Tom DeLay Blames 'Rogue' District Attorney and Democrats, Maintains Friendship with Jack Abramoff

Former U.S. House Majority Leader convicted of money laundering.

ByABC News
July 16, 2010, 12:20 PM

Nov. 26, 2010— -- Before he was convicted this week of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering, former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay blamed a "rogue" Texas district attorney and Democrats for indicting him so that he would be removed from his powerful position in Congress.

"All they wanted was the indictment, because the Republicans have a rule that if one of their leaders is indicted he has to temporarily step aside from his leadership position," DeLay told ABC News Chief Investigative Correspondent Brian Ross on a full episode of "Brian Ross Investigates." "So the Democrats, all they wanted was the indictment, and that's how they could get rid of me."

DeLay said a district attorney "shopped six grand juries...before he found a grand jury just sworn in 30 minutes to indict me" in a case where prosecutors said he illegally funneled corporate money through his political action committee to Texas candidates in 2002. Jurors spent 19 hours deliberating before returning the verdict Wednesday, after a three-week trial that saw more than 30 witnesses. The money laundering charge could see him sent to prison for life.

The ABC News interview was conducted in August, just after the Justice Department informed DeLay it would be dropping its six-year probe into his conduct in office.

Combative and unbowed, the man who was once known as simply "The Hammer," defended his relationship with disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. He said the two remain close friends and spoke just last month, shortly after Abramoff was released from federal prison and moved into a Baltimore halfway house. Asked what the two discussed, DeLay said, "None of your business."

When Ross asked DeLay if any lessons were learned from the Abramoff episode, DeLay replied, "None at all."

WATCH Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 of the interview between DeLay and Ross.

After the verdict, DeLay, free on bond, told reporters, "This is an abuse of power. It's a miscarriage of justice, and I still maintain that I am innocent. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system and I'm very disappointed in the outcome."

Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said, "This case is a message from the citizens of the state of Texas that the public officials they elect to represent them must do so honestly and ethically, and if not, they'll be held accountable."

DeLay has chosen to be sentenced by a judge, proceedings which are set to begin Dec. 20. His attorney Dick DeGuerin said DeLay will appeal the conviction.

Delay and Ross have tangled repeatedly over the years, as ABC News traveled to the South Pacific to show the then-majority leader embracing Abramoff and being feted by his clients. ABC News also captured some of the first footage of the famously lavish DeLay fundraising events at the Republican National Convention – events which had historically been closed to the public.

Asked if money had been a negative force in Washington, DeLay said he did not think it was.

"I don't believe it. I was good at raising it. And I used it to advance the conservative cause," he said. "Money can corrupt corruptible people, [but] most people are not corrupt."

When Ross asked the former congressman if he believed Abramoff had a corrupting influence on Washington, DeLay responded, "Absolutely not." While DeLay entertained a handful of questions about the conviction of Jack Abramoff, he became increasingly agitated when asked about the case that led to the lobbyist's conviction. At several points, DeLay threatened to walk out of the interview if discussion of Abramoff continued.

There were lighter moments, though, as when Ross asked DeLay about his unexpected appearance on the reality television show Dancing With the Stars.

"I love to dance," DeLay smiled. "I had a great time doing it."

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