Just as a cooling front finally reaches the Lone Star State, a firestorm has erupted in Texas politics, a conflagration with dramatic national ramifications.
A Travis County grand jury today indicted U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay of Sugar Land on a single count of felony criminal conspiracy involving an exchange of money that made corporate cash available to Republican Texas House candidates in 2002.
“I have done nothing wrong … I am innocent,” DeLay told a Capitol Hill news conference in which he repeatedly criticized the prosecutor, Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. DeLay called Earle a “unabashed partisan zealot,” and “fanatic,” and described the charges as “one of the weakest and most baseless indictments in American history.”
In Austin, Earle told reporters, “Our job is to prosecute abuses of power and to bring those abuses to the public.” He has noted previously that he has prosecuted many Democrats in the past.
While DeLay retains his seat representing Texas’ 22nd congressional district, the suburbs southwest of Houston, he announced he would temporarily step aside as majority leader. House Republican rules forced him to do so while he fights the charge.
Republicans selected Rep. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the current Republican whip â€” No. 3 in the leadership ranks â€” to fill the vacancy temporarily.
DeLay has said he believes the investigation by Earle, a Democrat, was politically motivated.
One of DeLay’s lawyers, Bill White, said prior to the indictment being returned that the facts of the case would not support an indictment against DeLay.
“It’s a skunky indictment, if they have one, a dead skunk in the middle of the road, stinking to high heaven,” White said.
The investigation focuses on the activities of a political action committee DeLay formed in 2001 â€” Texans for a Republican Majority.
It was run by Colyandro with the assistance of Ellis, who is the director of DeLay’s Americans for a Republican Majority.
TRMPAC raised and spent almost $650,000 in corporate money to influence the 2002 Texas House races. State law restricts the use of corporate and labor union money in races for elective office.
The indictment claims DeLay, Ellis and Colyandro conspired to raise $190,000 in corporate money for TRMPAC. The money was then sent to the Republican National Committee and was converted into donations from individual donors, which would have been legal under Texas law for use by a candidate.
The RNC then sent the money to seven specific Texas House candidates, the indictment alleges. Two of the Republicans listed in the indictments are from the Houston area, state Reps. Dwayne Bohac of Houston and Larry Taylor of Friendswood.
Winning control of the Texas House was critical for the election of Tom Craddick of Midland as speaker by a Republican House majority in 2002.
The state House majority also set the stage for Delay to push through a congressional. redistricting plan to draw districts that would give the GOP a majority in the state’s congressional delegation after the 2004 elections
Dr. Steven Taylor at PoliBlog provides a “DeLay Charges for Dummies” (no offense intended, as I actually respect the “… for Dummies” series as helpful introductions to a variety of topics) look at the charges, closing with the following:
If anything, it seems to me that this whole case will underscore the labyrinthine nature of campaign finance rules and regulations.
Translated: if this case goes to trial, it will be one heck of a boring trial. However, the circus outside the courtroom promises to be electric.
James Joyner of Outside the Beltway has a round-up of reactions from both the left and right side of the blogosphere.
I will withhold comment for now. For disclosure’s sake, I will state that, back in the day, my hometown of Angleton was part of Rep. DeLay’s congressional district. I will forever be grateful to the man for honoring me with a dual nomination to both West Point and Annapolis my senior year of high school, even though I eventually chose Texas A&M over those fine American military institutions.