***scroll down for updates…statement from Earle’s office…press conference details…Dreier recommended as replacement…Smear attack on Dreier…NRCC statement…legal analysis and background on Earle…235pmEDT blogging the Earle press conference…Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: “This is a ham sandwich without the ham…” It’s Blunt, not Dreier…820pmEDT update: DeLay must travel to Austin to be fingerprinted/photographed…more Texas reax…***
Via the Austin American Statesman:
A Travis County grand jury today indicted U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on one count of criminal conspiracy, jeopardizing the Sugar Land Republican’s leadership role as the second most powerful Texan in Washington, D.C.
The charge, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years incarceration, stems from his role with his political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, a now-defunct organization that already had been indicted on charges of illegally using corporate money during the 2002 legislative elections.
The grand jury, however, took no action against Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond or state Reps. Dianne Delisi and Beverly Woolley, both of whom sit on the political committee’s board, for their roles in the election.
The grand jury’s term ended today.
Delay’s defense team will hold a press conference in Austin later this afternoon. The team includes defense attorneys Bill White and Steve Brittain of Austin and Dick DeGuerin of Houston.
State law bans corporate money being spent in connection with political campaigns and Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, has spent almost three years investigating whether Republican groups and their business allies violated that ban. The groups helped elect a Republican majority to the state Legislature which, in turn, drew new Congressional districts that benefited Republican candidates.
DeLay and his associates insisted the corporate money was legally spent on committee overhead or issue advertising and not campaign-related activity.
An indictment does not force DeLay to resign as a member of Congress, but the GOP’s rules demand that he resign his post as majority leader as he fights the charges. Congressional Republicans earlier tried to drop that requirement, citing Earle’s investigation as a political vendetta, but they ultimately maintained the rule after withering criticism.
Over the past year, Travis County grand jurors have indicted three DeLay associates — John Colyandro, Jim Ellis and Warren Robold — as well as eight corporate donors, the Texas Association of Business and DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority. Colyandro and Ellis were re-indicted this morning as part of the conspiracy indictment.
I’m trying to get my hands on the indictment. The Statesman hasn’t posted it yet, but it does have an archive of past documents related to the investigation here (free reg. req’d.) [Update: The quick-moving folks at The Smoking Gun have the indictment up.]
1250pm EDT update: DeLay’s office e-mails the following…
Rep. Tom DeLay (R-TX) today released the following statement in response to the announcement out of the Travis County, Texas:
“I have notified the Speaker that I will temporarily step aside from my position as majority leader pursuant to rules of the House Republican Conference and the actions of the Travis County District Attorney today.”
Statement from the Office of the Majority Leader
(WASHINGTON) – Kevin Madden, spokesman for House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (TX) today released the following statement regarding today’s announcement by the Travis County (TX) District Attorney’s Office:
“These charges have no basis in the facts or the law. This is just another example of Ronnie Earle misusing his office for partisan vendettas. Despite the clearly political agenda of this prosecutor, Congressman DeLay has cooperated with officials throughout the entire process. Even in the last two weeks, Ronnie Earle himself had acknowledged publicly that Mr. DeLay was not a target of his investigation. However, as with many of Ronnie Earle’s previous partisan investigations, Ronnie Earle refused to let the facts or the law get in the way of his partisan desire to indict a political foe.
This purely political investigation has been marked by illegal grand jury leaks, a fundraising speech by Ronnie Earle for Texas Democrats that inappropriately focused on the investigation, misuse of his office for partisan purposes, and extortion of money for Earle’s pet projects from corporations in exchange for dismissing indictments he brought against them. Ronnie Earle’s previous misuse of his office has resulted in failed prosecutions and we trust his partisan grandstanding will strike out again, as it should.
Ronnie Earle’s 1994 indictment against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was quickly dismissed and his charges in the 1980s against former Attorney General Jim Mattox-another political foe of Earle-fell apart at trial.
We regret the people of Texas will once again have their taxpayer dollars wasted on Ronnie Earle’s pursuit of headlines and political paybacks. Ronnie Earle began this investigation in 2002, after the Democrat Party lost the Texas state legislature to Republicans. For three years and through numerous grand juries, Ronnie Earle has tried to manufacture charges against Republicans involved in winning those elections using arcane statutes never before utilized in a case in the state. This indictment is nothing more than prosecutorial retribution by a partisan Democrat.”
Ankle Biting Pundits says it ain’t good:
Look folks, there’s not good way to try an spin this. Tom DeLay, as expected, has been indicted for campaign finance violations. There’s an old saying that “a ham sandwich can be indicted”, and by no means is it evidence of guilt. However, in politics, perception is reality, and even if DeLay is cleared eventually the media and the Democrats are going to have a field day. Of course, if DeLay did break the law he should pay the price. And let’s not forget the DA who indicted him is a political hack who pulled a similar stunt on Kay Bailey Hutchinson, which was exposed as a partisan witch hunt.
But politically, this is trouble for the GOP…
…Plus, like it or not any GOP candidate who received money from his PAC (and there are many) is going to painted as a crook.
