DeLay's Lavish Island Getaway
April 6, 2005 — -- A Washington lobbyist under federal investigation for his lobbying activities arranged a lavish overseas trip to the island of Saipan for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, over the New Year's holiday in 1997.
DeLay, his wife and daughter, and several aides, stayed for free at a beachfront resort.
The DeLay trip to the South Pacific island, originally reported by a "20/20" investigation, was part of an effort by former aide Jack Abramoff to stop legislation aimed at cracking down on sweatshops and sex shops in the American territory, which is known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.
Abramoff, who was working for the law firm Preston Gates Ellis and Rouvelas Meeds LLP at the time, was paid $1.36 million by Saipan officials and wrote in a memo obtained by ABC News that such congressional trips were "one of the most effective ways to build permanent friends on the Hill."
Abramoff is now under federal investigation for his lobbying activities, including Saipan, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
Andrew Blum, a spokesman for Abramoff's attorney, said on behalf of Abramoff that they did not comment on pending grand jury investigations.
Also, Blum defended Abramoff's lobbying efforts in Saipan, including DeLay's trip. "Any money paid to Preston Gates from the CNMI was for work that Mr. Abramoff and his team did on behalf of the CNMI during the course of their six-year representation," he said. "Rep. DeLay was one of over 100 members of Congress and their staff to visit the CNMI during that time.
After touring one garment plant, DeLay praised Saipan at the New Year's Eve party attended by top factory owners.
"You represent everything that is good about what we are trying to do in America," DeLay said at the time to his audience, which included Saipan officials and factory owners.
Later, according to a recording made by a human rights investigator posing as a potential customer, one of the prominent factory owners said that DeLay had promised to stop the reform laws.