The Texas prosecutor overseeing an investigation of former House majority leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) fired back yesterday at criticism by DeLay's lawyers that he brought a new indictment against the powerful legislator on Monday to fix a legal flaw in the first indictment of DeLay last week.
Travis Country District Attorney Ronnie Earle said in a written statement released late yesterday that the new indictment charging DeLay with the criminal felonies of money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering was based on new information that "came to the attention of the District Attorney's Office" last weekend.
The statement did not elaborate on whether the new information consisted of testimony, documents or insight, explaining that "because of the laws protecting grand jury secrecy, no other comments can be made."
But the statement was Earle's most detailed account of why the money laundering charges leveled against DeLay on Monday by one grand jury were not issued earlier, during the three-month tenure of a different grand jury that on its final day, Sept. 28, issued a lesser charge of conspiracy to violate the Texas election laws.
The backdrop for both the new and the old indictments is a long-standing ban in Texas on corporate contributions, and the fact that some of these funds were collected in Texas and sent to an arm of the Republican National Committee in Washington. The RNC several weeks later sent checks for a commensurate amount to Texas Republican candidates on a list that Earle alleges was formulated by the conspirators.
The RNC says the checks sent to Texas were drawn on a different account than the one that received the money from Texas, making the transactions legal. But Earle claims the use of the two accounts was nothing more than an illegal dodge.
Dick DeGuerin, one of DeLay's attorneys, asserted on Monday that the new money laundering charge was brought this week because Earle realized that last week's conspiracy charge rested on an erroneous interpretation of the law. He said the crime of conspiracy was not covered by the state election law at the time of the alleged violation, in late 2002.
Responding to Earle's new statement, DeGuerin said, "That is just a confabulation. What information came over the weekend? What came over the weekend is that he heard we were going to move to quash the indictment because the statute had not been written yet in 2002."
Earle said in the statement that "issues have arisen regarding that [first] indictment that will be argued in court and resolved by a judge." He also disclosed that Monday's money laundering charge was initially brought before yet another grand jury without success last week.
This third grand jury "declined to indict on the last day of its regular term," Earle said. Then his office acquired "additional information" over the weekend and succeeded in getting the indictment on Monday. There is no law in Texas barring prosecutors from presenting a case to different grand juries, DeGuerin explained.