The Tom DeLay scandals.

A cheat sheet for the news.
April 7 2005 6:40 PM

The Tom DeLay Scandals

A scorecard.

(Continued from Page 1)

The Abramoff Muck. Stench: 6. Trouble: 8.

DeLay and Abramoff are old friends and allies. Now Abramoff is one of the most toxic men in Washington. John McCain is investigating him, as is the Department of Justice for allegedly bilking Native American tribes out of tens of millions of dollars while working for them as a lobbyist. (Read this Slate "Assessment" for more about Abramoff and his penchant for referring to his patrons as "troglodytes.") It's almost certain that some of the documents subpoenaed will cause trouble for DeLay. There's even speculation in Washington that McCain is leading the investigation partly to get DeLay and thereby spare the Republican Party his hard-edged tactics and policies.

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The Ethics Committee's Docket. Stench: 9. Trouble: 2.

Before the House Ethics Committee was waylaid, it admonished Tom DeLay on three different fronts last year. The first was for appearing to offer a bribe to fellow Republican Rep. Nick Smith to win his support for the closely contested Medicare reform bill. The second  was for soliciting donations from a company called Westar Energy just as the House considered a bill of crucial import to the company. The third was for using a federal agency, the Federal Aviation Administration, to track down Democratic members of the Texas Legislature who were fleeing the state to block a vote regarding redistricting (see No. 1 above).

Each of these infractions was serious enough that the then-somnolent, now-comatose Ethics Committee was willing to act. At this point, however, the cases are probably finished. The Justice Department could investigate any of them, and it might already be quietly doing so. But, most likely, DeLay got away with a slap on the wrist.

Family Circus. Stench: 3. Trouble: 2.

As revealed in Wednesday's New York Times—to DeLay's fury, as he expressed today—his wife and daughter have long been on the payroll of several of the political organizations he controls. Friends and family of congressmen have done this kind of work for a long time, but they don't normally rake in the sums that Christine DeLay and Danielle DeLay Ferro did: $500,000 in four years.

The payments sound suspicious, but the story will as likely as not blow over. It allows DeLay to play the victim while defending his family's honor; most important, the key issue is whether the two women received a fair day's pay for a fair day's work—which they probably did. Ferro and Christine DeLay clearly put in long hours for their man; they play a major role in what is known in Washington as DeLay, Inc. They will probably go down only if the whole organization goes down.

And that, of course, is the real danger for Tom DeLay. It's possible that one known bad act, particularly TRMPAC, could do him in. It's also possible that he'll be felled by a misdeed that hasn't been uncovered yet—for example, dirt could come out of DeLay's nonprofit foundation for orphans, which critics charge serves as a backdoor for unregulated donations to him. The much greater risk, though, is that the parade of scandals in its entirety will lead his colleagues to vaporize him one night. DeLay can ask Sen. Trent Lott what that feels like.

Nicholas Thompson is a senior editor at Legal Affairs.

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