Nancy Pelosi is picking the wrong fight with Tom DeLay.
Last week, the Washington Post reported that DeLay had accepted a paid trip from the Korea-United States Exchange Council (KORUSEC) in 2001. KORUSEC describes itself as a “nonpartisan, not-for-profit group that provides insight on various interests.” Just days before DeLay’s trip KORUSEC had changed its financial status by registering as a foreign agent. Under the new registration members of Congress are not allowed to accept such trips.
Pelosi responded to the Post’s story by repeatedly insisting DeLay’s involvement warranted investigation by the House Ethics Committee. Meanwhile, the media coverage of KORUSEC continues to focus almost exclusively on DeLay and any possible investigation of his trip by the House Ethics Committee.
However, buried in the 20th paragraph of last Thursday’s Post reporting was acknowledgement that a Nancy Pelosi staffer had taken a comparable trip with KORUSEC in 2003. What’s more, Pelosi’s office had failed to file the required financial documentation for the trip until the Washington Post came looking for it. Other Democrats took part in KORUSEC trips as well.
Still, Pelosi continues to push for a DeLay investigation. When pressed on its merits she is short on evidence. When asked is she believes DeLay committed an ethics violation, Pelosi told the press, “I have no idea.” When a reporter reminded Pelosi that she, like any member of Congress, has the power to call for an investigation of another member, Pelosi responded, “That’s not a party leader’s job.” And finally, when questioned about Pelosi aide Eddie Charmaine Manansala and his KORUSEC trip during the summer of 2003, Pelosi asserted her belief that none of the recipients knew they were violating a congressional rule.
On this point, Pelosi likely is correct. Last Thursday, KORUSEC released a statement acknowledging, “Members of the Congress were assured by KORUSEC that these exchanges met with the approval of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as we believed the case.” In fact, at least one member of Congress, Jim McDermott, had his trip cleared through the Ethics Committee before proceeding.
No one has openly charged a rule violation was committed with the knowledge of DeLay or any of the trip’s other recipients. In addition, KORUSEC is investigating whether their status change was even required under congressional rules.
If Pelosi continues to push for an investigation of DeLay it will backfire on her and Democrats.
American Public Radio tallied expenditures for so-called “power trips.” In the reported listings, Democrats took 54 percent of such trips, spending $7,809,837 during 2,730 excursions. Nine of the top 10 spenders and the entire top five were Democrats. John Breaux led the field with $158,000 dollars spent. Robert Wexler, Gene Green, Maurice Hinchey, and Cal Dooley round out of the top five, all in the $150,000-dollar range. Jim McDermott and James Clyburn also made the top 10.
It took the Washington Post several days to acknowledge the bipartisan nature of these trips. Granted, as House Majority Leader, DeLay does deserve lead billing in coverage of the story. But to relegate mention of his Democratic counterpart Nancy Pelosi’s comparable involvement to the story’s 20th paragraph, the Washington Post made a conscious decision to shift focus of the story from all connected parties to almost exclusively on DeLay. The rest of the mainstream media has followed suit.
What’s more, Pelosi doesn’t come to the argument with a clean record. As recently as December of last year, some Republicans were pushing for an Ethics Committee investigation of Pelosi after she was fined $21,000 for collecting and distributing funds in excess of campaign-finance limits through two leadership political-action committees: PAC to the Future and Team Majority.
In order for an Ethics Committee investigation of the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council to take place, at least one Republican member of the committee must sign on. A number of Hill sources tell NRO the investigation could go forward and without controversy, but Pelosi and some Democrats are pushing for an exclusive investigation of Delay. West Virginia Democrat Alan B. Mollohan has presented a bill that would revoke rule changes made by Republicans, including the majority vote provision for ethics investigations. The Ethics Committee is the only congressional committee with an even party split. Mollohan claims to have the support of 194 fellow Democrats and one Republican, Chris Shays.
Meanwhile, DeLay and his allies are responding. A legal defense fund for DeLay has generated over $250,000 in contributions during the last few months. And the National Journal “insiders poll” of members of Congress shows a majority believe DeLay is a greater asset to Republicans than a liability. If Nancy Pelosi continues to threaten Tom DeLay with an Ethics Committee investigation over KORUSEC she will face mounting evidence against her claims and well-funded DeLay supporters ready to refute them.
–Eric Pfeiffer writes the daily “Beltway Buzz” column on NRO.