DeLay Had Rejected Deal for Guilty Plea to Misdemeanor

By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Attorneys for former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) disclosed yesterday that the powerful politician rebuffed a Texas prosecutor's suggestion that he plead guilty to a misdemeanor violation of election law.

The exchange between lawyers in the case occurred before DeLay was indicted on felony money-laundering charges by a Texas grand jury.

In a series of new motions filed as DeLay nears arraignment in Austin on Friday, his attorneys also asked the court to sever DeLay's forthcoming trial from that of his co-defendants, political aides James W. Ellis and John Colyandro, so that DeLay's innocence or guilt can be swiftly resolved.

In addition, lead attorney Dick DeGuerin and his two co-counsels filed separate motions seeking to quash both counts of the Oct. 3 money-laundering indictment against DeLay. They cited multiple reasons that the transactions at the heart of the alleged offense were not a violation of Texas law. The lawyers said, for example, that the law covered the "money laundering of funds" such as coins or currency, and that the money transfers cited in the indictment involved "checks" that were not "funds."

In the indictment, DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro were charged both with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. The accusation grew out of a September 2002 transfer of $190,000 collected by a DeLay-organized group mostly from corporations to the national Republican Party in Washington, and the payment several weeks later of $190,000 by the party to select state candidates in Texas.

The aim of the alleged scheme was to ensure the election of a Republican majority that year in the Texas House, so it could redraw the state's congressional map to favor the election of more Republicans. The effort succeeded, and five more Texas Republicans were elected to Congress in 2004.

Texas is one of 18 states that bars the expenditure of corporate funds for campaign purposes, and the indictment alleged that the two fund transfers were an attempt to subvert state law.

The Republican National Committee and DeLay's associates have asserted that the transfers were legal, because the money from Texas went into one bank account and the funds that went to Texas were paid from another account in Washington.

"The right thing, the courageous thing, for you to do is to admit you were wrong and dismiss the case right away," DeGuerin wrote in a letter to Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. "The longer you drag it out the more obvious it becomes that the result you care about most is the political damage your actions have done to Tom DeLay."

DeLay previously alleged that one of Earle's aims was to force him from his position as House majority leader. Under a House Republican rule, members accused of felony crimes must step down from leadership roles. Had DeLay agreed to Earle's suggestion that he plead guilty to a lesser charge, he would not have been forced to step down.

Earle did not respond to a request to comment yesterday. A series of subpoenas issued by Earle's office late last week for telephone records of DeLay, a daughter who serves as his event planner, and some associates in Washington and Texas suggest that Earle is still seeking information that might bolster his case against DeLay.

It is not clear, however, whether the data being sought are needed to underpin the existing indictment or to support additional charges. Earle previously said only that his investigation is "continuing."

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