How long can the Republicans keep this clown around?
A delegation of Republican House members including Majority Leader Tom DeLay accepted an expense-paid trip to South Korea in 2001 from a registered foreign agent despite House rules that bar the acceptance of travel expenses from foreign agents, according to government documents and travel reports filed by the House members.
Justice Department documents show that the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council, a business-financed entity created with help from a lobbying firm headed by DeLay’s former chief of staff, registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act on Aug. 22, 2001. DeLay; his wife, Christine; and two other Republican lawmakers departed on a trip financed by the group on Aug. 25 of that year.
The Rules of the U.S. House of Representatives on Gifts and Travel state that “a Member, officer or employee may not accept travel expenses from ‘a registered lobbyist or agent of a foreign principal.’ ”
Jan W. Baran, a former general counsel for the Republican National Committee, said that although he was uncertain whether this trip violated the rules, “it’s a problem” likely to trigger an investigation by the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, known as the ethics committee. DeLay was admonished three times last year by the ethics committee.
An aide to DeLay who asked not to be named said DeLay staff members had general discussions about the trip with the ethics committee before leaving and received verbal approval.
A veteran House official familiar with the case, who declined to be named because of DeLay’s involvement, said verbal approval is not granted by the committee on such matters.
Committee staff workers provide advice to lawmakers and their aides, but it does not go beyond what could be read in a manual, the official said. “The only way you can get, quote, approval from the ethics committee that is good for anything other than your own comfort level is to write a letter asking for approval, and to get a letter back,” the official said. “If you do that, you’re home free. If you don’t, you’re always running the risk you’ll end up in a bind.”
No letter was sent by DeLay to the committee, DeLay’s aides said.
DeLay was accompanied to Seoul by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Ander Crenshaw, both Florida Republicans. A spokesman for Ros-Lehtinen, Alex Cruz, said she did not know the group had registered as a foreign agent.
According to the documents, the objective of the trip was to help define the corporate executive who bankrolls the exchange group, Chairman Seung Youn Kim of the Hanwha Group, as “the leading Korean business statesman in U.S.-Korea relations.” The Hanwha Group is one of South Korea’s top 10 holding companies.
The documents show that arranging the lawmakers’ trip is just one of numerous steps the lobbyists promised to take for Kim. Others included arranging a meeting with President Bush and lawmakers in Washington.