Q&A: Tom DeLay Explains His Decision

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TIME: There have been a number of stories about the private planes, the fancy restaurants, the $740-a-night hotel rooms, the cigars, the fancy trips. Do those fit with a servant of the people? Do you think that any of that high living was a mistake?

DeLay: (Laughs) First of all, that's not high living. That's going to where people are. When you go and you speak to a group, they usually are not meeting in Clute, Texas. Their meetings are in resorts that they have chosen—not what I have chosen. My trips are all for legitimate reason and I was very much involved in advancing the conservative agenda overseas—whether it's working against Christian persecution in China or advancing the conservative cause in England with Margaret Thatcher or pushing freedom and democracy in Moscow or getting persecuted Jews out of the Soviet Union, or fighting Communists and socialists in Central America. When you go to those places, you are with the people that you're meeting with. You're staying in the hotels that you meet in. You can't prove to me one thing that I have done for my own personal game. Yes, I play golf. I'm very proud of the fact that I play golf. It's the only thing that I do for myself. And when you go to a country and you're there for seven days and you take an afternoon off to play golf, what does the national media write? All about the golf, not about the meeting that you went to. I'm not ashamed of anything I've done. I've never done anything in my political career for my own personal gain. You can look at my bank account and my house to understand that.

Campaign Manager Chris Homan: Ninety percent of his travel during this timeframe that everybody keeps talking about was for raising money for Republican parties, Republican candidates, Republican causes. That's what he was flying around the country for.

DeLay: Oh, the private planes. Yeah.

Homan: Somebody says, "I need you to come do a fundraiser for me," and the last vote was?

DeLay: The other way to say it is: I did the commercial route when I was running in 1994. I think did about 89 districts the whole year. If I'd done it by private plane, I could have tripled the number of districts. And that's why we started using private planes, instead of going commercial and doing one event in one district per day, you can hit three districts in one day. And you can really knock 'em out doing what is important, and that is electing conservatives to Congress.

TIME: The campaign finance group Political Moneyline discovered that you'd used an R.J. Reynolds Tobacco plane to go to your arraignment. I know that's perfectly legal. But some people look at that and say: Tom DeLay just doesn't get it.

DeLay: (Chuckles) Well, that's usually my detractors. There's nothing wrong with it. They had a plane available. My schedule was such that I couldn't do it commercially—that I had to get up there and then get back and do my job. And that's the only plane that was available at the time.

TIME: Your smiling mug shot—what made you think of that and what do you think the consequence of that has been?

DeLay: Oh, I don't know. I said a little prayer. First of all, you only get one take. It's a very humiliating thing, to be booked. And I said a little prayer before I actually did the fingerprint thing, and the picture. And my prayer was basically: "Let people see Christ through me. And let me smile." Now, when they took the shot, from my side, I thought it was fakiest smile I'd ever given. But through the camera, it was glowing. I mean, it had the right impact. Poor old left couldn't use it at all. They had all kind of things planned, they'd spent a lot of money. It made me feel kind of good that all those plans went down the toilet.

TIME: So what would you do differently?

DeLay: Nothing.

TIME: My last question is a two-part question: What do you THINK your legacy will be, and what would you LIKE your legacy to be?

DeLay: Well, first of all, I'm incredibly proud of the 22nd District, that is a conservative Republican district that has allowed me to advance the conservative agenda and build the Republican Party. I think that, probably, is the legacy. I'm not dead yet, so the legacy is still in the making. And I'm very proud of what we've been able to accomplish, particularly in the time of the majority. And I'm kind of excited about what the future holds and continuing to work for those issues, that world view and that political party.

TIME: But you'll be known for some things that you don't want to be known for?

DeLay: Only by people that I don't care about. [Laughs]

TIME: So you don't think history will have a mixed —

DeLay: I don't care what history writes. What I care about, what's important to me is who I am, what I've done and what I can accomplish in the future. I don't do things, worried about what history might write or what my enemies might write. What I care about it what I believe in and how I conduct myself in fighting for what I believe in.

TIME: Thank you for talking to us.

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