The Magazine

The Friends of Tom DeLay

What was the staff of the former majority leader up to anyway?

Apr 17, 2006, Vol. 11, No. 29 • By MATTHEW CONTINETTI
Widget tooltip
Single Page Print Larger Text Smaller Text Alerts

Every member of this House knows how important it is to have good staff. These are the people who run this institution from day to day. They are the people who do the grunt work, draft the bills, work long nights--all in service of the American people. And we, as Members of Congress, place our trust and careers in their capable hands every day.

--Tom DeLay

IT WAS CALLED THE SAFE HOUSE. Rep. Tom DeLay, Republican of Texas and majority whip of the House of Representatives, frequently visited the townhouse his former aides had bought in January 1999 as a place to make fundraising calls and confer with advisers, according to news accounts. Situated at 132D Street, S.E., the house was only a few blocks from DeLay's suite in the Cannon Office Building.

A refuge for DeLay, the Safe House was also a hub of activity. DeLay's political action committee, Americans for a Republican Majority (ARMPAC), was headquartered there. The U.S. Family Network, a nonprofit with close ties to DeLay's former chief of staff, Ed Buckham, operated out of a small room in the back. And Buckham's consulting firm, the Alexander Strategy Group, which he ran with the help of his wife, Wendy, was there too. Technically, the U.S. Family Network owned the residence. In 2000, its value was assessed at more than $300,000.

Today, no doubt, the property is worth much more, though it no longer serves as a base for DeLay and his closest advisers. In April 2000, after Roll Call reported on the Safe House's location and tenants, ARMPAC and the Alexander Strategy Group vacated the property. Less than a year later, in January 2001, the U.S. Family Network shut down. The constituent parts of DeLay's political machine were dispersed around the capital, finding shelter on K Street, where lobbyists ply their trade, and in the Maryland and Virginia suburbs.

Now that machine will likely disappear for good. On Monday, April 3, in a 90-minute interview conducted in his home in Sugar Land, Texas, DeLay told Time magazine's Mike Allen that he is withdrawing from his reelection bid and plans to resign from Congress by summer. The race has "become a referendum on me," DeLay said.

Apparently that was a referendum he worried he would lose. On April 4, in a separate interview with a group of conservative journalists including The Weekly Standard's Fred Barnes, DeLay said the decision to withdraw came shortly after March 7, when he defeated Houston lawyer Tom Campbell in a Republican primary, 62 percent to 30 percent. "You get a sixth sense about this stuff," DeLay said, according to Byron York's account of the interview in National Review Online. "You know your district. . . . You don't need polls, but we ran a poll anyway. And the poll showed, basically, that I had a 50-50 chance of winning."

So, rather than risk losing a reliably Republican district to former Democratic congressman Nick Lampson, DeLay decided to change his legal residence to his Alexandria, Virginia, condominium, allowing Texas Republicans to choose another candidate. (Campbell has announced he will run to replace DeLay on the ballot; he faces numerous opponents, including DeLay's preferred replacement, Sugar Land mayor David Wallace.)

DeLay's sudden move, which shocked the political community, had a notable consequence: It pushed to the sidelines the March 31 news that DeLay's onetime deputy chief of staff, Tony C. Rudy, had pleaded guilty to conspiracy charges and pledged to cooperate with the ongoing investigation into congressional corruption stemming from the lobbying activities of Jack Abramoff. Over a period of several years, Abramoff defrauded six Indian tribes operating casinos of tens of millions of dollars, directing the tribes to donate to shell companies and nonprofits and hire close business associates, with whom he would split the graft.

Although Rudy's plea agreement refers to DeLay as "Representative #2," to date DeLay has not been accused of any improper behavior regarding Abramoff. DeLay says federal investigators have informed his lawyers that he is not a target in that investigation. He has pledged his cooperation, voluntarily delivering to the FBI task force some 1,000 emails. And he continues to deny any wrongdoing. But he is up to his armpits in scandal, and so are former members of his staff.