So, it's not like I'm flacking for them, though, but the audience should know it's the same corporation.
BEGALA: But, yes, I don't like the government regulating speech that way.
WATKINS: Yes. Yes. Yes.
Dr. Tom Coburn likes his work and wants to keep doing it. But that means he's breaking the rules of his other job. He's also U.S. Senator Tom Coburn. And the Senate rules says members can't earn outside income from their professions or businesses after they've been sworn in.
Coburn is challenging the ethics rules, asking for a waiver that would allow him to keep going home during breaks and taking care of his pregnant patients and delivering babies. During the six years he was in the House of Representatives, Coburn got a waiver to continue his medical practice. Critics insist the Senate is a full-time job, but the doctor has said his medical ethics supersedes Senate ethics and he can't abandon his patients.
I agree with him. He should be allowed to continue deliver those babies. What a great...
(CROSSTALK) BEGALA: Interesting case. The rule, I think inappropriately, is being applied to Tom Coburn. I think you are right about Dr. Coburn, Senator Coburn now.
It was a good rule, because it's designed to keep lawyers, of which I am one, from getting special deals and being corrupted.
BEGALA: They -- you can't practice law and be a senator at the same time.
WATKINS: I agree.
BEGALA: You ought to be able to practice medicine or at least be a gynecologist, OB/GYN, like Dr. Coburn, and deliver babies. So, good for you for raising it. And I hope Dr. Coburn persuades his Republican colleagues to give him a waiver on this. I think it would be a good thing.
WATKINS: Yes, me, too, me, too.
BEGALA: Yes, well, it's a rare moment of agreement, Joe. It won't happen again, though.
BEGALA: Next, he serves as the Republican leader in the House of Representatives, even though he's been cited and sanctioned more by the bipartisan Ethics Committee than any other current congressman. Is Tom DeLay a corrupt congressman or the victim of a vast left-wing conspiracy? We'll debate that next.
And then, later, if you thought Republicans were against wasteful government, think again. We'll have some of the more outrageous examples of congressional pork ahead in the CROSSFIRE.
ANNOUNCER: Join Carville, Begala and Novak in the CROSSFIRE. For free tickets to CROSSFIRE at the George Washington University, call 202-994-8CNN or visit our Web site. Now you can step into the CROSSFIRE.
BEGALA: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
After being cited three times by the Ethics Committee in the past, Tom DeLay is facing new ethical allegations. His political allies are being investigated by a Texas grand jury. His lobbyist- paid junkets are on the front page of the papers. And now we learn his wife and daughter have been paid half-a-million dollars by his political machine.
Are Republican following a corrupt leader or are Democrats trying to bring down a conservative powerhouse?
Today in the CROSSFIRE, former Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock. She's also a former director of research and strategic planning for the Republican National Committee. And Steve McMahon, he's a Democratic strategist and current and former, both, media adviser for Governor Howard Dean, now the chairman of the Democratic Party.
BEGALA: Good to see you both.
Barbara, let's just catch our audience up. Here's last year's ethical charges against Tom DeLay, the three times he was sanctioned by the Ethics Committee, more than any member of Congress, which is pretty impressive, because if you are the scummiest member of Congress, it's like being the tallest guy on the Los Angeles Lakers. I mean, it's a big challenge. Here's what he has done.
BARBARA COMSTOCK, FORMER JUSTICE DEPARTMENT SPOKESPERSON: He has never been found to have violated any House rules. Those were letters of...
BEGALA: Well, actually, these were admonishments from the House Ethics Committee.
COMSTOCK: But there's never been any -- unlike other members who have been cited for violating rules, such as Chris Bell, who was the person who filed the charges against Tom DeLay.
BEGALA: He actually did violate several House rules. He was admonished for his behavior on the floor of the House during the Medicare vote, when he strong-armed a Republican congressman with threats.
COMSTOCK: That was -- they did not open an investigation. That was a situation where they said...
BEGALA: He was already admonished. He was admonished for raising money from a company with an interest...
COMSTOCK: They did not open an investigation, because there were no rules violated. They just wrote a letter about that.
BEGALA: He was cited three different times by a committee controlled by the Republicans. I'm trying to even get through the list and you won't let me get through the list.
BEGALA: He was admonished for raising money from a company with an interest in pending legislation. He was admonished for having his staff use the Homeland Security Department to spy on Democrats.
This guy is a real dirtbag. Why is such a great party really in many ways following such a corrupt leader?
COMSTOCK: Well, as the members pointed out today in the Republican Conference, they understand that this is a political attack. The Democrats are using this as a fund-raising effort. I mean, you raised that his family is on the -- works on his PAC. That is something that was first established when Jesse Jackson Jr. went over to the FEC and said, I want to know if I can hire my wife.
