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May 6, 2009

Congressional computers continue to be used to vandalize Wikipedia

Congressional computers continue to be used to vandalize Wikipedia

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Wednesday, May 6, 2009

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Wikinews contributors have discovered that members of the United States Congress or members of their staff have recently been making questionable edits to Wikipedia, the free online encyclopedia anyone can edit. This continues the trend identified by four exclusive Wikinews reports over a four-year period exposing questionable and fraudulent edits made beginning in 2005 by Congress members or staff.

Beginning in 2006, Wikinews reported that members of Congress or their staff were vandalizing Wikipedia by removing critical information in various articles, or adding false or offensive information. These edits were and continue to be done using computers owned or operated by the United States government.

Cquote1.svg Sorry–House of Reps IPs should not be editing Wikipedia, even other office’s pages on lunch break. Cquote2.svg

—Congressional IP address 143.231.249.138, January 14, 2009

In this new investigation, Wikinews has found that at least two of the three major Internet Protocol Addresses (IP) attached to computers used by members of the U.S. House of Representatives and their staff have been the source of Wikipedia edits for several years. As recently as April 2009 they have been adding or removing false and/or offensive information from articles related to political figures or members of Congress.

Although the IP addresses belong exclusively to the U.S Congress as a whole, they are linked to many different computers throughout the U.S. which are used by many different House representatives or their staff members. In response to an edit, another Wikipedia contributor posts a message on the user discussion page for the IP address, advising anyone that may view the page that the address belongs to Congress.

In January, one individual using a Congressional computer removed a source in an article. Five minutes later, using the same congressional IP address, someone replaced the source with an apology saying, “sorry–House of Reps IPs should not be editing [Wikipedia], even other office’s pages on lunch break.” Despite the advisories, Wikinews has found that the individuals continued to make vandal-like edits to the encyclopedia.

In one instance, Wikinews found that someone with one of the IP addresses, 143.231.249.141, began to edit the Wikipedia article for Steve Austria, the Republican representative for Ohio’s 7th congressional district. The individual began to edit on March 18, 2009 at 23:32 UTC. He or she used the official House of Representatives gateway to remove a section of information relating to inaccurate comments Austria made about The Great Depression. Austria stated in an interview with The Columbus Dispatch in February that Franklin D. Roosevelt‘s New Deal in 1933 caused the U.S. to go into a depression.

“When Roosevelt did this, he put our country into a Great Depression. … He tried to borrow and spend, he tried to use the Keynesian approach, and our country ended up in a Great Depression. That’s just history,” said Austria during the February 11 interview. He later admitted that his statement was wrong, saying Roosevelt’s spending “did not have the desired effect,” which caused the depression. Exactly two minutes later on March 18, the same IP address removed information relating to bloggers accusing Austria of plagiarism in 2008. They accused him of taking credit for a column that was published in his name in the Xenia Gazette on September 2, 2008. Bloggers had discovered that the column was a direct copy of a report on the history of Labor Day originally published by the U.S. Department of Labor. The edits were reverted, the last being over four hours after the information was removed. Despite some constructive edits, such as correcting the spelling of Wisconsin congressman Steve Kagen‘s name and correcting grammatical errors, the same IP removed the information in both sections a total of six times from March 18 to April 24, 2009.

Steve Austria.
Image: U.S. Congress.

After seeing the suspicious edits, Wikinews examined the edit history for Austria’s article to see if any other suspicious edits were made. After a brief search, Wikinews discovered that the IP address 65.189.244.162 removed the same information just 15 days earlier on March 3, being the first address to remove the information. Only one edit has been made to Wikipedia from that IP address so far. After tracing the address, Wikinews discovered the person who made the edits lives in or near Fairborn, which is located 8.5 miles from Beavercreek, where Austria currently resides. Austria also grew up in Xenia which is located just 12 miles from Fairborn and only 8 miles from Beavercreek.

