Bush, who relied on DeLay's tough style to push policy, is already
having a tough time dealing with a party beleaguered by the weak
response to hurricane Katrina and divided over how to pay for a
massive rebuilding project.
Now DeLay's indictment after years of pushing ethical boundaries
provides an opportunity for Democrats to pound Republicans on
corruption issues in the run-up to next year's congressional
DeLay, know as "the Hammer" on Capitol Hill, came out swinging and
proclaimed his innocence after word broke that a Texas grand jury
charged him and two associates with violating a law banning corporate
contributions to state candidates.
The charge came after a long investigation by Democratic district
attorney Ronald Earle that DeLay has always portrayed as a political
"I have done nothing wrong," said DeLay, calling Earle a "rogue
prosecutor" and a "partisan fanatic."
"I am innocent," he said. "This is one of the weakest, most baseless
indictments in American history. It's a sham."
Said Earle: "My job is to prosecute felonies. I'm doing my job."
Republicans expressed support for DeLay as they selected Roy Blunt
from Missouri, the current party whip in the House, to fill in
The White House also stuck by DeLay, calling him "a good ally, a
leader who we have worked closely with to get things done for the
"I think the president's view is that we need to let the legal process
work," said press secretary Scott McClellan.
DeLay, who will keep his seat representing Houston suburbs, vowed
he'll be back, saying Democrats won't be able to disrupt the party's
But some analysts don't see it that way, especially since Republicans
have other high-profile ethical concerns.
Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is facing questions about the timing
of a stock sale in a family-owned business.
Karl Rove, White House chief of staff, has been embroiled in
controversy over the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame.
And a top federal procurement officer appointed by Bush was arrested
this month on charges that he made false statements and obstructed a
federal investigation into a golfing junket arranged by lobbyist Jack
DeLay, 58, has long been at the centre of controversy. He was
admonished three times last year by the House ethics committee for his
conduct on three separate issues.
Now a Senate panel is pursuing his ties to Abramoff and questions
about who paid the bills for DeLay's expensive overseas travel.
"The Republicans can't focus right now," said Charles Cushman, a
politics professor at George Washington University.
"You've got this swirling set of accusations about greed, corruption
and graft. This is going to follow them right up to the 2008 election.
It's going to hurt a lot."
Democrat Nancy Pelosi, House minority leader, was quick off the mark
"The criminal indictment . . . is the latest example that Republicans
in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption at the expense of
the American people," she said in a statement.
The indictment accuses DeLay of accepting $155,000 US from companies
and funnelling it through the Republican National Committee back
to Texas state candidates, violating laws outlawing corporate
It's a state felony punishable by up to two years in jail and a fine
of up to $10,000.
The charge came three weeks after a state political action committee
DeLay created, Texans for a Republican Majority, was also indicted on
accepting corporate contributions for use in 2002 state legislative
John Colyandro, former executive director of the Texas committee, and
Jim Ellis, who heads DeLay's national political committee, were also
After Republicans gained control of the Texas legislature, DeLay
created a federal redistricting plan that resulted in an increase of
the Republican majority in the U.S. Congress.