Buckle up people, it’s going to be a rough ride for a while, and there’s going to be more valleys than peaks in the short term. What this will mean long term is unclear pending the outcome of DeLay’s case.
Reader Tom R. sends this background piece on Earle’s failed witch hunt against Sen. Hutchison as well as examples of Dems doing what DeLay has been indicted for doing. The article is worth reading, but I don’t think the “Everybody does it ” line is going to work for Republicans any more than it does for the Dems defending the actions of Chuck Schumer’s ex-employees.
130pm EDT update. Just received from the Travis County District Attorney’s office:
“There will be a press conference about the attached indictment today at 12:45 p.m. (central time)…”
The Travis County District Attorney’s Office today issued the following statement:
The Travis County Grand Jury today returned an indictment charging Tom DeLay with conspiracy to violate the Texas Election Code.
The indictment names John Colyandro and James Ellis as co-conspirators. Colyandro and Ellis have previously been indicted for both conspiracy to violate the Election Code and money laundering.
The indictment charges DeLay with conspiring with Ellis and Colyandro to violate the Texas Election Code by contributing corporate money to certain candidates for the Texas Legislature. It describes a scheme whereby corporate, or “soft” money, was sent to the Republican National Committee where it was exchanged for “hard” money, or money raised from individuals, and sent to those candidates.
Criminal conspiracy is a State Jail Felony punishable by six months to two years in a State Jail and a fine of up to $10,000.
Rep. David Dreier is being recommended as DeLay’s temporary replacement. Left-wingers have already launched a disgusting and cowardly smear attack on Dreier (hat tip: Jonah Goldberg). Shame on them.
Email from the NRCC:
National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) Chairman Tom Reynolds (NY-26) today issued the following statement in response to Democrat Ronnie Earle’s 11th hour indictment of Majority Leader Tom DeLay:
“The Majority Leader has been a highly effective leader of our conference. Democrats resent Tom DeLay because he routinely defeats them – both politically and legislatively.
“Although much of Ronnie Earle’s investigation has been conducted in secret, we know that he is an unapologetic Democrat partisan. Throughout his three-year scrutiny of the Majority Leader, Earle has been incapable of separating his personal politics from his professional responsibilities. He has used his investigatory powers to energize Democrat activists, and Democrat activists have, in turn, fueled the zeal with which he has pursued DeLay.
“It was only months ago that Ronnie Earle attended a Democrat Party fundraiser in which he openly discussed an ongoing investigation in front of a room full of party activists, and then singled out and attacked a potential target of the investigation. Earle’s unapologetic politicization of the probe prompted the Houston Chronicle to opine that Earle’s behavior has ‘damaged the credibility of his investigation with a stunning display of prosecutorial impropriety.’
“Until Majority Leader Tom DeLay has his day in court, it is vitally important he be afforded the same presumption of innocence afforded to every other American.”
Former DOJ official Barbara Comstock e-mails this legal analysis:
Ronnie Earle argues that Tom DeLay conspired to make a contribution to a political party in violation of the Texas Election Code. There was no contribution to a political party in violation of the Texas Election Code. There was no conspiracy. Ronnie Earle is wrong on the facts. Ronnie Earle is wrong on the law.
According to the indictment, the conspiracy was to unlawfully make a political contribution of corporate funds to a political party within 60 days of an election.
The Texas Election Code clearly states that “A corporation or labor organization may not knowingly make a contribution [to a political party] during a period beginning on the 60th day before the date of a general election for state and county officers and continuing through the day of the election.” Title 15, Texas Election Code, § 253.104. Texas law also states in part that “A person commits criminal conspiracy if, with intent that a felony be committed: (1) he agrees with one or more persons that they or one or more of them engage in conduct that would constitute the offense; and (2) he or one or more of them performs an overt act in pursuance of the agreement.”
The Problems with Earle’s case:
In an effort to contrive jurisdiction over DeLay, Earle charges that because Congressman DeLay may have known about the transaction before it occurred, he was then part of a conspiracy.
However, Earle’s office has sworn testimony and other exculpatory evidence showing that Congressman DeLay did not have knowledge of the transaction.
No corporation or labor organization was indicted in this conspiracy. Neither Jim Ellis nor John Colyandro is a corporation or labor organization.
No corporation or labor organization made a contribution during 60 days of an election.
What constitutes a contribution under the Texas Election Code is not strictly defined.
Neither the RNC nor RNSEC constitute a political party under Texas election law. They are considered PACs, just as the DNC is.
Corporations in Texas could have legally made contributions to the RNC or RNSEC during the period in question under Texas election law.
There was no violation of the Texas Election Code. There was no conspiracy. The underlying transaction was legal. Had corporations sent money directly to the RNC or RNSEC, the transaction would be legal. How could anyone conspire to do indirectly what could legally have been done directly?
Ronnie Earle has a history of using his office for attacks on his political and personal enemies.