Another individual, with the IP address 75.187.63.132, also removed the allegations of plagiarism from Austria’s article in February. The individual removed what they called “Politically Motivated BS [bullshit]” from the article of Deborah Pryce, former congresswoman for Ohio’s 15th congressional district. The information was related to fundraisers between 2001 and 2004 that were held at restaurants belonging to convicted felon and former lobbyist Jack Abramoff. After tracing the IP address, Wikinews found that the edit was made from a computer located in Columbus, Ohio, the location of Pryce’s offices and one of the cities in Pryce’s district. Wikinews contacted Austria by e-mail for a statement, but so far there has been no response.

Following those discoveries, Wikinews investigated another IP address used by the U.S. House of Representatives. On April 30, 2009, the address 143.231.249.138 made an edit that listed Devin Nunes, the representative for California’s 21st congressional district, as being a member of the Nazi Party. The address also made less questionable edits, but after investigating further, it was discovered that the IP address removed critical information on April 29 from the article of Gregory Meeks, the representative for New York’s 6th congressional district. The information removed was related to a column by the the New York Times which stated that Meeks initially supported former 2008 presidential candidate Hillary Clinton over Barack Obama in the race for the White House. According to the Times, Meeks changed his support to Obama because he was part of “a young black political class [which was] seeking to assert the neighborhood’s power against what it sees as an older establishment, based in Harlem, that has long exercised disproportionate influence in New York City.”

The address 143.231.249.138 was also responsible for adding highly biased statements to articles related to abortion. On March 16, 2009 it altered the Wikipedia article Crisis pregnancy center, adding that the centers were “abortion mills, which exist only to kill people, also present themselves as medical facilities.” On March 20, the IP changed the Project Rachel article to include, “millions of women have deep regrets and, often, suffer psychological problems after undergoing an abortion–a fact the abortion industry and mass media will not admit.” 143.231.249.141 also added racial slurs and references to gay pedophilia into William A. Donohue‘s article in February, saying he has “participated in the controversial act of ‘tabeling’, in which he takes a small child, places him upon a table, and ‘puts the lord inside him.'”

In an attempt to find out where the edits were being made and by whom, Wikinews contacted the Electronic Frontier Foundation to receive advice on how to file an information request with the U.S. government under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). The request would have been made to release the names of the individuals and offices responsible for the edits. However, according to Marcia Hofmann, a staff attorney for the EFF, who specializes in FOIA related matters, the U.S. government is not required to provide the information.

“None of the U.S. open government laws extends to records in the possession of members of Congress or their employees. Put differently, it’s not so much a question of what the information is (identities of congressional staff) as where the information is (in congressional offices, which aren’t covered by open government laws),” said Hoffmann in an exclusive interview with Wikinews. She also added that “FOIA [requests] cover records in executive branch agencies and departments” only.

Suspicious and/or fraudulent edits to Wikipedia made by Congress and other government entities were first reported by Wikinews in February 2006, after the U.S. government engaged in Wikipedia vandalism and other forms of perceived biased editing of articles. The House of Representatives IP addresses were briefly banned from editing Wikipedia articles in the wake of the initial controversy. A few days later, Wikinews reported that staff members of the offices of United States Senators, using Senate-linked IP addresses, also edited Wikipedia, in some cases, removing facts and sourced material from articles. In 2008, Wikinews also reported that staff members for then 2008 candidates for U.S. president Barack Obama and John McCain made questionable edits to Wikipedia.



Related news

  • “Staffs for US presidential candidates John McCain and Barack Obama caught making questionable edits to Wikipedia” — Wikinews, August 26, 2008
  • “U.S. House Ethics Committee to examine congressional press secretary vandalizing Wikipedia articles with government computer” — Wikinews, August 19, 2007
  • “Wikinews investigates Wikipedia usage by U.S. Senate staff members” — Wikinews, February 7, 2006
  • “United States Department of Justice workers among government Wikipedia vandals” — Wikinews, February 2, 2006
  • “Congressional staff actions prompt Wikipedia investigation” — Wikinews, January 30, 2006

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September 9, 2008

Records reveal US Senator John Sununu had ties to convicted lobbyist

Records reveal US Senator John Sununu had ties to convicted lobbyist

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

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John E Sununu in 2006
Image: United States Senate.

