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November 23, 2004
Earle Doth Protest Too Much

Ronnie Earle took his fight against Tom DeLay to the pages of the New York Times today, excoriating the House GOP for a rule change which would allow DeLay to keep his leadership position even if indicted by Earle on corruption charges. Earle, the district attorney for Travis County, complains that the Republicans have unfairly tarred him as a political hack and used that excuse to change the rules:

The thinly veiled personal attacks on me by Mr. DeLay's supporters in this case are no different from those in the cases of any of the 15 elected officials this office has prosecuted in my 27-year tenure. Most of these officials - 12 Democrats and three Republicans - have accused me of having political motives. What else are they going to say?

For most of my tenure the Democrats held the power in state government. Now Republicans do. Most crimes by elected officials involve the abuse of power; you have to have power before you can abuse it.

There is no limit to what you can do if you have the power to change the rules. Congress may make its own rules, but the public makes the rule of law, and depends for its peace on the enforcement of the law. Hypocrisy at the highest levels of government is toxic to the moral fiber that holds our communities together.

I'm ambivalent about the rule change. Under normal circumstances, anyone facing an indictment should voluntarily relinquish their leadership positions until matters have been resolved. Changing the rule now seems rather convenient, although the Republicans have not just assumed power in the House this month, as Earle suggests, but have operated under that rule for ten years.

Despite Earle's protests, I don't think these are normal circumstances. Earle dishonestly states that "no [member of Congress] is a target" of his grand jury investigation unless they've committed a crime. First, people do get targeted by grand-jury investigations even if they haven't committed a crime, and sometimes they also get indicted. As Earle should know, that's why we have trials -- to determine guilt or innocence. Why does a district attorney need to be reminded of this?

Secondly, Earle has some history of questionable prosecutions targeting the GOP. Earle, you may recall, once indicted and prosecuted Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson for a number of offenses, including assault and corruption. As the Austin Review wrote four years ago, long before the DeLay investigation:

Earles politically-motivated indictment of Senator Hutchinson on charges that she used state funds to run her senatorial campaign made even his own supporters cringe. The charges were dismissed when Earle refused to present evidence at trial.

What kind of prosecutor hauls a politician in front of a jury, then refuses to present evidence of her alleged crimes? Either an incompetent or a political hack, and evidence exists to support both conclusions.

Lastly, if politics plays no role in Earle's efforts, why is he spending his efforts, and Texas tax money, writing opinion pieces about Congressional actions for the New York Times? For a man who ostensibly eschews politics, he had no hesitation in attacking the House GOP over a rule change which makes absolutely no difference to his investigation. It seems wildly inappropriate for an officer of the court conducting a grand-jury investigation of alleged political corruption to start a career in punditry regarding partisan politics. Defending his honor would have been understandable, but Earle specifically derides the House for a rule change which, if you believe his statement that he has no control over how the grand jury will act, would be immaterial anyway.

While I believe that the GOP would be better served by reconsidering the rule change, all Earle did today was provide even more evidence that their action was a necessity.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at November 23, 2004 6:18 AM

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Tracked on November 23, 2004 7:20 AM

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