DeLay Turns Up Heat on Texas Prosecutor

Posted October 17, 2005 at 6:36pm

With Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) scheduled to make his first appearance before a Texas judge on Friday, DeLay’s legal team has unleashed a barrage of new legal motions designed to undermine the state charge of money laundering that forced him to step down as House Majority Leader.

In addition, DeLay’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, also revealed for the first time on Monday that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who is spearheading the Texas-based probe, tried to convince DeLay to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge that would have allowed him to retain his leadership role. According to DeGuerin, DeLay rejected Earle’s offer and Earle then moved to obtain felony money-laundering and conspiracy complaints against DeLay from a Texas grand jury.

“Before the first indictment, you tried to coerce a guilty plea from Tom DeLay for a misdemeanor, stating that the alternative was an indictment for a felony which would require his stepping down as Majority Leader of the United States House of Representatives,” DeGuerin wrote in a letter to Earle that was publicly released by DeLay’s lawyers Monday. “He turned you down flat so you had him indicted, in spite of advice from others in your office that DeLay had not committed any crime. In short, neither lack of evidence nor lack of law has deterred you.”

DeLay, his lawyers and his allies have turned the lawmaker’s effort to overcome the money-laundering charge into a campaign to discredit Earle. They have played up the fact that Earle seemingly contradicted himself about whether he would seek an indictment against DeLay, then employed a succession of grand juries to obtain a money-laundering complaint against DeLay when problems arose with a previous conspiracy indictment.

DeLay’s camp has also exploited rumors in Austin of infighting within the Travis County D.A.’s office, and Earle has been publicly lambasted for allowing a film crew to trail him as he worked on the DeLay case.

Earle, for his part, has refused to comment in detail on the DeLay case, stating that the secrecy rules surrounding grand juries prevents him from doing so. He did obtain a subpoena last week for the home phone records of DeLay and his daughter, who is also DeLay’s campaign manager and a paid consultant to his leadership political action committee.

The charges against DeLay and his associates stem from the Texas Republican’s role in the 2002 state legislative races, which enabled a new Republican majority to redraw Congressional district lines to the GOP’s advantage, with Republicans picking up five House seats last November.

In Monday’s legal motions, DeLay asked a state judge to quash the money-laundering charge against him, a charge that is centered on a $190,000 hard money/soft money swap in September 2002 between Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, which DeLay created in 2001, and an arm of of the Republican National Committee. TRMPAC gave $190,000 in corporate soft money to the Republican National State Elections Committee, which then gave the same amount in hard money to seven state GOP candidates two weeks later.

Earle alleges that the swap between TRMPAC and the RNC violated Texas’ ban on using corporate campaign donations in state races. Earle sought and obtained indictments against DeLay and his two political associates, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, over the transaction. DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro have all maintained that the swap was perfectly legal, and DeLay has further insisted that he had nothing to do with the transactions anyway.

The latest DeLay motion seeks to have the money-laundering indictment dismissed on several grounds: first, that the indictment “fails to allege any act or omission by Tom DeLay” that actually violated Texas law; second, that the indictment “improperly joins” two offenses in such a way that it allowed Earle to seek an indictment of DeLay; third, that the conspiracy statute used to charge DeLay by Earle does not actually cover the Texas Election Code; and finally, that Earle misapplied Texas election and criminal laws in a number of ways.

One of the most serious allegations brought by the DeLay team concerns a document, allegedly given by Ellis to an RNC official, listing the names of GOP state candidates to whom the national committee should direct hard money. While the indictment against the three men mentions the document, Earle’s office was forced to admit in court on Friday that it was never able to produce a copy of it.

A second motion to quash largely covers the same ground.

If DeLay fails in his bid to get to the charges dropped, he has asked for a speedy trial, arguing that the indictments against him “have already had adverse collateral consequences including the temporary loss of Tom DeLay’s leadership position in the United States Congress and an unknown effect on the upcoming (March 2006) primary elections” in the Lone Star State.

DeLay is also seeking to sever his case from that of Colyandro and Ellis. Ellis and Colyandro have appealed an earlier court ruling letting stand indictments against them while not ruling on the merits of the case. Those indictments were issued in September 2004.

DeLay’s lawyers and supporters fear that if his case is combined with that of Colyandro and Ellis, it could drag on for months, thereby eliminating any hope he had of returning as Majority Leader.

In earlier motions, DeLay sought to have one of the indictments against him — conspiracy to commit money laundering — thrown out on the grounds of prosecutorial misconduct by Earle. After the initial conspiracy indictment against DeLay was issued, Earle tried and failed get a money-laundering indictment returned by two grand juries before succeeding with a third, which had just been empaneled that day. DeLay and his lawyers have alleged that this was an abuse of prosecutorial power by Earle.