From the "Words He May Live to Regret" Department, here's Tom DeLay on the federal criminal investigation that has led to guilty pleas by Jack Abramoff and Michael Scanlon: "They abused the system, they have been caught and they pled guilty. Obviously the system is working."
DeLay made the comment in an interview with Fox News Saturday, just after announcing that he was relinquishing any claim on the House majority leader seat he was forced to give up last year after he was indicted on criminal charges in Texas. DeLay insists that the Texas case is a politically motivated attack on him. With his comments about the Abramoff and Scanlon pleas, he seems to have denied himself the ability to make a similar argument about the federal investigation if and when it comes around to his front door.
DeLay's fingerprints are everywhere in the federal case: He's close friends with Abramoff, Scanlon used to be one of his top aides, and investigators are said to be interested in the business dealings of at least two other former DeLay aides and a lobbying firm that promised it could deliver access to DeLay. Still, DeLay insisted over the weekend that he didn't relinquish his claim on the majority leader's job out of any fear that he'll be indicted soon. "I am not a target of this investigation," he told Fox.
That may be true -- for now -- but DeLay was plainly the target of a lot of worry by Republicans in the House and beyond. A small group of moderate Republicans began circulating a petition Friday in which they called on their colleagues to elect a permanent replacement for DeLay. House Speaker Dennis Hastert signaled Friday night that he wouldn't try to block such a move, and DeLay was gone by Saturday morning.