That's a rule that is legal. Dozens of members do that. I mean, you Howard Dean right now, as Steve knows, his brother is running his PAC. This is common in the political world.
BEGALA: Let me press the point on the Ethics Committee, though. The Ethics Committee...
COMSTOCK: You are reporting it as if this is something that doesn't happen every day in politics.
BEGALA: The Ethics Committee has three different times...
COMSTOCK: Those of us who have family members, things happen, right, Steve?
COMSTOCK: Steve's brother is involved in the business, too.
BEGALA: Well, OK, if we want to get into that, look, I worked for a politician named Bill Clinton. His wife was fairly good at politics, actually. She wasn't bad. And she worked her heart out on that campaign. She never got a nickel.
BEGALA: Why? Because Texas, for example, is a community property state. Anything paid to Mrs. DeLay is owned by Mr. DeLay, too. And you could certainly argue that money is being funneled straight to Tom DeLay's pocket from these special interests, can't you?
COMSTOCK: Paul, you can to Senator Corzine, who, I think one of his family members was on the payroll.
BEGALA: So everybody does it is now the Republican defense to DeLay's crookedness.
COMSTOCK: No. I'm saying it is a legal rule. And when people want to be involved in their family's campaigns, this is legal and it's something...
BEGALA: What would you have said if we had paid Hillary a half- a-million dollars, Barbara?
COMSTOCK: If you are talking about taxpayer money...
BEGALA: You would have had a cow.
COMSTOCK: This is not taxpayer money.
BEGALA: You would have had a cow bigger than a county fair right here.
STEVE MCMAHON, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think you stumped her. I think you stumped her on that one.
COMSTOCK: No. I said, if Democrats would like to use their own money to pay Hillary, fine. This is -- we're not talking about taxpayer -- we're talking about PAC money from Tom's old PAC that he goes out and his supporters put that PAC money. And they can hire whoever they want. And that's why Jon Corzine does it.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
COMSTOCK: Barbara Boxer pays her son.
BEGALA: Everybody else.
WATKINS: Steve, you know, the question for me is, what crime has Tom DeLay committed? What has he broken?
For instance, Nancy Pelosi, she's the lead person on the Democratic side in the House. And a story just came out saying that one of her staff aides, that Nancy Pelosi helped raise all this money for this group, then the group gives money to her PAC, and then, likewise, one of her staffers ends up going on a nice trip to Spain courtesy of somebody for about -- to the tune of $4,000.
Now, is this something that ought to be investigated? I don't think so. I mean, but what ends up happening is, is that, when have you this kind of partisan atmosphere, this mean-spirited partisan atmosphere because people are successful, as Tom DeLay has been successful as the lead Republican in the House, this is what you get. Now, do you think this is anything other than a witch-hunt?
MCMAHON: Well, listen, I don't know if it's a witch-hunt or not. But the Ethics Committee ought to be able to meet and consider whether or not it's a witch-hunt. They ought to be able to investigate it.
But the Republicans so far have made every effort to make sure that doesn't happen.
WATKINS: I mean, should Nancy Pelosi now be investigated? Her person has come on the air and said, we have done nothing wrong. We haven't broken any rules. Everything is fine.
MCMAHON: If somebody broke the law, whether it's Nancy Pelosi or Tom DeLay or a member of their staff, yes, they should be investigated.
MCMAHON: If somebody had a lobbyist pay for a junket to another country, a $60,000 golf trip, where -- and -- and in the case of the one that was reported today, there were -- the lobbyists were actually present on the trip, the defense that the DeLay people are offering -- and it may be true -- is that Tom DeLay isn't smart enough to connect the dots and figure out who is paying for this.
But, if that's the case, then the people of Texas ought to wonder what he is doing running the Congress of the United States.
WATKINS: Well, what about if -- if the staffer for Nancy Pelosi takes a junket to Spain, to beautiful Spain, and spends nine days in Spain? Was that a violation...
MCMAHON: If a law was broken, if a lobbyist paid for the trip, it should be investigated. And if a law was broken, they should be held accountable. It's the same thing that...
WATKINS: I think it's small. I think this is small-minded.
MCMAHON: It doesn't matter. Laws are laws.
WATKINS: I think this doesn't do the business of the people.
MCMAHON: You know what? Perjury was small, too. Perjury about sex was small. But the Republicans were very insistent upon impeaching the president of the United States.
Now Tom DeLay may have had lobbyists pay for his trip. I'm not saying he did. (CROSSTALK)
MCMAHON: There's an accusation that he did. It should be investigated. If a law was broken, he or anybody who broke the law should be held accountable, just as the Republicans wanted to hold President Clinton accountable for lying about sex.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
BEGALA: Barbara, there is no doubt that, whether or not Tom DeLay broke the law, we'll leave that to the grand jury that's investigating his associates. But there is no doubt that he's hurting your party.
