Jan. 7, 2006 — -- It's been quite a fall for Tom DeLay, R-Texas, the House majority leader who formally stepped down today as he awaits trial on charges of conspiracy and money laundering. He retains his seat in Congress but reliquishes his leadership role.
In addition to his own legal troubles, which include charges that he laundered campaign money used in state legislature races, DeLay's association with lobbyist Jack Abramoff has further hurt his reputation. Abramoff pleaded guilty Tuesday to federal charges of conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion in a corruption probe that has linked him with lawmakers from both parties.
Although DeLay had temporarily left his post, calls to replace him permanently had grown within the party.
"The situation is that Tom's legal situation doesn't seem to be reaching clarity," Rep. John Kline, R-Minn., told the Associated Press on Friday, before DeLay's announcement. "There are stories of more indictments or questions associated with Jack Abramoff. And I think that Tom DeLay is going to have to concentrate on that."
Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., has served as acting majority leader and has indicated he'd like the post permanently, although Kline said he supports Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, who is chair of the House Education and Workforce Committee. House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., is reported to be vying for consideration, and more candidates are sure to come forward.
DeLay insists he is innocent of the Texas charges. He has repeatedly accused the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, of going after him as part of a political vendetta.
During his time as majority leader, DeLay became known as a tough politician with a conservative agenda, a reputation he'd already solidified during his years in Congress, where he earned the nickname "The Hammer."
First elected to the House of Representatives in 1984, DeLay was elected majority whip in 1994 and became majority leader in 2002. He was a fervent supporter of the movement to impeach President Clinton, but he just as eagerly became part of a group that sought -- and failed -- to boot former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich from his post in 1997.
DeLay's legal troubles began in earnest in September 2004, when a Texas grand jury indicted three of his associates for allegedly using corporate funds to aid Republican candidates for election to the Texas legislature in 2002 through a political action committee DeLay worked with. Two of them were indicted on additional charges in the probe the following September.
At the same time, DeLay was reprimanded by the House Ethics Committee for creating the appearance of tying political donations to legislative favor, as well as for improperly seeking the help of the Federal Aviation Administration in a political dispute.
That November, House Republicans passed a rule that would have allowed DeLay to stay in the leadership position if he were indicted, but they reversed the controversial measure in January 2005.
DeLay's association with Abramoff came to light in the spring as the federal investigation against the lobbyist proceeded. DeLay denied knowing that Abramoff or his clients had paid for some of his overseas travel expenses, and he asked the House Ethics committee to investigate.
In April House Republicans got rid of Ethics Committee rules from earlier in the year that would have made it harder to pursue an ethics investigation -- a move that Democrats said was designed to protect DeLay.
The Texas grand jury indicted DeLay on the conspiracy charge on Sept. 28 and on the money-laundering charge Oct. 3. He resigned temporarily with the first indictment but remained defiant.
"Let me be very, very clear," he said in a statement at the time. "I have done nothing wrong. I have violated no law, no regulation, no rule of the House."