A Texas grand jury indicted House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) on a charge of criminally conspiring with two political associates to inject illegal corporate contributions into 2002 state elections that helped the Republican Party reorder the congressional map in Texas and cement its control of the House in Washington.

The criminal indictment forced DeLay to step aside under House rules barring such posts to those accused of criminal conduct. House Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.), the third-ranking leader, was elected by Republican House members to fill the spot temporarily after conservatives threatened a revolt against another candidate considered by House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.).

DeLay, 58, denounced the charge as baseless and called the prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, "an unabashed partisan zealot" engaging in "personal revenge" because DeLay helped elect a Republican majority to the Texas House in 2002. "I have the facts, the law and the truth on my side," DeLay said, reading from a prepared statement, before declining to answer questions.

But the indictment, which comes after three rebukes of DeLay in 2004 by the House ethics committee on unrelated matters, poses a major problem for the Bush administration loyalist, 11-term congressman, and self-described champion of free enterprise and deregulation. DeLay also faces a likely inquiry by the House ethics committee into a series of foreign trips he took that were initially partly paid for by lobbyists.

The indictment alleges that DeLay, who helped organize the Texas political committee at the heart of the charge, participated in a conspiracy to funnel corporate money into the 2002 state election "with the intent that a felony be committed." Using corporate funds for state election purposes has long been illegal in Texas, as it is in 17 other states.

-- R. Jeffrey Smith

Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) addresses the media after his indictment in Texas.