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September 28, 2005
DeLay Indicted By Partisan DA

A Travis County, Texas grand jury indicted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on a single charge of conspiracy to violate state campaign-finance laws earlier today, a long-awaited result of a years-long investigation by Travis County DA Ronnie Earle. The indictment will force DeLay to step down from his leadership position until either a trial or a dismissal. Roy Blunt will take over most of his responsibilities temporarily, with some falling to David Dreier and Eric Cantor:

The indictment accuses DeLay of criminally conspiring to inject illegal corporate contributions into 2002 state elections that helped the Republican Party reorder the congressional map in Texas and cement its control of the House of Representatives in Washington.

The four-page indictment alleged for the first time that DeLay himself participated in a conspiracy with others to funnel corporate money into the 2002 state election "with the intent that a felony be committed."

In the indictment, DeLay is accused of conspiring with two associates: John D. Colyandro, the former executive director of a political action committee in Texas that was formed by DeLay, and James W. Ellis, the head of DeLay's national political committee. Colyandro and Ellis had previously been charged in an indictment that did not name DeLay.

DeLay helped organize the Texas election fundraising effort at the core of today's indictment, Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee, known as TRMPAC. The committee itself was indicted on Sept. 8 for accepting illegal corporate funds. Eight corporations and an industry lobbying group have also been indicted during the 34-month probe.

The indictment charges that DeLay entered "into an agreement" with Colyandro and Ellis to circumvent the state's ban on corporate contributions by arranging for the donations to be sent first to an arm of the Republican National Committee in Washington, and then back to Republican candidates in Texas named on a written list prepared in Texas.

The conspiracy charge against DeLay carries a potential penalty of six months to two years in state prison and a fine of up to $100,000. DeLay, unlike the two others named in the indictment Wednesday, was not charged with money-laundering, an offense that can bring a 10-year prison term.

Ronnie Earle has tried to derail DeLay for years, and he has conducted himself in a most partisan fashion in doing it. Rather than investigate these charges in a clearheaded, direct, and nonpartisan manner, Earle has made no bones about his personal and political vendetta. He has openly used this investigation as a Democratic Party fundraising device, charging up Democratic rallies such as one last May that raised over $100,000, featuring Earle on the stump talking about the case and DeLay. According to the American Bar Association Canon of Ethics, Earle has violated DR7-107(A) as well as (B)(1). He also has clearly violated EC8-8, which states that lawyers who serve as public officers "should not engage in activities in which his personal or professional interests are or foreseeably may be in conflict with his official duties."

That has nothing to do with any question of whether DeLay violated the law, of course, but it has plenty to do with whether Earle presented a balanced and honest case to the Travis County grand jury. I suspect that his political ambitions come before his desire to see that justice is done in Travis County, and just like his ill-starred indictment against the diminutive Kay Bailey Hutchinson for battery, it will probably get a quick dismissal from the first judge to review it. Besides, as the American Spectator points out, the activity that garnered Earle's attention hardly qualifies as unique:

At stake in 2002 was control of the Texas legislature, which was to redraw congressional district lines. Corporate contributions to legislative candidates are illegal in Texas. The DeLay aides stand accused of violating that prohibition, along with eight companies like Sears Roebuck that provided the funds. The corporate money, however, never went to the candidates. Instead, it went to a much larger fund for state elections controlled by the Republican National Committee in Washington. That committee made contributions to Texas legislative candidates, constituting what Earle now charges is "money laundering."

The only problem is that similar transactions are conducted by both parties in many states, including Texas. In fact, on October 31, 2002, the Texas Democratic Party sent the Democratic National Committee (DNC) $75,000, and on the same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $75,000. On July 19, 2001, the Texas Democratic Party sent the DNC $50,000 and, again on the same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $60,000. On June 8, 2001, the Texas Democratic Party sent the DNC $50,000. That very same day, the DNC sent the Texas Democratic Party $60,000.

EARLE'S LAST FORAY INTO politicized prosecution in 1993 turned into a huge embarrassment when he went after Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-TX), who was then Texas Treasurer. Earle made a series of trumped-up charges, including that the demure Hutchison had physically assaulted an employee. Earle dropped the case during the trial.

Michelle Malkin has plenty of links at her site, but make sure to read the e-mail she received from former DoJ official Barbara Comstock, especially this:

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?

If DeLay broke the law and conspired to break the law, then he should face trial and a jury, just like anyone else. However, anyone else facing this Javert-like partisan would immediately get a judge's attention and a skeptical review of the underlying charges. Regardless of the profession of a defendant, District Attorneys represent all of the People -- including the defendants -- and are supposed to ensure fairness of process, not just cheerlead for indictments. Those who fail to live up to that standard expose themselves as political hacks, and political hacks might start off getting headlines but they usually wind up receiving blistering remonstrations from judges who suffer such wastes of time poorly.

Don't be surprised to find this indictment quashed within a few weeks.

UPDATE: The Commissar has a broad collection of links from across the blogospheric spectrum, well worth checking out.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 28, 2005 5:06 PM

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