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DeLay Hails DOJ Decision, Defends Actions

Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay heralded a Justice Department decision Monday not to charge him after a six-year investigation into his ties to disgraced ex-lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

“As you can imagine, today is a very happy day for the DeLay family,” the Texas Republican said in a conference call with reporters. “It was good news to hear from the Department of Justice that I’d been cleared. I always knew this day would come. My only hope was that it would come much sooner than the six years we’ve been doing this.”

DeLay, who reiterated that he has not broken any laws, also criticized the investigation. “I know that this is the price of leadership, but frankly, it doesn’t have to happen this way,” he said. “I hope that people will look at my case and decide the criminalization of politics and the politics of personal destruction is not beneficial to the country or to our system, and hopefully it will stop.”

DeLay said that he had not personally spoken to DOJ investigators, but that his attorney Richard Cullen, chairman of the law firm McGuireWoods, received a telephone call late last week informing him of the decision.

“They don’t send letters. They just call you up and say it’s closed,” DeLay said.

DeLay said neither he nor his attorneys had been contacted by the Justice Department in about 18 months, but he said he asked his attorneys to pursue an update on his case after ex-Rep. John Doolittle (R-Calif.) announced in June that he would not be charged in connection with the Abramoff investigation.

“We’ve had no contact from the Department of Justice for well over a year and a half, so I don’t know what they were doing,” DeLay said. He noted that the conversations became “intensive” last month.

The Texas lawmaker said Monday that he never met with DOJ prosecutors during the six-year inquiry, although his office did turn over more than 1,000 e-mails and documents in 2005. DeLay also said computers from his home and Congressional office were seized.

“I was never interviewed by the investigators, nor was I asked to appear before the grand jury,” DeLay said. He later added that he did not hold informal sessions either.

“I instructed all my former aides and my present aides to cooperate in everything,” DeLay said, noting that many of those individuals, whom he did not name, were interviewed or called before a grand jury.

DeLay also said he has not spoken with two of his former aides who pleaded guilty to allegations stemming from the Abramoff investigation.

“The thing that saddens me the most is that the cloud caused by them, on their own time … cast a shadow over my entire staff who were absolutely professional and aboveboard and ethical,” DeLay said.

Michael Scanlon, DeLay’s former spokesman who later opened his own public relations firm and colluded with Abramoff to overbill American Indian tribes for services, and Tony Rudy, DeLay’s former deputy chief of staff who later became a “Team Abramoff” lobbyist, have yet to be sentenced.

Abramoff, who was sentenced to four years in prison on fraud and corruption charges, is scheduled for release in December and moved to a halfway house earlier this year.

DeLay said he has no regrets about his relationship with Abramoff, including traveling on junkets that became a touchstone to the Abramoff case.

“Absolutely not,” DeLay said. “Abramoff is a friend of mine, just as other lobbyists are friends of mine. We worked together professionally, he never asked me to do anything untoward nor did I do anything untoward or unethical.”

“It’s amazing to me that most people think these trips are horrible,” DeLay said.

He later added that he regularly reviewed his actions with attorneys: “The thing that bothers me the most, I think, it’s not that people think I’m corrupt, it’s that they think I’m stupid.”

But DeLay said he severed his friendship with Abramoff around the time the former lobbyist purchased SunCruz casino.

“Abramoff and I had a conversation one time when he bought those casino ships. I told him face-to-face our relationship was over. I wasn’t going to be involved with anyone who had those casino ships,” DeLay said.

The former Texas lawmaker still faces allegations that he violated Texas campaign finance laws. A hearing in that case is set for Aug. 24.

He has denied wrongdoing in that case and accused former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle (D) of misconduct. Earle, who brought the charges against DeLay, has since retired.

DeLay demurred when asked whether he would seek a return to office but confirmed he would not challenge Rep. Pete Olson (R-Texas).

He said he is still involved in First Principles, the consulting firm that he founded after leaving office in 2006. A telephone number listed on the firm’s website has been disconnected, but DeLay said Monday that the firm is now based in Sugar Land, Texas.

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