On October 24, 2001, convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff and four Alexander Strategies Group associates donated $1,000 each to the Rely on Your Beliefs Fund. This political action committee in turn donated $3,000 to Republican Representative John Sununu’s primary campaign in New Hampshire on the same day, through the political action committee Team Sununu. The Greenberg Traurig lobbying company, which also employed Abramoff, gave $1000 to Team Sununu on December 16, 2002 for purposes of ‘debt retirement.’

According to a report by the U.S. Senate Indian Affairs Committee, Jack Abramoff commonly told Native American tribal clients to divert their funds through the Alexander Strategies Group. Earlier that October, Jack Abramoff had met with the legislative director of the Saginaw Chippewa tribe in Michigan. Representative John Sununu, now a sitting senator from New Hampshire, had served on the Appropriations Committee that helped draft the Department of Interior funding bill. In the section on Native American water claims, land claims, and miscellaneous payments, over $6,000,000 in funding was given to Michigan fishing in the Great Lakes.

The event occurred a day before the presentation of a Department of Interior funding bill to President George W. Bush for signing, and a week after the conference report settling differences between the House and the Senate. Abramoff wrote to fellow lobbyist Michael Scanlon on October 4, 2001 via e-mail, “I had dinner tonight with Chris Petras of Sag Chip. He was salivating at the $4-5 million program I described to him (is that enough? Probably not).”

File:Jack Abramoff Jan1006.jpg

Jack Abramoff in 2006
Image: Voice of America.
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Jack Abramoff was sentenced to four years in federal prison earlier this month. He had admitted to conspiring to defraud four Native American tribes that either operated or were interested in operating casinos. The other three donors to the fund linked to Sununu were all members of the Alexander Strategy Group, including its founder, former Tom DeLay chief of staff Ed Buckham. Donor Jim Ellis had led the group Preston Gates & Ellis, which also employed Jack Abramoff. A fourth contributor was J. Thomas Smith, Jr., who had served as the Alexander Strategy Group’s lawyer.

The Alexander Strategy Group was shut down in January due to ties with Jack Abramoff and former House majority leader Tom DeLay. The Rely On Your Beliefs Fund, owned by former Rep. Roy Blunt, has already donated to charity $8,500 equivalent to the amount personally contributed by Jack Abramoff in 2006. In November 2004, Gannett News Service had reported that Abromoff directed the Tigua tribe to contribute to the Rely On Your Beliefs Fund. In January 2006, John Sununu donated to charity $3000 he had received from the Saginaw Chipewa from the Daniel Webster PAC.

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November 15, 2006

Abramoff begins prison sentence

Abramoff begins prison sentence – Wikinews, the free news source

Abramoff begins prison sentence

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Wednesday, November 15, 2006

File:Jack Abramoff Jan1006.jpg

Jack Abramoff
(Image missing from commons: image; log)

Jack Abramoff, the disgraced ex-lobbyist began his six year prison sentence today. Abramoff himself pled guilty on January 3, to three criminal felony counts in a Washington, D.C. federal court related to the defrauding of American Indian tribes and corruption of public officials. The following day he pled guilty to two criminal felony counts in a separate federal court, in Miami, related to his fraudulent dealings with SunCruz Casinos.

On March 29, he was sentenced to five years and 10 months in prison and ordered to pay restitution of more than $21 million. His prison sentence was the minimum permitted under a plea bargain with federal prosecutors. Abramoff arrived at about 6:30 a.m. ET at a prison facility in western Maryland and began serving a nearly six-year prison sentence for a fraudulent deal to buy a fleet of casino ships in Florida. The camp is all male.

Stephen Finger, executive assistant at the prison, said all inmates work while there. Incoming inmates such as Abramoff typically are assigned to jobs such as food service work. Finger said that inmates can work their way up from low-level jobs paying 12 cents an hour to better positions paying up to 40 cents an hour.

