Russert better prepared than Matthews to refute DeLay's ethics claims; neither noted numerous recent ethics charges


On the September 28 edition of MSNBC's Hardball with Chris Matthews, former House Majority Leader Tom Delay (R-TX), who was indicted earlier that day for conspiracy to violate Texas campaign finance laws, blamed Democrats for every ethics charge ever levied against him and claimed that each charge had been dismissed. Host Chris Matthews, who "spent 15 years in politics and government" and was the Washington bureau chief for the San Francisco Examiner for 13 years, failed to challenge DeLay on these points. By contrast, NBC host Tim Russert refuted DeLay's statement on the September 29 broadcast of NBC's Today, noting that DeLay "was admonished by the ethics committee of the House of Representatives," although he wrongly said that ethics charges levied against DeLay after 1995 have all been dismissed.

In fact, DeLay has been publicly and privately admonished by the House ethics committee numerous times since 1995; in 2004, he received three reprimands in less than one week.

On Hardball, DeLay said: "You know, this has been going on for 10 years. I got my first ethics charges in 1993, then again in 1995. Then they filed a racketeering suit against me. And then they filed two more sets of ethics charges, all dismissed, all dismissed, but timed so that they dragged me through the mud." Matthews offered no challenge to DeLay's statement, instead asking if the Democrats are "using the old trick of throwing everything they can against the wall and seeing what sticks."

On the September 29 broadcast of Today, host Katie Couric asked Russert to comment on DeLay's remark, to which Russert responded: "Well, Katie, it's a little bit selective there. Because the first two charges he talked about, in fact, were bipartisan, and he was admonished by the ethics committee of the House of Representatives. So it wasn't all charges were dismissed. Later ones were, but the first two did, in fact, stick."

Russert correctly noted that not all of the ethics charges levied against DeLay were thrown out. But his claim that all later charges were dismissed is wrong. DeLay's indictment came in the wake of several House ethics committee reprimands. On September 30, 2004, DeLay was publicly admonished by the ethics committee "for improperly trying to win the vote of a Michigan lawmaker during a heated floor fight over a health care bill" [New York Times, 10/1/04]. According to the Times, "the panel said it had determined in its investigation of allegations first raised by the lawmaker, Representative Nick Smith, a Republican, that Mr. DeLay offered to endorse Mr. Smith's son in a Congressional primary if he would support a measure then teetering on the edge of defeat."

Less than one week later, on October 6, 2004, DeLay received a two-part admonishment from the ethics committee, in which he was chastised for his "participation in and facilitation of an energy company golf fundraiser at The Homestead resort for your leadership PACs on June 2-3, 2002;" and his "intervention in a partisan conflict in the Texas House of Representatives using the resources of a Federal agency, the Federal Aviation Administration." The committee described DeLay's behavior as "objectionable" and stated that his actions "raise[d] serious concerns under House standards of conduct" and "went beyond the bounds of acceptable conduct." More information on DeLay's October 6 reprimand is available here.

In addition, DeLay was privately admonished by the House ethics committee in 1999, after he blocked intellectual property legislation in an effort to punish an electronics trade association that had hired as its president a Democrat over a Republican DeLay had pushed for [Roll Call, 5/17/99].

Posted In
Government, Ethics
Tom DeLay Scandal
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