Outside counsel best way to fairly investigate DeLay
Austin American Statesman: EDITORIAL BOARD
Wednesday, May 11, 2005
No judge in the country would allow a defendant to be tried by a jury whose members had given favors to or received them from the defendant.
But that is what will happen if the U.S. House ethics committee goes forward with an investigation of allegations against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Questions have been raised about whether lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who worked closely with DeLay, or his firm paid for trips for DeLay in violation of House rules.
Two committee members, Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, and Lamar Smith, a Republican who represents part of Austin, recently recused themselves from any investigation because they gave money for DeLay's legal defense.
In an investigation of DeLay, House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Illinois, would replace Smith and Cole with two other Republicans. The 10-member committee has five Democratic and five Republican members.
But other members of the committee, including Chairman Doc Hastings, R-Washington, also received campaign contributions from DeLay. In fact, it would be difficult to find many House Republicans whom DeLay hasn't helped at some point. That's how he became majority leader.
The answer to this conundrum is for the committee to appoint an outside counsel to probe the latest allegations of unethical conduct against DeLay. That would absolve the committee of accusations of bias and provide a fair investigation of the charges against the Texan.
Strong precedent exists for an outside investigation. Ethics charges against former House Speakers Jim Wright, a Fort Worth Democrat, and Newt Gingrich, a Georgia Republican, were investigated by outside counsels. Both were found to have violated House ethics rules.
Other high-profile ethics allegations also provoked investigations by outside counsels. This one should be no different. DeLay, who was admonished by the ethics committee three times last year, says he never knowingly violated House rules, and he wants an investigation of his conduct.
He should have the chance to clear his name. But any investigation should be led by an impartial counsel, not by House members beholden to their most powerful member.