Thursday, December 08, 2005

DeLay's Pollution Spans Pacific Ocean

An oil spill begins with a gash in a tanker's hull, a broken undersea pipeline, a storm-damaged oil rig. There is no off valve. Oil continues to leak until the aperture is sealed, or until the source is empty. While it leaks, the first job is containment, the second is damage repair; once stopped, the third task is remediation.

So it is with the slowly spreading oilslick that is the corruption, both legislative and electoral, of Rep Tom DeLay. Austin DA Ronnie Earle's indictments for criminal money laundering have stripped DeLay of his Republican House Leadership post, a small mercy at best. However, the poisonous ooze from DeLay was not confined to his direction of slightly-laundered corporate money to Texas Legislature races in order to gerrymander Congressional districts. No, DeLay is also mired in the Abramoff bribery scandal up to his ugly and ineffective toupee.

For those who just stepped off the 4:10 from Uranus, Jack Abramoff is a super-lobbyist who used to work for DeLay, traded on his access to DeLay, and forthrightly and mirthfully fleeced certain Indian tribes out of millions of dollars to manipulate the federal legislative process concerning Indian casino gambling. He goes to trial in January in a separate scandal over a Florida casino boat company whose former owner lost interest in the business because he, well, stopped breathing after ingesting too much lead.

About 19 Senators and Representatives, mostly Republican, have been implicated so far by the slimy trail of money. Fearing seat losses in 2006, the Republican National Congressional Campaign Committee is about to start a public relations blast (no doubt amplified across the Republican Street Journal / Faux News / MSNBC campaign machine) implying that since one Democrat is tarnished for every five Republicans, "Everybody does it, it's no big deal."

However, aside from the Indian gusher, just revealed is that another bonanza of illegal money for Abramoff and DeLay was the little-noticed WWII trophy, the Mariana Islands. Now known as the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, one of which is Tinian, whence the atomic bombers took off for Japan. Unlike Guam, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, and the District of Columbia, (whose status gives them some US benefits despite having no actual Senate, or effective House, representation,) the Marianas don't even get a non-voting Delegate to the House. In practice they are complete, abject and powerless wards of the Congress.

Their peculiar constitutional position made them delectable targets for Abramoff and DeLay's extortion. The Department of Justice was forced into investigating Abramoff and his connection to DeLay and the House leadership and has responded with with unaccustomed and surprising vigor. Most of the attention so far has been focused on the Florida casino boat and Indian gambling material. But now the ways the Marianas compartment of the investigation has turned out not to be a dry hole are discussed at the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Stakeholder site in lubricious detail. The Texas Observer's indefagitable Lou Dubose was on the case long ago with his and Jan Reid's The Hammer: Tom DeLay: God, Money, and the Rise of the Republican Congress (Public Affairs: 2004) and the feds are finally following the trail.

It seems Abramoff would take money from the CNMI government to get Congress to legislate anti-union clauses favorable to CNMI business interests, and then recycle it through DeLay. This is the kind of direct money-for-offical-favors stuff that has sent many a man from marble halls to iron bars. DeLay sat on the peccant conference committee and authorizing committee, while indicted Abramoff aide Michael Scanlon then was a DeLay-patronage appropriations committee staffer involved with the fragrant and oleaginous line items in question.

The stain of DeLay's defilement and dishonor of the public trust has thus reached across both the continent and the ocean. That odious spill is now somewhat contained by public attention, and is undergoing damage repair in the form of the Department of Justice investigation and the Texas indictments. Remediation will require trials on all these matters, so conceivably DeLay will be spending more time in court than he does contaminating the halls of Congress with his presence.

Mercifully, DeLay's massively pickled and sclerotic ego will not allow him to resign his seat (he had tried to rerig the House rules so as to stay in the leadership even if indicted, but a public storm forced the Republicans to back down from that exemption.) Thus with any luck the Democrats will still have DeLay to kick around all through 2006, right up to the elections.


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