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DeLay Defends Overseas Trips

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay strongly denied wrongdoing Tuesday in connection with two overseas trips financed by outside organizations, and said he is eager to discuss the facts with leaders of the House ethics committee.

"I feel confident I've done nothing wrong," the Texas Republican said as fellow lawmakers and aides sought to assess the impact of fresh controversy on the party in general.

The Texas Republican laid the blame for the recent controversy at the feet of congressional Democrats and what he charged was inaccurate newspaper reporting.

He said there was nothing wrong with either of the two trips. One involved going to South Korea in 2001 — a trip bankrolled by the Korea-U.S. Exchange Council.

The other trip was to Britain in 2000. The Washington Post reported Saturday that the cost of that voyage was picked up mostly by an Indian tribe and a gambling services company.

In unusually direct terms, DeLay criticized the Post story, accusing the paper of a "zeal to leave readers with a false impression that I did something that I did not do."

The Post did not immediately have a comment.

These latest angry denials by DeLay that he did anything wrong in foreign travel come amid a flurry of ethics problems for the Republican leader, reports CBS News Correspondent Bob Fuss.

A grand jury in Texas, which has indicted three close DeLay associates, is still looking into whether a political group he founded violated state campaign laws.

And the House ethics committee is in turmoil, in part due to steps Republicans took after DeLay was admonished on several other ethics issues last year. They replaced members, fired staff and changed the rules to let one party block any investigation.

Democrats said that was an attempt to shelter DeLay, and noted that two of the GOP members on the ethics committee are also contributors to the majority leader's legal defense fund.

Officials said that DeLay's letter to Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., the ethics committee chairman, and Alan Mollohan, D-W. Va., the senior Democrat, laid out a defense of the majority leader's travels.

In the 2001 journey to Korea, DeLay's travel costs were picked up by a registered foreign agent despite rules prohibiting the practice, government documents show. He — as well as other lawmakers who took similar trips — said he didn't know the Korea-United States Exchange Council had registered as an agent of the South Korean government.

In all, at least eight House members and 15 House aides accepted trips to South Korea paid for by the organization.

Lawmakers who took the trips said either that the travel was approved in advance by the House ethics committee — formally known as House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct — or that they relied on information provided by the council.

The council took the blame for any problems. In a statement last week, it assured lawmakers the trips "met with the approval of the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, as we believed to be the case."

In the case of the trip to England, the Post reported that DeLay traveled to Britain with his wife, several aides and lobbyists on a $70,000 junket mostly paid for with money from an Indian tribe and a gambling services company.

The paper said that not long afterwards, DeLay played a key role in killing gaming-related legislation opposed by the company and tribe.

DeLay reported in House financial disclosures that the weeklong May 2000 trip was paid for by the National Center for Public Policy Research, a nonprofit organization. However, the Post reported, lobbyist Jack Abramoff suggested the trip and arranged for two of his clients, the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and eLottery Inc., to send checks to the center to cover the travel.

Abramoff has longstanding political ties to DeLay. His lobbying activities on behalf of certain tribes is the subject of a federal investigation as well as the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.

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