Tom Delay Indicted by Texas Grand Jury

CNN Breaking News: “House Majority Leader Tom DeLay indicted on one count of criminal conspiracy by Texas grand jury, according to Travis County clerk’s office.”

More:

DeLay Indicted in Campaign Finance Probe (AP) [WaPo]

A Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Rep. Tom DeLay and two political associates with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, an indictment that could force him to step down as House majority leader. DeLay attorney Steve Brittain said DeLay was accused of a criminal conspiracy along with two associates, John Colyandro, former executive director of a Texas political action committee formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis, who heads DeLay’s national political committee.

GOP congressional officials said the plan was for DeLay to temporarily relinquish his leadership post and Speaker Dennis Hastert will recommend that Rep. David Dreier of California step into those duties. Some of the duties may go to the GOP whip, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri. The Republican rank and file may meet as early as Wednesday night to act on Hastert’s recommendation.

The indictment against the second-ranking, and most assertive Republican leader came on the final day of the grand jury’s term. It followed earlier indictments of a state political action committee founded by DeLay and three of his political associates.

The grand jury action is expected to have immediate consequences in the House, where DeLay is largely responsible for winning passage of the Republican legislative program. House Republican Party rules require leaders who are indicted to temporarily step aside from their leadership posts. However, DeLay retains his seat representing Texas’ 22nd congressional district, suburbs southwest of Houston.

DeLay has denied committing any crime and accused the Democratic district attorney leading the investigation, Ronnie Earle, of pursuing the case for political motives.

It is a maxim of the judicial process that a decent prosecutor could persuade a grand jury to “indict a ham sandwich.” Further, Earle’s proclivity for politically timed indictments of Republicans is well documented.

Still, DeLay has been under the cloud of various ethics charges for quite some time and it’s truly a shame that the House GOP delegation has not dumped him before now. I have no view as to whether DeLay is guilty of anything criminal in this particular matter but he skirts the line between ethical and unethical conduct on a regular basis. Surely, the House Republicans can do better.

Update: I received the following press release via email:

Statement from the Office of the Majority Leader

“These charges have no basis in the facts or the law. This is just another example of Ronnie Earle misusing his office for partisan vendettas. Despite the clearly political agenda of this prosecutor, Congressman DeLay has cooperated with officials throughout the entire process. Even in the last two weeks, Ronnie Earle himself had acknowledged publicly that Mr. DeLay was not a target of his investigation. However, as with many of Ronnie Earle’s previous partisan investigations, Ronnie Earle refused to let the facts or the law get in the way of his partisan desire to indict a political foe.

This purely political investigation has been marked by illegal grand jury leaks, a fundraising speech by Ronnie Earle for Texas Democrats that inappropriately focused on the investigation, misuse of his office for partisan purposes, and extortion of money for Earle’s pet projects from corporations in exchange for dismissing indictments he brought against them. Ronnie Earle’s previous misuse of his office has resulted in failed prosecutions and we trust his partisan grandstanding will strike out again, as it should.

Ronnie Earle’s 1994 indictment against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison was quickly dismissed and his charges in the 1980s against former Attorney General Jim Mattox-another political foe of Earle-fell apart at trial.

We regret the people of Texas will once again have their taxpayer dollars wasted on Ronnie Earle’s pursuit of headlines and political paybacks. Ronnie Earle began this investigation in 2002, after the Democrat Party lost the Texas state legislature to Republicans. For three years and through numerous grand juries, Ronnie Earle has tried to manufacture charges against Republicans involved in winning those elections using arcane statutes never before utilized in a case in the state. This indictment is nothing more than prosecutorial retribution by a partisan Democrat.”

My guess is that DeLay will ultimately be acquitted. My analysis above, however, stands.

Update 2: From a press release from DeLay’s law firm:

A Legal Analysis of Earle’s Case in a Nutshell

Ronnie Earle argues that Tom DeLay conspired to make a contribution to a political party in violation of the Texas Election Code. There was no contribution to a political party in violation of the Texas Election Code. There was no conspiracy. Ronnie Earle is wrong on the facts. Ronnie Earle is wrong on the law.

