After former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay beat back money-laundering charges in Texas’ highest criminal court Wednesday, he drove with his family and friends to Willie’s Grill & Ice House in Sugar Land for a burger, fries and onion rings.
“Are you kidding me,” asked DeLay, laughing, when asked how he’s doing. “I feel great.”
DeLay has waited a long time to be removed from the yoke of legal troubles. In 2005, DeLay stepped down from his Majority Leader post after a Texas grand jury indicted him on charges that he improperly funneled donations to Texas House candidates. On Wednesday, the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals upheld an earlier ruling throwing out his conviction in 2010. DeLay has also weathered various ethics charges raised against him by Democrats in 1996 and 1998 as well as and a federal lawsuit accusing the then-Majority Whip of racketeering in 2000.
DeLay told TIME that his legal fees for “all of that” is “well over $12 million.”
Unsurprisingly, DeLay blames the Democrats for his downfall, arguing that they exploited a “stupid” Republican Party law that requires members to give up leadership posts if they are indicted.
“This is part of the criminalization of politics that the left is very much involved in,” he says. “It’s not just me—They did it to [Texas] Gov. Rick Perry, I contend they did it to [Virginia] Gov. Bob McDonnell, they’re trying to do it [Wisconsin] Gov. Scott Walker and many others.”
The legal battles haven’t sapped his enthusiasm for politics, however. When asked if he would consider running for office, DeLay left the door open.
“I don’t know what the Lord has for me,” he said. “I’m just excited about my new life. And I can get on with it.”