Abramoff has ties to many Republican officials including former Representative Bob Ney, two of former Representative Tom DeLay’s Aides, Senator Conrad Burns (lost on Election Day) and Representative John Doolittle.

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March 10, 2006

Gale Norton resigns as U.S. Secretary of the Interior

Gale Norton resigns as U.S. Secretary of the Interior

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Friday, March 10, 2006

Gale Norton announced her resignation today as United States Secretary of the Interior, effective at the end of March. She stated that she was leaving for “personal reasons.” The announcement came as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee investigates Jack Abramoff. E-mails seen by the Committee have suggested that there was a close relationship between Abramoff and Norton’s former deputy, Steven Griles. According to John McCain, R-Ariz., Abramoff gained access to Griles by promising donations from his clients to Italia Federici.

During her tenure in the Department of the Interior, Norton supported drilling in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, and opened other public land for drilling.

The President has nominated Dirk Kempthorne, the current Governor of Idaho to replace her. By tradition this particular secretary comes from a western state or territory.

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January 12, 2006

Lobbyist giant shuts down due to ties with Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay

Lobbyist giant shuts down due to ties with Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay

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Thursday, January 12, 2006

The Alexander Strategy Group (ASG), one of Washington’s top lobbying operations, plans to shut down at the end of January.

Edwin A. Buckham, the company’s owner and former top DeLay aide, said Monday that the company had been fatally damaged by the publicity surrounding the federal investigation of the lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-TX).

The company was founded in 1981 and has thrived due to its connections to Tom DeLay. Its current clients include Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, Microsoft, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America.

DeLay has been indicted for money laundering and other charges in Texas. ASG employed DeLay’s wife, Christine, for four years.

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January 3, 2006

Abramoff pleads guilty to three charges

Abramoff pleads guilty to three charges – Wikinews, the free news source

Abramoff pleads guilty to three charges

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Tuesday, January 3, 2006 Jack Abramoff pled guilty today to charges of mail fraud, tax evasion, and conspiracy charges stemming from the Indian Tribes investigation.

Abramoff, founder and former chairman of the International Freedom Foundation and former member of the Board of Directors of the National Center for Public Policy Research, reportedly agreed to cooperate in the prosecutor’s case against Abramoff’s former business partners, who are subjects of the SunCruz Casinos fraud investigation. Part of the three-count indictment charged Abramoff with influence-peddling a House Representative’s Scotland golf trip with US$50,000. The money in question was solicited from an Indian Tribe in Texas by Abramoff, and is rumoured to have gone to Representative Bob Ney (R-OH).

In exchange for his testimony, Mr. Abramoff is expected to be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years imprisonment, and will be allowed to serve sentences concurrently. He is due in a Florida court on Wednesday in regards to the SunCruz case.

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Jack Abramoff
U.S. v. Ambramoff” — New York Times, January 03,2006
U.S. v. Ambramoff” — National Public Radio, January 03,2006
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November 22, 2005

Former DeLay aide pleads guilty in corruption case

Former DeLay aide pleads guilty in corruption case

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Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Michael Scanlon, the former partner of the influential lobbyist Jack Abramoff, pled guilty to conspiracy to bribe congressmen and other public staffers. He agreed to pay back US$19 million to a defrauded Indian tribe and entered into a plea agreement. Scanlon is an ex-aide and press secretary to former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, who was indicted in October on conspiracy and money laundering charges relating to his dealings with Abramoff.

The members of Congress involved in the corruption charges have not yet been named by the prosecutors, but Representative Bob Ney of Ohio has acknowledged that he is “Representative No. 1” named in the court papers. The prosecution alleges that Representative No. 1 accepted gifts, including a golf trip to a luxury resort in Scotland, and regular meals in an upscale D.C. restaurant “in exchange for a series of official acts and influence.”

Ney is said to be cooperating with the investigation. According to Ney’s spokesperson, Brian Walsh, Congressman Ney was a merely victim of Scanlon’s illegal activities.

