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DeLay Indicted in Texas Finance Probe
For DeLay to be guilty, he would have had to have both been informed of the transaction and approved the transaction, according to a source familiar with the details of case. David Berg, a Houston-based trial lawyer who wrote a best-selling legal textbook, said: "Politics in Texas is a real jungle, and money of this sort, I would suspect, gets washed all the time. [But] it would be illegal if [he] knew that corporate funds were going to be laundered and used in the state races. . . . I can't imagine somebody is not going to testify against [him]. Otherwise all Ronnie Earle can prove is that everything DeLay did is legal."
No evidence to support the conspiracy charge was cited in the indictment, which says only that DeLay and two named associates entered "into an agreement with one or more of each other" or with the committee to conduct the funds transfer. But Texas law permits such evidence to be left out of the indictment, so it is rarely included.
The others named in the indictment were James W. Ellis, who still runs DeLay's principal fundraising committee -- Americans for a Republican Majority -- and John D. Colyandro, the former director of the Texas offshoot. Both were previously charged with laundering money, an offense that can bring a 10-year prison term, and on Sept. 13 with conspiracy to accept illegal corporate donations.
The addition of DeLay to the conspiracy charge yesterday suggests that some crucial piece of information or testimony may have come into Earle's possession in recent weeks. The charge against DeLay carries a potential penalty of six months to two years in state jail, and a fine of as much as $100,000.
DeLay's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said in the lobby of the Austin Criminal Justice Center that DeLay is so confident of his innocence that he will push for a swift trial. He said DeLay did not participate in a conspiracy and the $190,000 was spent "on proper things."
J.D. Pauerstein, an attorney for Ellis, said: "All of the indictments handed down in this case are frivolous and ridiculous. Our clients consulted election law experts, followed their advice and reported every contribution" to the Internal Revenue Service.
Colyandro, a veteran of White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove's direct-mail firm, has long denied wrongdoing but lost several court battles since the inquiry began to have the relevant Texas election law declared unconstitutional. His attorney in Austin, Joseph A. Turner, said that "this is really a rehash of previous indictments" and that the lengthy wait for it reflected the weakness of the prosecutor's case.
Regarding the $190,000 funds transfer from Texas to Washington and the return of the same amount from Washington to Texas, "Colyandro would say DeLay did not have any knowledge of that transaction in advance," Turner said.
The new indictment came after a 34-month inquiry and was issued on the final day the grand jury met. It caps a series of indictments that targeted eight corporations and an industry group, the Texas Association of Business, alleged to have worked with the Texas committee in collecting and disbursing illegal corporate contributions.
DeLay waived a requirement that the indictment be presented within three years of "the commission of the offense," the document states; DeGuerin said DeLay did this under duress so that he could put off an indictment weeks ago and keep trying to persuade Earle not to bring one.
Earle told reporters that he brought the indictment to defend the state's democratic system from undue corporate influence. "The law says the duty of a prosecutor is to make sure justice is done," Earle said, adding that the ban against corporate contributions "is intended to safeguard democracy and make the ballot box accessible to everybody, regardless of the amount of money involved."
But DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said ill motives lie behind Earle's action: "They could not get Tom DeLay at the polls. They could not get Mr. DeLay on the House floor. Now they're trying to get him into the courtroom. This is not going to detract from the Republican agenda."
House Speaker Hastert, surrounded by other GOP leaders, said of DeLay: "He will fight this, and we will give him our utmost support." Blunt complained about "this terribly unfair thing that ha happened to him."
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) said, "The criminal indictment of Majority Leader Tom DeLay is the latest example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption at the expense of the American people."
But White House spokesman Scott McClellan described DeLay as "a good ally, a leader who we have worked closely with to get things done for the American people."
"I think the president's view is that we need to let the legal process work," he added.
"No jury can undo the outcome of Texas's 2002 elections," Craig McDonald, director of Texans for Public Justice, said in a news release. McDonald, whose complaint helped spark Earle's investigation, continued: "But the justice system must punish those who criminally conspire to undermine democracy -- no matter how powerful they may be. If we are to be a 'democracy,' then powerful politicians cannot flout such laws with impunity."
Staff writers Juliet Eilperin in Austin and Jeffrey H. Birnbaum and Amy Goldstein in Washington contributed to this report.