* According to the indictment, the conspiracy was to unlawfully make a political contribution of corporate funds to a political party within 60 days of an election.
* The Texas Election Code clearly states that “A corporation or labor organization may not knowingly make a contribution [to a political party] during a period beginning on the 60th day before the date of a general election for state and county officers and continuing through the day of the election.” Title 15, Texas Election Code, § 253.104. Texas law also states in part that “A person commits criminal conspiracy if, with intent that a felony be committed: (1) he agrees with one or more persons that they or one or more of them engage in conduct that would constitute the offense; and (2) he or one or more of them performs an overt act in pursuance of the agreement.”

The Problems with Earle’s case:

* In an effort to contrive jurisdiction over DeLay, Earle charges that because Congressman DeLay may have known about the transaction before it occurred, he was then part of a conspiracy.
* However, Earle’s office has sworn testimony and other exculpatory evidence showing that Congressman DeLay did not have knowledge of the transaction.

In addition:

* No corporation or labor organization was indicted in this conspiracy. Neither Jim Ellis nor John Colyandro is a corporation or labor organization.
* No corporation or labor organization made a contribution during 60 days of an election.
* What constitutes a contribution under the Texas Election Code is not strictly defined.
* Neither the RNC nor RNSEC constitute a political party under Texas election law. They are considered PACs, just as the DNC is.
* Corporations in Texas could have legally made contributions to the RNC or RNSEC during the period in question under Texas election law.
* There was no violation of the Texas Election Code. There was no conspiracy. The underlying transaction was legal. Had corporations sent money directly to the RNC or RNSEC, the transaction would be legal. How could anyone conspire to do indirectly what could legally have been done directly?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is a Security Studies professor at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Brent Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. He's a widower and father of two young daughters. He earned his PhD from The University of Alabama. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.

Comments

  1. Fersboo says:

    Whatever happened to the Ethics Committee?




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  2. James Joyner says:

    The same thing that’s happened to every other committee: It’s become so politicized by partisan gotcha games that it is no longer functional in all but the most egregious cases.




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  3. Amazed says:

    I must admit, the dems are just as bad, but DeLay’s stench is quite powerful.




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  4. Doug says:

    Daschle/DeLay, same difference.

    Both corrupted by power….but it was DeLay, not Daschle who was indicted. you might want to make that change.




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  5. Fersboo says:

    JJ:

    I wasn’t asking about the Ethics Committee rhetorically. When this was bubbling up a number of months ago – exactly when I will leave to you & your fellow citizen journalists – the Ethics Committee was fired up. However, to the chagrin of the Democrats, the EC started to look at the erroneous or mostly missing travel filings of various members of the House – IIRC most of those with issues had the following symbol by thier name: (D). Its funny we haven’t heard anything else since.




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  6. James Joyner says:

    Doug: Yep, just noticed that myself when adding the update. Fixed!




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  7. Anderson says:

    The Dems’ reluctance to risk facing ethics investigations themselves is indeed malodorous.

    But anything that gives us even the temporary spectacle of Majority Leader Dreier is to be welcomed by the Moonbat Gallery.




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  8. Pug says:

    But anything that gives us even the temporary spectacle of Majority Leader Dreier is to be welcomed by the Moonbat Gallery.

    Ah yes, David Dreier. Good family values guy. Wonder what James Dobson is thinking right about now.




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  9. Herb says:

    Over the years, it has been my observation that most prosecutors are about the most indecent and corrupt individuals that ever existed. Most of them would indict their own mother if given a chance for any type of conviction. After 5 Grand Juries of trying, I am sure this indictment well qualifies the prosecutor in that class described above. About the only a prosecutor cares about is the furtherance of his/her own political future.




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  10. Herb says:

    Steve:

    The “no takers” info came from a quote made by the Saudi Oil Minister at the big oil meeting in Johannesburg last week

    You can find this at
    http://news.independent.co.uk/business/news

    entitled “Oil reserves are double previous estimates




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  11. Don says:

    >…most prosecutors are about the most indecent >and corrupt individuals that ever existed. Most >of them would indict their own mother if given >a chance for any type of conviction.

    Case in point: Kenneth Starr




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