·”The Travis County, Texas, prosecutor investigating Mr. DeLay has a history of using his office for partisan ends.”(Congressional prerogative, The Washington Times, November 19, 2004)
·Earle has demonstrated a past zeal for indicting conservative figures and even liberals with whom he has personal or professional disagreements. (Target: DeLay, National Review, April 11, 2005)
Earle’s partisan prosecutions – which have frequently failed – are designed for political harm, not legal harm. Earle is the same partisan prosecutor who politically indicted and failed to convict:
Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison
Conservative Democrat Bob Bullock (when he was Comptroller – later he was Lt. Governor)
Democrat Attorney General Jim Mattox
Ronnie Earle’s three year political vendetta against Rep. DeLay has been marked by:
Illegal grand jury leaks,
A fundraising speech by Earle for the Texas Democrat party that inappropriately focused on the investigation,
Misuse of his office for partisan purposes, and
Extortion of money for Earle’s pet projects from corporations in exchange for dismissing indictments he brought against them.
Ronnie Earle has been frequently criticized for his methods:
The Dallas Morning News criticized Earle in the Hutchison case:
“the impression of partisan unfairness has certainly been reinforced by the leaks and public comment about Hutchison’s case from the District Attorney’s office throughout the summer. That the Grand Jury investigation has been conducted with so much fanfare such as the tip-offs to the new media when key records were seized from the former treasurer’s office has added a darker tone to the cloudy proceedings.” (Hutchison Probe; Fair and Speedy trial is essential, The Dallas Morning News, September 28, 1993)
The Houston Chronicle called into question Earle’s impartiality and judgment:
“The fact that Earle refuses to recognize his blunder and would do it again calls into question whether he has the necessary impartiality and judgment to conduct the investigation that to a great extent will determine whether Texas election campaigns will be financed and perhaps determined by corporations or by individuals.”
(Self-inflicted wound; District attorney’s poor judgment in speaking at a Democratic fund-raiser provides an unintended boost for DeLay’s defenders., The Houston Chronicle, May 20, 2005)
USA Today has a big picture piece up…DeLay under fire: What’s at stake
Houston Chronicle coverage.
Lorie Byrd at PoliPundit reacts.
Here’s my first take on this indictment (I’ve only read the indictment and nothing more for now): The indictment is three pages in length. Other than a statement that “one or more” of 3 individuals, including Tom DeLay, entered into an illegal conspiracy, I can’t find a single sentence tying Tom DeLay to a crime. That is, there’s not a single sentence tying DeLay to the contribution. The indictment describes the alleged conduct of two other individuals, but nothing about DeLay. You would think if Ronnie Earle had even a thin reed of testimony linking DeLay to the contribution, it would have been noted in the indictment to justify the grand jury’s action. Moreover, not only is there no information about DeLay committing acts in furtherance of a conspiracy, there’s no information about DeLay entering into a conspiracy. I honestly believe that unless there’s more, this is an egregious abuse of prosecutorial power. It’s a disgrace. I understand that not everything has to be contained in an indictment, but how about something!
235pm EDT. Earle press conference airing now on Fox News.
Someone asks about the vagueness of the DeLay indictment. Q: What role did DeLay actually play? Earle has no concrete answer. Q: What is the proof DeLay conspired? Again, no concrete answer.
Q: Did you seek money-laundering charges against DeLay? Grand jury returned indictments it thought were appropriate.
Q: It’s said that conspiracy is a last-resort charge? Our job is to enforce the law as written.
246pm EDT. Fla. GOP Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen: “You know what they say. You can indict a ham sandwich….This is a ham sandwich without the ham…”
400pm EDT. More blogger reax…
Harsh words for DeLay from conservative Tacitus.
Bryan Preston has jurisdictional questions.
The Corner says Blunt, not Dreier, will step in.
Stephen Sprueill analyzes the indictment and concludes, “Bottom line: Even people who aren’t fans of Tom DeLay should show some intellectual honesty and admit that this is an out-of-control prosecutor and a phony charge.”
820pm EDT. Via WaPo/AP:
he next step in the criminal proceedings against Republican leader Tom DeLay is a trip to Austin to be fingerprinted and photographed.
DeLay was indicted Wednesday on one count of criminal conspiracy for his alleged role in a campaign finance scheme that helped give Republicans power in the Texas House and in Congress.
DeLay’s attorneys were working out the details of when the 11-term congressman would return to Texas in hopes of saving him from further embarrassment, they said.
“What we’re trying to avoid is Ronnie Earle having him taken down in handcuffs, and fingerprinted and photographed. That’s uncalled for and I don’t think that’s going to happen,” said Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s attorney.
Earle, the Travis County district attorney, said it is up to the court to decide how DeLay would be arraigned.
It was not immediately clear whether DeLay would have to go through booking after responding to the summons for arraignment, said his attorney Bill White.
A bond amount would be set beforehand so Delay could immediately pay it and avoid a stay in jail. He also could waive going before a magistrate to have his rights and charges read to him, said Roger Wade, Travis County Sheriff’s Office spokesman.
DeLay could go to trial in 90 days, which the defense said it favored. “We want a trial right away,” DeGuerin said. “We want a trial by the end of the year.”
Stephen Sprueill interviews Texas Monthly editor Paul Burka about the indictment.
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