A spokeswoman for former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay denied on Tuesday that in 2001, at the behest of casino mogul Sheldon Adelson, DeLay blocked legislation that could have hindered China's Olympic bid.
A civil trial unfolding in Las Vegas has exposed charges that Las Vegas Sands Corp. Chairman Adelson, a major Republican donor, used his political influence to squelch congressional objections to China's Olympic bid, possibly helping Beijing land this year's games.
DeLay did not have a hand in blocking a bipartisan resolution condemning Beijing's bid, spokeswoman Shannon Flaherty said. Any implication that the Texas Republican influenced legislation to advance the business interests of a wealthy donor was false, she said.
"The people who attempt to steal credit or assign blame for congressional actions are a dime a dozen, but the fact is the bill wasn't going to the floor before any conversation occurred," Flaherty wrote in an e-mail in response to questions.
According to Adelson's testimony, on July 4, 2001 Adelson called DeLay, then the majority whip, from China, where Adelson was angling to get the Chinese government to let him build a casino in Macau.
Adelson said in court last week that he reached DeLay by phone at an Independence Day barbecue in Texas and that the subject of the phone call was a nonbinding resolution pending in the House at the time that could have thrown up an obstacle to Beijing's Olympic bid.
Flaherty said DeLay had no recollection of whether or not the phone call occurred.
"But by the time such conversation would have occurred, it was already clear that the bill wasn't going to be scheduled (for a hearing or vote on the House floor) due to the opposition of leadership," she said.
At the time, the Chinese capital was competing with several other cities, including Paris and Toronto, for the 2008 Summer Games. The House bill, sponsored by the late Rep. Tom Lantos, D-Calif., called on the U.S. delegation to the International Olympic Committee to vote against Beijing because of China's human rights record. It had broad bipartisan support.
Lawyers for Richard Suen, the Hong Kong businessman who is suing Adelson for allegedly failing to pay him for his services, contend that Adelson called in a chit from DeLay that day, asking the Republican leader to do him a favor and scuttle the vote.
In his testimony in District Court in Las Vegas last week, Adelson said he met with then-Beijing Mayor Liu Qi, who asked him to "help China win the Olympics."
Adelson said he called "four or five" congressmen he knew, including DeLay, about legislation that could hinder China's Olympic bid. He did not name the other members of Congress. But Adelson said he did not ask DeLay or any of the congressmen to do anything that would "go against their beliefs."
The bill didn't make it to the floor of the Republican-controlled House. Just over a week later, on July 13, 2001, the Olympic committee met in Moscow and, in a secret vote, chose Beijing to host the Games.
Lantos, a Holocaust survivor who died last year, blasted the choice, telling the Associated Press at the time, "This decision will allow the Chinese police state to bask in the reflected glory of the Olympic Games despite having one of the most abominable human rights records in the world."
DeLay spokeswoman Flaherty denied that DeLay exerted any influence on the bill or that the bill would have had an effect on the Olympic committee's vote.
"Mr. DeLay was Whip at the time. The floor schedule is determined by the Majority Leader, who was (former Texas Rep.) Dick Armey, and with a Republican in the White House they had a very ambitious agenda that year," Flaherty's e-mail said. "Also, since it was a nonbinding resolution, it would have no impact on the law or any decision made regarding the Olympics."
And far from wanting to advance China's interests despite human-rights advocates' objections, DeLay was a longtime critic of China for its rights record and opposed giving Beijing the games, Flaherty noted. DeLay was a signatory to the Lantos resolution.
DeLay "supported the resolution, but there were detractors among the Republican conference," Flaherty's e-mail said. "There was a strong sense among Members (of Congress) at the time that this resolution would have the opposite effect that was intended and in essence guarantee that the IOC would pick Beijing just to spite Congress."
Sands leaders, however, appear to believe otherwise. Adelson's chief lieutenant, Sands President Bill Weidner, testified Monday that on the basis of Adelson's conversation with DeLay, the company took credit for helping China get the Olympics.
After Adelson was told the Lantos bill would not come up for a vote, Weidner contacted Sands' Washington lobbying firm, Patton Boggs, with instructions to tell the Chinese embassy that Sands had helped keep the vote from happening, Weidner acknowledged.
The Chinese were "grateful" for Sands' assistance, Weidner said.
Adelson was eventually successful in becoming the first American businessman to open a gaming facility in China, the Sands Macau, in 2004. Sands' early entry into the Chinese market coupled with its public offering that same year dramatically increased the wealth of Adelson, now thought to be the third richest man in America after Bill Gates and Warren Buffett.
The current trial, which began last week and is expected to last a month, revolves around Suen's accusation that Adelson didn't pay him for helping the company get its license to operate in Macau. Adelson contends that Suen did nothing to earn the payment he says he deserves.
In court on Tuesday, Weidner told the jury that compensating Suen, who set up meetings with Chinese government officials and claims he was instrumental in securing the license, would have looked bad. "Paying him would have looked as if we bribed someone for the license," Weidner said.
A prolific donor to Jewish and conservative causes, Adelson has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to Republican campaign committees. He contributed $6,200 to DeLay's campaigns between 1999 and 2005, according to the Federal Election Commission.
DeLay, who left the House in 2006, remains under a corruption indictment in Texas on campaign-finance charges.
Review-Journal writer Howard Stutz contributed to this report. Contact reporter Molly Ball at email@example.com or 702-387-2919.