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October 7, 2005

U.S. watchdog group lists \”most corrupt members of Congress\”

U.S. watchdog group lists “most corrupt members of Congress”

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Friday, October 7, 2005

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) [1], a U.S. legislative watchdog group, has released a report attempting to document the unethical and illegal activities of who they are calling the “most tainted members of Congress”. In describing the reasons for the report Melanie Sloan, executive director of CREW said, “[CREW] was compelled to research and release a report on these corrupt members because the ethics committees in both the House and Senate are completely inert. The report calls for the House and Senate to act to investigate and take appropriate action against them for these violations of the rules.” She went on to attack both parties regarding ethics, “Democrats are just as much to blame as Republicans for the current ethics deadlock. The Democrats won’t file ethics complaints against even the most egregious violators like DeLay and Ney…. The Democrats are spineless.”

The report covers possible violations of federal laws, as well as congressional ethics rules. To compile the report, CREW drew upon Federal Election Commission (FEC) reports and audits, sworn testimony, emails, and personal financial and travel disclosure forms. By analyzing that information, CREW then attempted to determine if the member’s activities violated federal laws, regulations, or congressional ethics rules. The 13 members of Congress covered are:

  • Sen. Conrad Burns (R-MT)
  • Sen. Bill Frist (R-TN, Senate Majority leader),
  • Sen. Rick Santorum (R-PA).
  • Rep. Roy Blunt (R-MO, House Majority Whip)
  • Rep. Randy Cunningham (R-CA)
  • Rep. Tom Feeney (R-FL)
  • Rep. William Jefferson (D-LA)
  • Rep. Marilyn Musgrave (R-CO)
  • Rep. Bob Ney (R-OH)
  • Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA)
  • Rep. Rick Renzi (R-AZ)
  • Rep. Charles Taylor (R-NC)
  • Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA)

The report is entitled “Beyond DeLay: The 13 Most Corrupt Members of Congress”, seeking to capitalize on the current media attention on ethics that has come about due to the indictments of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. However, the report does not cover any of Tom Delay’s ethics problems, nor does it have any information on his current legal problems.

The report was criticized by the office of Rick Renzi, one of the congressmen listed, arguing that CREW are biased and pursuing a political agenda. “This group is run by one of the biggest Democratic Party donors in the nation and is a mouthpiece for its fierce political attacks,” said Renzi’s office in a statement. “The group’s biased accusations show the campaign season is starting early.”

Representative Burns, also one of the representatives named in the report, responded through spokesman James Pendleton calling CREW’s report “pure politics.” The press secretary for Representative Bob Ney, also named in the CREW report, said, “We don’t give Melanie Sloan and her liberal organization an ounce of credibility.”

Both Members of the House whose residences have been searched as part of a criminal investigation, Cunningham and Jefferson, are included on the list. Burns, Ney, and Feeney are cited for their dealings with lobbyist Jack Abramoff. 11 out of the 13 named representatives are Republicans.

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April 12, 2005

Tom DeLay raises Republican hackles as ethics charges dominate news

Tom DeLay raises Republican hackles as ethics charges dominate news

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Tuesday, April 12, 2005

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, on the steps of the capitol.

As Tom DeLay’s (Republican member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Texas), alleged ethical lapses began to dominate American political news stories and the Sunday talk shows, have led some Republican members of the Majority Leader’s own party to question the reasoning for his refusal to account for his actions or resign.

Last year, in a glimpse of problems yet to surface, the Republican head of the U.S. House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, or “House Ethics Committee”, presided over three admonitions that included offering to endorse the candidacy of a political lawmaker’s son in exchange for votes on legislation. The ethics complaints were originally filed by Democratic Rep. Chris Bell of Texas on June 15, 2004, and began to heat up in the months prior to last year’s elections.

A Texas grand jury is taking a hard look at Delay’s fund raising practices, and has already indicted three of his close associates. Last week the Washington Post reported that Mr. DeLay took a trip to Moscow in 1997, financed by lobbyists of the Russian Government.

Delay’s representative, Dan Allen, told reporters “Congressman DeLay’s effective leadership to build and strengthen the House majority is exactly the reason he is being targeted by liberal groups funded by George Soros.”