COMSTOCK: Tom DeLay is not part of that case at all. So you're talking about grand juries and Tom DeLay in the same sentence...
BEGALA: There's a grand jury investigating. It has already indicted three of Mr. DeLay's close associates. And we'll see where that comes out. I have no idea.
But I do know politics. And it's hurting him politically. There's a new ad, actually, that the Campaign For America's Future is running in districts where I think Republicans are going to lose, because they are following a corrupt leader.
Here is Tom DeLay dragging his party down. Take a look at this ad. Pretty good.
(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP, AD)
NARRATOR: Tom DeLay can't wash his hands of corruption by involving Congress in one family's personal tragedy. But Congress can certainly wash its hands of Tom DeLay.
(END VIDEO CLIP)
BEGALA: Pretty good point, isn't it?
COMSTOCK: Paul, you know, I was on a show last night with one of the people who was responsible that ad. And he pointed out he didn't focus-group that ad. That happened last year. And they didn't because it's a stupid ad. And there's nothing true in it.
BEGALA: ... focus-group the ad?
COMSTOCK: No, but it's not going to work for you. And it's dumb, because you guys have been putting -- like last year -- I want to advertise my friend, "The Vast" -- Byron York's book "The Vast Left-Wing Conspiracy." (LAUGHTER)
BEGALA: Oh, it's vast.
COMSTOCK: You guys put -- you know, $70 million came from people like George Soros and Steve Bing and all these guys who really wanted to run really bad ads like that that people rejected, because they know it's dirty politics. It doesn't work. And these ads aren't true. It's not working.
BEGALA: I know the left wing. Tell me about the right wing. Are Christian conservatives proud of a man who takes luxury junkets from gambling interests?
COMSTOCK: Every year, there...
BEGALA: Is that what Christian conservatives want their leaders doing, hanging out with gambling lobbyists?
COMSTOCK: No. Paul, every year, dozens of members and staff go on trips paid for by organizations.
BEGALA: By dirtbags, by corporate dirtbags. They run the Congress under the Republicans, yes.
COMSTOCK: People like Jim McDermott, who went on one of the same trips that Tom DeLay is being attacked for. A Nancy Pelosi staffer went on one of the same trips that your folks are attacking.
BEGALA: ... Nancy Pelosi.
COMSTOCK: They all go on trips. And they were told who they were paid...
WATKINS: When our guests return, are some people making too much out of -- out of the fact former President Jimmy Carter wasn't included in the U.S. delegation attending Pope John Paul II's funeral?
And, right after the break, the latest on what may have caused the crash of a coalition helicopter in Afghanistan, killing at least 16.
WOLF BLITZER, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Wolf Blitzer in Washington.
Coming up at the top of the hour, President Bush arrives in Rome for the funeral of Pope John Paul II. He and his delegation have just paid their respects. Bad weather is blamed for the crash of a U.S. military helicopter in Afghanistan. At least 16 people are dead. We'll have a live report from the Pentagon.
And Monaco mourns Prince Rainier. Why the prince and his family attracted so much attention for so many years.
All those stories, much more, only minutes away on "WOLF BLITZER REPORTS."
Now back to CROSSFIRE.
WATKINS: Welcome back to CROSSFIRE.
President Bush is leading the U.S. delegation to the funeral of Pope John Paul II, the first time an American president has attended the funeral of a pope. Former Presidents Bill Clinton and George Herbert Walker Bush are also there. But Former President Jimmy Carter isn't and he wanted to go. So, why didn't he make the trip?
Still in the CROSSFIRE, Democratic strategist Steve McMahon and former Justice Department spokeswoman Barbara Comstock.
BEGALA: Barbara, this will surprise you. I think it's wonderful that our president is leading this delegation. He looked terrific. The first lady looked wonderful, our secretary of state and two former presidents. This is one of the better things our president has done. He broke with tradition. And I'm glad he did.
So, I'm not in a position to criticize him for...
COMSTOCK: And he's bringing Bill Clinton.
BEGALA: And his father, the former President Bush. So, I'm not in any position to criticize him for whether President Carter comes or not.
But I'm interested, to come back to what we were talking about a moment ago with Tom DeLay, what really started all this, I think, was the Terri Schiavo case.
BEGALA: Well, because what am I going to do, sit here for half- an-hour and praise Bush? That's about as -- that's about as gracious as it is going to get.
WATKINS: I like that. I like that. That's a good thing.
COMSTOCK: ... talk about the pope. We've got three Catholics here.
BEGALA: Well, let's talk about religion. Yes, I'm a Catholic. Congressman DeLay is not. COMSTOCK: We can all agree on...
