To the amazement of many in Washington, Tom DeLay, the former Republican Congressional leader who became a poster boy for cronyism and ethical lapses, was named one of the 16 celebrity contestants today by the producers of the ABC program "Dancing with the Stars."
It is not known if DeLay will wear spandex and sequins.
"It would be interesting to see if Mr. DeLay can do the Perp Walk. Does he know that step," said Andrew Wheat, the research director of Texans for Public Justice, the watchdog group whose work helped spark the criminal prosecution of DeLay.
DeLay, nicknamed the "Hammer" because of his forceful backroom tactics, retired from Congress in 2006 after a Texas grand jury indicted him on money laundering charges related to corporate campaign contributions. The case has been held up in procedural challenges and has never gone to trial. The prosecutor who sought the indictment retired in 2007. DeLay has maintained his innocence and has plead not guilty to all charges.
In its announcement, ABC described DeLay as a "prominent Republican and conservative firebrand." There was no mention of his legal problems.
DeLay unveiled a revamped personal website Monday afternoon called "Dancing With DeLay," in which viewers are invited to "two-step with tom [sic]."
A former aide, Emily Miller, said DeLay's wife told her that DeLay had been working out and lost 12 pounds as he prepared for the dancing competition. In a column on the Inside Politics Daily web site, Miller said DeLay's wife Christine said "he's a really good dancer" who knows the two-step, polka, waltz, country swing and disco.
He will make his debut on Sept. 21 when the show returns for its ninth season. As one of the "stars," DeLay will be teamed with a professional dancer for what host Tom Bergeron said today would be a "ballroom bloodbath." DeLay and his partner will be pitted again other stars including former NFL player Michael Irvin, singer Donny Osmond and actress Kelly Osborne.
DeLay launched his political comeback at last year's Republican convention in St. Paul, where he sponsored several fund raising events widely attended by lobbyists and his former Congressional colleagues. When he was approached by ABC News at the time as he entered through a back door, he refused to comment.
DeLay's close relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff brought scandal and disgrace to House Republicans after Abramoff was convicted on corruption charges and agreed to become a government witness.
Abramoff steered millions of dollars in contributions to DeLay and other Republicans. The lobbyist also paid for luxury travel and entertainment for DeLay and his staff. Former DeLay spokesman Michael Scanlon and DeLay's former chief of staff, Tony Rudy, have both pleaded guilty to charges stemming from the Abramoff probe.
Abramoff's lawyer Abbe Lowell declined to comment for himself or his client. "That is a joke, right?" he said in an e-mail.
Abramoff remains in prison at the Cumberland, Maryland Federal Correctional Institution. He is scheduled to be released in December, 2010.
"Once upon a time, Tom DeLay was the powerful Majority Leader, jetting off to St. Andrews on a private plane with uber lobbyist Jack Abramoff," said Melanie Sloan, executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.
"A few years later, from the comfort of his prison cell, Abramoff can watch DeLay as a TV reality show contestant. Who says there's no justice?" she said.