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For a moment, with the dark ocean swirling around them, Ed Bethune worried that he and his wife, Lana, would die in the North Atlantic. Six days out to sea during what had begun as a trip-of-a-lifetime attempt at sailing to Europe aboard their 31-foot yacht, the Salute, an unexpected storm had struck. The yacht’s motor dead and its sails blown out, the couple had radioed for help and were now in the water struggling to get to a Coast Guard rescue swimmer perched high above them atop a 25-foot wave. Then Bethune caught a break. “We thought, ‘He’s never gonna get here,’ ” Bethune says. “ But then he just surfed down the wave, and we made it.” If there’s any parallel between Bethune’s ill-fated voyage aboard the Salute 15 years ago and his career as a Washington insider, it’s this: He’s a survivor. In a career spanning nearly three decades in the D.C. trenches, Bethune has weathered a House sex scandal, a failed Senate bid, and Washington’s shifting political winds to become a go-to lawyer for some of the nation’s most powerful Republicans. His latest high-stakes mission: counseling Tom DeLay, the House majority leader, through the ethics allegations that threaten the Texas Republican’s grip on power. In turning to Bethune to represent him, DeLay has tapped a consummate Washington insider and veteran of the House ethics wars of the 1990s. A former Arkansas congressman, Bethune has parlayed a six-year stint in the House in the early ’80s into a second career as high-powered lobbyist, political aide-de-camp, and defense lawyer for congressional leaders. That time in the House gives Bethune a key advantage over other lawyers who specialize in congressional investigations. “With membership comes its privileges. Whether it’s the House gym or Chowder & Marching [a social club of current and former congressional Republicans]. Any place where you can mingle one-on-one without having to wear the lobbyist hat, it’s an advantage,” says one former DeLay aide who knows Bethune. “He meshes the political world and the legal.” That combination of skills has placed Bethune, who works in the D.C. office of the Houston-based law firm Bracewell & Patterson, in the elite group of go-to lawyers for troubled Congress members. “There aren’t too many people who can do what [Bethune] does,” says Bob Livingston, a lobbyist and former Louisiana congressman with ties to both DeLay and former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. “He’s a personal confidant of various folks in the Republican leadership. He’s both a political and legal consultant.” A UNIQUE SPECIALTY Bethune’s soft Southern accent, wispy beard, and genteel demeanor fit the mold of an ex-politician trading on his well-honed charm and connections to build his K Street business. Yet that image belies Bethune’s steelier side. A former Marine, FBI agent, and Arkansas prosecutor who put several men on death row, Bethune, 69, hasn’t been afraid to dirty his cuffs in the cut and thrust of politically heated ethics investigations. In June, DeLay was hit with a series of ethics allegations by Rep. Chris Bell of Texas, a Democrat who lost his seat in 2004 largely because of a controversial redistricting plan pushed through the Texas Legislature by DeLay’s allies. Bell’s complaint to the House ethics committee accused DeLay of ordering the Federal Aviation Administration to track a plane carrying Texas Democratic state legislators, offering political favors to a Kansas-based energy company in return for campaign contributions, and funneling corporate contributions to Texas state legislative campaigns, in violation of state election law. Bethune’s response to the accusations was a 25-page letter to the committee blasting Bell and a liberal public interest group that helped prepare the complaint. In it, Bethune charged that “personal animus and hatred must be weeded out of the system” and that Bell had “lodged libelous and specious allegations against the majority leader.” Bethune’s suggested remedy: that Bell “be subjected to a contempt proceeding in the House of Representatives.” Of Bethune’s tactics, Bell says that “a tremendous amount of Bethune’s response to my complaint are attacks on me.” “He’s very tenacious,” says David Pryor, an Arkansas Democrat who ended Bethune’s political career by defeating him in the state’s 1984 Senate race. “He’s a very strong partisan advocate.” But behind the scenes, Bethune opts for a gentler mode of persuasion, say those who know the ethics committee. “You can characterize Bethune’s approach as collaborative,” says William Canfield, a Williams & Jensen attorney who’s represented Sen. Ted Stevens (R-Alaska) and Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.) in congressional ethics matters. “You don’t want to go in there and pound your shoe on a table and scream. You don’t explain to these members how much smarter you are than them. They like to hear a collective approach. None of the people on the committee want to be there. They know the accused. They serve on other committees with him.” In dealing with Bell’s complaint against DeLay, Bethune’s tactics helped lead to an agreement with the ethics committee that admonished DeLay on Bell’s first two allegations last fall, but allowed the majority leader to remain in his leadership post. (DeLay was also chastised on a separate matter, regarding an offer to support the candidacy of a Michigan congressman’s son in return for a crucial vote on the 2003 Medicare bill.) Bell also was rebuked by the committee for using “excessive or inflammatory language or exaggerated charges” in his initial complaint. Bethune’s artful strategies are driven in part by the makeup of the ethics committee, formally known as the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct. As ethics accusations tend to be politically charged, and the committee’s membership is evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, lawyers for the accused rarely face an unbiased jury. “You don’t have customary legal and procedural issues,” says Jan Baran, a congressional ethics specialist at D.C.’s Wiley Rein & Fielding. “You don’t have procedural rights. You don’t have due process, the right to confront your accuser or cross-examine witnesses,” he says. “It’s a unique specialty.” HAY FROM THE HAMMER But DeLay is far from in the clear. The committee deferred addressing the third complaint, which accused DeLay of funneling corporate money to Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), citing an ongoing criminal investigation into the matter in Austin. Three DeLay associates and eight corporations who donated to TRMPAC have been indicted in the