He's Baaaack! Tom DeLay Hailed as GOP Hero

Despite scandal and an indictment, 'the Hammer' is big in Minneapolis.

September 23, 2008, 11:57 AM

Sept. 2, 2008— -- MINNEAPOLIS -- Tom DeLay, the former House GOP majority leader whose connections to convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff brought scandal and disgrace to the Republican party, returned to the spotlight in Minneapolis last night, helping to host a private party that drew hundreds of delegates and Republican officials.

"He's the man, he's the man," said one guest leaving the party.

"I've always liked him, he's a good solid conservative," said one delegate standing in line for entrance to the party, Corey Stewart, chairman of the Board of Supervisors in Prince William County, Virginia.

DeLay arrived at the Minneapolis night club for his party last night in a gold mini-van, no longer traveling with the Capitol police detail that used to protect him from reporters and other perceived security threats.

He declined to answer questions from ABC News as he entered the back door of the club through a loading dock.

Tune in to World News with Charles Gibson tonight to see Brian Ross on the Money Trail from Minneapolis.

Once known as "the hammer" for his hardball tactics on Capitol Hill, the featured entertainment at DeLay's party was the band Smash Mouth.

Asked his reaction to DeLay's appearance in Minneapolis, Cong. John Mica (R-FL) declined to answer and then head-butted the ABC camera.

(Click here to watch the raw video of Cong. Mica's head-butt)

DeLay's arrival was hardly welcomed by the campaign of Sen. John McCain. McCain led the Senate investigation that revealed many of the abuses connected to Abramoff, and DeLay has criticized McCain for years.

Earlier this year, according to The Hill, DeLay accused McCain of "betraying" the conservative movement.

"He is no friend of ours," said one McCain campaign official. "But you can't really keep him out of the city."

Ethics watchdog groups were appalled that DeLay would be back in the spotlight at the Republican convention.

"Why would they welcome back one of the most obvious examples of corruption," asked Ellen Miller of the Sunlight Foundation, a public interest group monitoring the role of lobbyists at the political conventions.

No longer in office, and awaiting trial on state election law violations in Texas, DeLay disappeared from the Washington scene two years ago after deciding not to seek re-election from his Congressional district south of Houston.

Despite speculation, DeLay has not been indicted in the ongoing federal investigation of Congressional corruption and influence peddling. The convicted lobbyist, Abramoff, who once boasted of his close ties to Delay, is cooperating with authorities.

Abramoff is scheduled to be sentenced Thursday by a federal judge in Washington.

DeLay's unintended legacy may be the new Congressional ethic reform legislation that has changed the rules about what lobbyists can do to gain access and influence with members of Congress, a law, passed to correct the abuses ascribed to DeLay and Abramoff.

Under the new law, lobbyists may no longer pay for travel, meals and gifts for members of Congress as Abramoff once did.

In recent months, DeLay has sought to re-establish himself as a player in the Republican party. He started the Coalition for a Conservative Majority, wrote a book, "No Retreat, No Surrender," and has established his own web site where he blogs with his own political commentary.

"Why one of the most disgraced members of Congress would think that he had an opportunity now to redeem himself is beyond me," said Miller of the Sunlight Foundation.

"I do not believe all is forgiven," she said.

Click Here for the Investigative Homepage.

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events