One of the most powerful Republican politicians in history has been forced to step down as House Majority Leader after a Texas grand jury indicted him on a charge of conspiring to violate election laws. Tom DeLay, who is known as "The Hammer," is accused of conspiring with two previously indicted aides to violate a ban on the use of corporate money by state political candidates, by funneling thousands of dollars in corporate contributions through the Republican National Committee. Analysts say Wednesday’s indictment is just the tip of an iceberg of corruption allegations against DeLay. House Republicans gathered within hours of the indictment’s becoming public, and chose Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri to replace DeLay, who was forced to step down because of House rules. As Washington buzzed with talk of the end of DeLay’s career, the hammer hit back, holding a news conference proclaiming his innocence. DeLay described the veteran Democratic prosecutor who brought the indictment–Ronnie Earle- as a "partisan fanatic" leading a "coordinated, premeditated campaign of political retribution."
Delay said: "It’s a charge that cannot hold up even under the most glancing scrutiny. This act is the product of a coordinated, pre-meditated campaign of political retribution–the all too predictable result of a vengeful investigation led by a partisan fanatic."
As the Republican congressional leadership rallied around DeLay, so too did the White House. Here is spokesperson Scott McClellan.
"Yes, Congressman Delay is a good ally, a leader who we have worked closely with to get things done for the American people."
We will have much more on this story in just a moment.
As Republicans scramble to defend Tom DeLay, there were significant developments in a scandal involving the Senate’s top Republican, Majority Leader Dr. Bill Frist. The Wall Street Journal is reporting that the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission has given subpoena power to investigators looking into potential insider trading by Frist of shares of his family’s corporation the Hospital Corporation of America. The SEC has officially changed the investigation’s status from informal to formal. The nonpartisan Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights estimates that Frist made between $2 million and $6 million by selling his HCA holdings just before stock values plummeted in the face of a bad earnings report.
Louisiana’s official death toll from Hurricane Katrina has risen to 896. Most of the bodies have been brought to a temporary morgue set up in St. Gabriel, about 15 miles from Baton Rouge, while more than 100 bodies remain in local parish coroners’ offices. Only 32 bodies have been released to families for burial, as authorities scramble to identify the dead. Despite reports of many beatings and throats slit at the convention center and Superdome in New Orleans, the Department of Health and Hospitals said only two bodies found at those evacuation sites were believed to be murder victims. They reportedly had gunshot wounds.
Senate Democrats are calling for an investigation into allegations that oil giant ExxonMobil has artificially pushed up the price of gasoline in the wake of hurricanes Katrina and Rita. The Democrats cite accusations from some gas station owners that they had been ordered by the company to raise prices at the pump. The American Automobile Association said on September 9 that "disgruntled" gasoline station owners find themselves in a dilemma because of alleged pressure from ExxonMobil. Eight Democratic governors have demanded that Congress and President Bush launch an investigation into possible price gouging.
President Bush’s new envoy on repairing the US global reputation, Undersecretary of State Karen Hughes, wraps up her tour of several Middle Eastern countries today, capping off a trip that was marked by several confrontations over the occupation of Iraq. A group of Turkish female activists confronted Hughes Wednesday over the occupation, while Hughes faced similar hostility from a gathering of women in Saudi Arabia. Hughes is a longtime confidant of President Bush. Earlier this month, she was tasked with repairing the U.S. image internationally. While she did face confrontations her trip was dominated by friendly meetings with audiences filled with people and groups who received U.S. funding or consisted of former exchange students. When Hughes visited Turkey, however, none of the activists she met with receive U.S. funds and six of the eight women who spoke at the session focused on the Iraq war. Fatma Nevin Vargun, a Kurdish women’s rights activist told Hughes, "War makes the rights of women completely erased and poverty comes after war — and women pay the price." Vargun also denounced the arrest of Cindy Sheehan in front of the White House Monday at an antiwar protest. The Washington Post reports that as the meeting went on, Hughes looked "increasingly pained." Hughes defended the Iraq invasion, saying "You’re concerned about war, and no one likes war." But, she said, "to preserve the peace sometimes my country believes war is necessary." Another Turkish activist shot back, "War is not necessary for peace. We can never, ever export democracy and freedom from one country to another," the Turkish activist said.
As Karen Hughes traveled, a new report was released on the international view of the US. It was compiled by a nine-member advisory committee headed by former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff. The report found widespread hostility toward the US and its policies, especially the occupation of Iraq. The report said, "For what can be heard around the world, in the wake of the invasion of Iraq, the prisoner abuse scandal at Abu Ghraib, and the controversy over the handling of detainees at Bagram and Guantanamo Bay, is that America is less a beacon of hope than a dangerous force to be countered."
The Reuters News Agency says the conduct of U.S. troops in Iraq, including increasing detention and accidental shootings of journalists, is preventing full coverage of the war from reaching the American public. In a letter to Virginia Republican Sen. John Warner, head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, Reuters said U.S. forces were limiting the ability of independent journalists to operate. The letter from the agency’s Global Managing Editor David Schlesinger called on Warner to raise these issues with Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, who is due to testify to the committee on Thursday. Schlesinger referred to "a long parade of disturbing incidents whereby professional journalists have been killed, wrongfully detained, and/or illegally abused by U.S. forces in Iraq." At least 66 journalists and media workers, most of them Iraqis, have been killed in Iraq since March 2003. U.S. forces acknowledge killing three Reuters journalists, most recently soundman Waleed Khaled who was shot by American soldiers on Aug. 28 while on assignment in Baghdad. The Pentagon says the soldiers were justified in opening fire. Reuters believes a fourth Reuters journalist, who died in Ramadi last year, was killed by a U.S. sniper. Schlesinger said the Pentagon has refused to conduct independent and transparent investigations into the deaths of the journalists, relying instead on inquiries by officers from the units responsible, who had exonerated their soldiers.
And finally, the first African American woman to serve as a federal judge has passed away. Famed civil rights lawyer Constance Baker Motley died Wednesday in New York. She was 84. As a young lawyer, Motley represented Martin Luther King Jr. After a brief political career, she began a distinguished four-decade span as a judge in 1966, becoming the first black woman appointed to the federal bench. Motley earned her degree in economics in 1943 from New York University, and three years later, she obtained her law degree from Columbia Law School. In 1945, she became a law clerk to Thurgood Marshall, who was then chief counsel of the NAACP’s Legal Defense and Educational Fund. In the late 1950s, Motley took an interest in politics and by 1964 had left the NAACP and become the first black woman to serve in the New York State Senate. In 1965, she became the first woman to serve as president of the borough of Manhattan, where she worked to promote integration in public schools. In her career, she worked on some of the nation’s most famous civil rights cases, including preparing the draft complaint in 1950 for what would become Brown v. Board of Education. From 1961 to 1964, Motley won nine of 10 civil rights cases she argued before the U.S. Supreme Court.