BEGALA: Congressman DeLay is not. And he's my congressman, by the way. I grew up in that district. And people who know him say he has a deep and abiding faith.
But -- you know, I think he's off his rocker. And here's why.
BEGALA: He told -- he told the Family Research Council, a conservative organization -- this is a direct quote from Congressman DeLay -- "One thing that God has brought to us is Terri Schiavo to help elevate the visibility of what is going on in America. This is exactly the issue going on in America of attacks against the conservative movement, against me and against many others."
Do you believe the God almighty struck down Terri Schiavo to raise issues of Tom DeLay's ethics? What, is he nuts?
COMSTOCK: Well, what Tom was talking about and what the unanimous Senate and half of the Democrats did, because they wanted to help a family and parents who were very troubled by their daughter not being able to be fed. That was the only thing that was going on there. And that's why you had...
BEGALA: But God struck her down to raise...
MCMAHON: ... the good lord part of the great vast left-wing conspiracy.
MCMAHON: Isn't that what has just happened here?
COMSTOCK: That's right. They are all coming over. That's right.
WATKINS: Well, Steve, talking about conspiracies...
COMSTOCK: Byron's book, we want everyone to see it.
BEGALA: Are you like the editor?
COMSTOCK: No, it's a great book. I just had to...
WATKINS: Talk about conspiracies. I mean, some people are trying to make the fact that Jimmy Carter didn't attend the -- didn't make the trip, they're trying to make it into some kind of a conspiracy, that, somehow or another, there was some kind of underhanded stuff and that Carter got booted from the trip.
But isn't it really just a matter of space? I mean, after all, the president and his wife and the two former presidents and the secretary of state, they only had room for five. And aren't those a good five to have go?
MCMAHON: Have you ever seen Air Force One? It's about as big...
MCMAHON: It's about as big as a football field. You can put 300 people in there. And they could toss a ball around.
WATKINS: But the -- no, the Vatican said that we were just allowed five people. And it wasn't the president saying, I want to take five with me or four with me. The Vatican said five can come. Five may come and represent the United States.
COMSTOCK: I think, if Bill Clinton had a vote, maybe he didn't want Carter there. That's what happened.
MCMAHON: I'm guessing. I'm guessing now.
MCMAHON: This is just a guess.
MCMAHON: That if Jimmy Carter was able to hitch a ride on Air Force One, they would have been able to fit him in.
MCMAHON: And if he showed up at the Vatican, I'm guessing they might have let him in. What do you think?
WATKINS: Maybe if he supplied the peanuts. Maybe.
BEGALA: I have seen some reporting, though, that former President Carter and former first lady Rosalynn Carter have said that they don't have an issue or problem with how President Bush...
COMSTOCK: Well, last time, when he was president and a pope died, he sent his mother. He didn't go himself. And I think, actually, you know, we were talking about this. I think, if Bill Clinton had to be stuck on the plane with Jimmy Carter, he doesn't necessarily care for that either. So, maybe the former presidents took a vote. I don't know.
BEGALA: Oh. No. No.
MCMAHON: Can we go back to Tom DeLay?
MCMAHON: Paul Begala, you know, is from Tom DeLay's district. And anybody at home who thinks Paul Begala should return home and run against Tom DeLay, please contact him at CNN.
MCMAHON: Send $25 or $50.
COMSTOCK: We'll enjoy that one, Paul.
BEGALA: Thank you, Barbara Comstock, formerly with the Republican National Committee. Thank you very much, Steve Demo -- Steve Democrat -- Steve McMahon...
BEGALA: ... with the Democratic Party. Thank you both...
COMSTOCK: With all those family members...
BEGALA: ... very much.
Well, you know, they say pork is the other white meat, but it's also a way of life for those of us here in Washington. We'll tell you about some of the stranger things Congress is spending your money on in the pork barrel report next.
WATKINS: There's nearly 14,000 examples of questionable spending of your money in a new book. Citizens Against Government Waste says there are that many pork barrel projects listed in the latest edition of their "Congressional Pig Book."
Some of this year's items include $1.7 million for the International Fertilizer Development Center, $1.43 million for various halls of fame, including the Paper Industry Hall of Fame in Wisconsin, $350,000 for something called the Inner Harmony Foundation and Wellness Center in Scranton, Pennsylvania. And the group's La Porkaracha award goes to $25,000 for Clark County, Nevada, to help them develop a curriculum for mariachi music. Oink.
BEGALA: Twenty-five thousand for mariachi. How about $8 billion for Halliburton? That's pork. That's George W. Bush. That's what we ought to crack down on.
BEGALA: From the left, I am Paul Begala. That's it for CROSSFIRE.
WATKINS: From the right, I'm Joe Watkins. Join us again next time for another edition of CROSSFIRE.
"WOLF BLITZER REPORTS" starts right now.
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