Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas, says he happened to be on his knees praying at a Capitol Hill get-together when he got the news Thursday that a Texas court overturned his conviction in a money-laundering case stemming from the 2002 elections.
"We were all basically on our knees praying," said DeLay, once known in the nation's capital as The Hammer. "And my lawyer calls and says, 'You're a free man!' "
After some more praying, DeLay said he and several others walked over to the Capitol, where he had another appointment in the Rotunda chapel. It was there that reporters found him.
"So, it's a really happy day for me. And I just thank the Lord for carrying me through all this," said DeLay, standing in a hallway, just a few yards from the suite of offices he once inhabited.
DeLay, 66, said he had no intentions of returning to elective office because "there's too [many] other things the Lord wants me to do." But he also noted he's been around the "political arena" in other ways, "never left it," and intends to remain active.
DeLay was convicted by a jury in November 2010 on state charges of illegally funneling corporate money through the Republican National Committee to help elect GOP candidates to the Texas Legislature in 2002. That decision was overturned on appeal Thursday.
The court's decision means he cannot be retried.
DeLay had been sentenced to three years in prison on a conspiracy charge and five years for money laundering. He had remained free while appealing his case. Through six grand juries and his trial, DeLay had maintained his innocence, saying the prosecution was politically motivated.
Thursday, DeLay explained that he happened to be in Washington this week because, "out of the blue, these guys called me and said there were some things we want to talk about." He did not get specific, but said it involved getting together "and starting something," and that when he heard the news he was at that time attending discussions about a "nationwide prayer operation."
In fact, it was his religious faith, DeLay said, that got him through his legal troubles. He said that "drove my detractors crazy because, you know, I had the joy of Jesus through me, and they don't understand that."
But in addition to relying on his faith, DeLay also had to spend millions on the case. "I have raised and spend in legal fees over that period of time over $12 million," he said.
DeLay recalled that his legal problems, for him, actually began in 1995 with the House Ethics Committee, and then the-Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, he said, "announced they were going to get me."
"Because that's what they want to do, they destroy," he said.
Asked whether he might be able to help current House Republican leaders in getting their conference behind passage of a short-term government funding measure, DeLay responded, "They haven't asked me to."
"But I could do it," he said.