investigation. Additionally, recent newspaper accounts have alleged that a 2001 trip DeLay took to South Korea was paid for by a foreign agent � a possible violation of House rules � and that a separate trip to Great Britain in 2000 was funded by a group linked to scandal-plagued GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff. DeLay has maintained that nothing was improper about the trips, and that the accusations are politically motivated. Earlier this year, Republicans in the House voted to change the rules governing the ethics committee in a move designed to help DeLay. Among the changes was a provision allowing lawyers for the accused to represent witnesses, a move critics say would allow for the coordination of testimony. That could help Bethune as well if some of his clients are ever called to testify against DeLay. Lobbying disclosure forms show that, over the past five years, Bracewell & Patterson has taken more than $2 million in lobbying fees from the Enron Corp. and Burlington Northern Santa Fe, two corporations that have donated heavily to DeLay-affiliated political action committees and whose names have surfaced in connection with the criminal and ethics investigations. Bethune is listed as a lobbyist for both companies, but says the rule change isn’t problematic and that he abides by American Bar Association rules governing conflicts. For Bethune, the new allegations likely mean more billable hours at the expense of DeLay’s legal fund. DeLay’s spokesman, Dan Allen, declined to address specific questions regarding Bethune’s relationship with the majority leader, but offered a prepared statement saying “the congressman likes [Bethune] and trusts his counsel.” That counsel, of course, has come at a price. In the last five months of 2004, the Tom DeLay Legal Expense Trust paid Bracewell & Patterson $195,000, according to disclosure documents obtained by the watchdog group Public Citizen. That’s on top of a $50,000 fee paid to Bracewell in July from DeLay’s campaign fund. Nor are DeLay’s current woes the first time Bethune and Bracewell have counseled DeLay. In 2000 and 2001, Bethune helped represent DeLay � then majority whip � in a racketeering lawsuit filed against him by congressional Democrats. That suit was settled, with DeLay escaping relatively unscathed politically. But the result came at a cost: more than $470,000 in fees to Bracewell paid between January 2000 and December 2003, according to disclosure documents. THE SURVIVOR Bethune’s road from Searcy, Ark., to the inner sanctums of the House majority leader’s office hasn’t been without its bumps. An early supporter of moderate Republican Gov. Winthrop Rockefeller, Bethune ran for Arkansas attorney general in 1972, only to be defeated by the state’s Democratic machine and Jim Guy Tucker. (Tucker, later governor, would resign his governor’s post after a Whitewater conviction in 1996.) After distinguishing himself as a trial attorney, Bethune was nominated to the federal bench by Gerald Ford in 1976, only to see his nomination held up by Arkansas Democratic Sen. Dale Bumpers. When Jimmy Carter won the White House in November, “my nomination died on the vine,” Bethune says with a wistful grin. Undeterred, Bethune ran for Congress in 1978, becoming the first Republican elected from his central Arkansas district since Reconstruction. Once in Washington, Bethune so impressed his fellow Republicans that he was elected president of his freshmen class, a group that included Newt Gingrich, Dick Cheney, and Olympia Snowe. But his political career was nearly derailed in 1982. In June of that year, Leroy Williams, an 18-year-old congressional page appointed by Bethune, told CBS News that he’d had sexual relationships with three unnamed congressmen. The allegations helped fuel what became known as the “Sex and Drugs Investigation” in the House ethics committee. Though Williams later admitted he’d lied about the accusations, an ensuing inquiry turned up evidence that Illinois Republican Daniel Crane and Massachusetts Democrat Gerry Studds had each had improper relationships with 17-year-old pages. Bethune says the episode taught him lessons about handling the capital’s press corps that would later prove useful as a lawyer. “I learned a lot in that,” he says. “The media does go into a feeding frenzy. You have to be patient.” But his once-promising political career ended in 1984 after a failed bid to dislodge Pryor, his former law school classmate at the University of Arkansas, from his Senate seat. “If I’d stayed in Congress, I’d have been one of the senior members right now,” he says. “I found it very frustrating to be in the minority.” Defeated, Bethune left Washington and soon took a job as president of a Little Rock savings and loan, First Federal Savings of Arkansas. After eight months, he quit, walking away with $368,000 in compensation. Within two years, the company was in receivership, becoming the largest S&L collapse in Arkansas history. One newspaper account published at the time suggested Bethune had opted to bail out of the failing S&L to avoid tarnishing his political future, a theory Bethune dismisses. “It just didn’t work for me,” Bethune says. “I’m not a businessman. I’m a lawyer.” But Bethune has proven adept at combining politics, law, and business. Long before DeLay, Bethune had burnished his credentials as a congressman’s lawyer by defending his old colleague Gingrich before the ethics committee in 1990 and again in 1997. After Republicans took control of the House, Bethune joined Bracewell in 1995 and built a lucrative lobbying practice. His status as the speaker’s ethics lawyer didn’t hurt. “I try to make friends with everyone,” Bethune says. A specialty of Bracewell’s lobbying corps is helping large companies fight environmental restrictions, including Clean Air Act regulations. Among the clients for whom Bethune is listed as a lobbyist: the Chemical Manufacturers Association, Royal Dutch/Shell, Briggs & Stratton, and the power company Southern Co. By 1998, Gingrich would resign from the speakership, but Bethune survived the changes in the Republican leadership, having earned the trust of DeLay and the next generation of Republican standard-bearers. As he approaches 70, Bethune says he’s looking to wind down his law and lobbying practice. “I’d like to spend more time on other things,” he says, a day after bringing his sailboat up from South Carolina. But battered by the recent wave of ethics accusations as DeLay has been, the majority leader may be hoping that Bethune can perform a rescue mission of his own. Jason McLure can be contacted at [email protected].

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