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GOP Rule Could Force DeLay Aside

The GOP Conference adopted the rule on indictments in August 1993 as Republicans were in the midst of criticizing then-Ways and Means Chairman Dan Rostenkowski (D-Ill.) for his involvement in the House Post Office scandal.

Originally, the provision only affected chairmen and ranking members, but then-Minority Leader Bob Michel (R-Ill.) amended it during the drafting process to apply to all members of the elected leadership as well.

Because the rule was not applied retroactively, then-Appropriations ranking member Joe McDade (R-Pa.) was allowed to keep his post throughout the 103rd Congress even though he had been under indictment on federal racketeering charges since 1992. At the end of 1994, however, incoming Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) decided that McDade would not be eligible to keep the top Appropriations slot in the 104th Congress.

While the rules call for an indicted chairman who has stepped down to be succeeded by the next ranking committee Republican, they do not specify how a member of leadership should be replaced in such a circumstance.

Speaker Dennis Hasterts (R-Ill.) longtime emphasis on unity and continuity makes it appear unlikely he would tolerate a protracted leadership struggle, particularly in the middle of an election year.

Presumably, the current elected leaders could each move up a slot until DeLay was able to return, meaning Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) would become Majority Leader and Cantor would take Blunts post.

Under another scenario, the Conference would elect a caretaker Majority Leader, choosing a respected senior lawmaker with no leadership aspirations who would take the post for the good of the Conference and be willing to relinquish it immediately when asked.

None of those events will occur, of course, unless the Austin grand jury looks beyond TRMPAC staffers and chooses to indict DeLay, who has not to date hired a lawyer or established a legal defense fund to deal with the case. He also has not been subpoenaed or informed that he is a target of the investigation, though his daughter, Danielle Ferro, has been subpoenaed in her role as a TRMPAC fundraiser.

Earle has been examining the campaign activities of the Texas Association of Business and state House Speaker Tom Craddick (R) as well as TRMPACs solicitation and disbursement of more than $500,000 in corporate donations. The group spent the money for a variety of purposes, including polling and fundraising.

Texas law allows PACs to use such funds only for administrative expenses. Violators of the law could be charged with a felony carrying a sentence of two to 10 years in prison.

According to press reports, TRMPAC and Earles prosecutors have advanced different interpretations of what constitutes administrative expenses as opposed to political ones.

Prosecutors contend that the law only allows spending corporate money on expenses such as rent and utilities, while TRMPAC officials believe their expenses were legal and that only direct contributions to candidates would violate the law.

Even if a grand jury finds sufficient evidence that TRM broke state law, it is not clear whether it would indict DeLay himself. Published reports in Texas have suggested that prosecutors are seeking to determine the extent to which the Majority Leader, the head of a TRM advisory board, personally directed the PACs operations.

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