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DeLay Team Weighed Misdemeanor Plea to Save GOP Post
DeLay sat on the committee's board, signed fundraising solicitations, participated in at least one conference call about its spending plans, telephoned potential contributors and appeared at fundraising events. But he was not involved in its day-to-day operations, according to the statements of those who were.
A key question has long been whether DeLay was aware of or involved in the committee's most controversial action -- its transfer of $190,000 from Texas to the Washington headquarters of the Republican National Committee in a check dated Sept. 13, 2002, and the committee's subsequent payment from a different bank account of $190,000 to seven Texas candidates several weeks later.
Earle has charged that the transfers amounted to money laundering, meant to circumvent the state's long-standing ban on the use of corporate funds for election purposes.
To prove that, he has lined up what several sources described as solid testimony supporting the indictment's claim that when DeLay fundraiser James W. Ellis gave the RNC a check drawn on TRMPAC's account, he also turned over to the RNC a list of the Texas candidates meant to receive the funds. Ellis has said he denies Earle's "version of the story."
The sources said they also expect witnesses to say that the TRMPAC check was sent to Washington with the dollar amount blank and inscribed with $190,000 only after RNC officials determined they would be able to send back that amount to Texas.
But the trail of evidence surrounding the transfers and other key acts, based on documents and testimony from key corporate donors, DeLay's associates and even his daughter Dani Ferro, a campaign aide of his, did not lead directly to DeLay's door, according to those familiar with the case.
William Ceverha, the group's treasurer, said in sworn testimony in a related civil trial, for example, that the transfers were accomplished by TRMPAC Director John Colyandro, fundraiser Ellis and the committee's accountant. He testified that the plans to send the money to Washington were discussed in a conference call with the committee advisory board. In an interview, he said he does not recall DeLay's participation in that call.
Colyandro's lawyer, Joseph A. Turner, has said that Colyandro would testify in the criminal trial that "DeLay did not have any knowledge of that transaction in advance."
An August Meeting
This picture of DeLay's remove from key events changed in August, when he met secretly with Earle for an hour and a half at the offices of Earle's public integrity unit in Austin. DeLay did not speak under oath at the meeting. He accepted Earle's request that the meeting would be transcribed by a court stenographer, and he was relaxed and garrulous, according to three sources familiar with the session.
Asked what his role was in creating TRMPAC, DeLay said it was his vision and his idea, the sources said. But he reiterated that he knew only in general terms about its day-to-day operations. DeLay said he was also generally aware of a plan to shift money between Texas and Washington. It called for pulling together $190,000, sending it up to Washington and getting the same amount sent back to Texas for state election campaigns.
According to matching accounts provided separately by the sources, DeLay was asked whether such a deal happened and responded yes. Asked if he knew beforehand that the deal was going to happen, DeLay said yes. Asked how he knew, DeLay said that his longtime political adviser, Ellis, came into his office, told him it was planned and asked DeLay what he thought. DeLay told Earle that he recalled saying, "Fine." He added that he knew it was corporate money but said it was fine because he thought it was legal.
Under Earle's reading of the relevant law, only one person involved in a conspiracy has to perform an overt act, such as turning over a check. Those who support or agree with the act -- even after the criminal activity is already under way -- are just as culpable. So Earle decided that DeLay's statements amounted to a moment of legal self-incrimination that made his link to the conspiracy clear. Earle decided he should present that evidence to the grand jury by Sept. 12, before the statute of limitations expired.