But Christopher Shays, a Republican from Connecticut, a Republican moderate, told the Associated Press that DeLay’s “conduct is hurting the Republican Party” and “hurting any Republican who is up for re-election [in 2006].”

The news agency reported that DeLay would look forward to meeting the charges with the ethics committee in a sit-down and blamed all of his problems on House Democrats.

Senator Chris Dodd, a Democrat from Connecticut, advised his Republican colleagues strongly to “Be careful about how closely you embrace Mr. DeLay, as long as he’s there, he’s going to become a pretty good target.” His remarks were nationally televised on ABC TV.

Those Republicans working with the Majority Leader said his ethics are only a problem to Democrats trying to regain power in the House. But the Ethics Committee’s membership is equally divided between Republicans and Democrats.

Other Republicans are starting to get jittery about their reelection hopes if DeLay is allowed to retain power.

“Tom’s conduct is hurting the Republican Party, is hurting this Republican majority and it is hurting any Republican who is up for re-election,” Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., told the Associated Press after making similar comments at community meetings in his home district this weekend.

He told reporters he thinks DeLay should step down.

The third-ranking Republican in the Senate, Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, said DeLay needs to “clear the air.” But he thinks everything done by DeLay was “according to the law.”

“I think he has to come forward and lay out what he did and why he did it and let the people then judge for themselves,” he said on ABC’s This Week, a Sunday political talk program. “Now you may not like some of the things he’s done, that’s for the people of his district to decide, whether they want to approve that kind of behavior.”

Santorum faces reelection in 2006.

State and Federal investigations of Tom DeLay

DeLay is under investigation by the Travis County (Texas) district attorney, Democrat Ronnie Earle, who has already indicted three members of DeLay’s organization, Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee (TRMPAC), on charges of money laundering and accepting illegal campaign contributions.

DeLay and his associates are alleged to have created a front group to launder money obtained through this illegal method. The District attorney believes he is enforcing the law enacted by the Texas lawmakers.

DeLay and his supporters contended that this investigation and the indictments were politically motivated maneuvers by the Democratic Travis County, Texas District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Earle has been characterized as a controversial and colorful political figure with a history of pursuing unconventional indictments against elected officials including Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. However, his record shows that he has indicted more Democrats than Republicans.

Federal investigators are probing a lobbyist, Jack Abramoff, another DeLay associate, for bilking millions of dollars from Native American casino operators for promises of congressional action to support their businesses. Abramoff and others may have underwritten overseas travel for the Majority Leader, which is a violation of law.

Reactions to intervention in Terri Schiavo case

DeLay has taken on the nation’s independent judiciary, particularly those who disagreed with him on the reinsertion of the feeding tube for Terri Schiavo, a brain damaged Florida woman who died on March 31. Reports that he pulled the life support from his own father, when he was fatally injured in the 1980’s, didn’t deter him.

“The time will come for the men responsible for this to answer for their behavior,” DeLay said of the judges.

Asked what his associates think of DeLay’s latest slew of bad news, spokesman Dan Allen replied, “Members were very supportive through the week last week and going into the weekend.”

The Bush administration said that DeLay has not become the political liability that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Mississippi, became in 2002.

Loyalty has a price

Both Chris Shays and Joel Hefley, a Republican from Colorado, the past chairman of the House ethics committee who sanctioned DeLay three times, have signed a resolution, crafted by Democrats, that would end some of the rules changes that their own party pushed through to help DeLay only three months ago. DeLay voted for the changes to cover his actions as well.

Hefley said “A lot of folks mention quietly that they are concerned about it. On the other hand, you have a lot of members standing up and pledging their undying support for Mr. DeLay,”

Eleven years after the Republicans swept power in the Congress from the Democrats, they seem more intent on protecting DeLay than keeping the “Contract with America,” according to critics. They say “that is the corrupting influence of power.”

DeWayne Wickham of USA Today asks, “How will voters respond to this breach of the Contract?” The next federal elections will take place in November of 2006.

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