A Texas appellate court has overturned the conviction of former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) for allegedly scheming to influence Texas state elections with corporate money.
A three-judge panel voted 2-1 to overturn the conviction, calling the evidence "legally insufficient," according to court papers released Thursday. The decision formally acquits DeLay of all charges, but it could still be appealed by the government. (Read the court's majority opinion and dissenting opinions.)
Just hours after the ruling was announced, DeLay visited Capitol Hill for a long-scheduled lunch meeting with members of the Texas Republican congressional delegation. Before the meeting, DeLay told reporters that he was at the "C Street House," or National Prayer Center, Thursday morning when he heard the news.
"We were all basically on our knees praying and my lawyer calls and says, 'you're a free man,'" DeLay said.
DeLay, 66, was convicted in 2010 for allegedly trying to influence Texas elections by funneling corporate money to various candidates. Prosecutors said that the money helped the GOP win control of the Texas House and that the majority then pushed through a DeLay-organized congressional redistricting plan that sent more Republicans to Congress. The Justice Department has joined lawsuits challenging the makeup of the map, claiming it unfairly draws minority communities out of certain districts.
DeLay was sentenced to three years in prison, but remained free while awaiting appeal rulings.
DeLay said Thursday that he has raised and spent more than $12 million on legal fees since his first tussle with the House Ethics Committee in 1995. He told reporters that he felt vindicated by the judges' decision.
"It's really happy day for me, and I just thank the Lord for carrying me through all of this and it really drove my detractors crazy because I had the joy of Jesus in me and they didn't understand it."
He said the legal troubles were hard on his family and called the indictment "an outrageous criminalization of politics."
When asked if he planned to return to the political arena, DeLay said he "never left it" but would "probably not" run for elected office again. "There's too much other things that the Lord wants me to do. But around the political arena, I'm around. They never got rid of me."
He joked that he could help current House Republican leaders to drum up support for their short-term spending plan, which would continue to fund the federal government while simultaneously blocking implementation of President Obama's health care law, the Affordable Care Act.
"They haven't asked me to, but I could do it," he said.
DeLay's ironclad control of the House was legendary and earned him the nickname, "The Hammer," for the dictatorial style with which he commanded House Republicans -- and tormented President Bill Clinton and Democrats.
Before the lunch, DeLay was flanked by Ken Wilde, a pastor from Boise, Idaho, and Tom Smith, an attorney who is vice president of Men for Nations, a prayer group based in the District. Wilde said the trio is working to develop a new national prayer network "that would bring about spiritual renewal in America."
"We’ve been praying over him, calling him and encouraging him, because it’s a travesty. Both sides should be embarrassed that this ever happened," Smith added.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), who was not attending the lunch with DeLay, said he was glad to hear about the judge's decision.
"It's been a long saga for him and I'm just glad it's over," McCaul said.
Juliet Eilperin and Jackie Kucinich contributed to this report.
Follow Ed O'Keefe on Twitter: @edatpost