09/29/2005 02:39 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

DeLay, From Texas - An Indictment Primer

"I have violated no law, no regulation, no rule of the House" - Tom DeLay from a press conference following his indictment in Texas

The prosecutor is Ronnie Earle. A case went bad for him once. He won an indictment against Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson in 1994. But the judge wouldn't assure Earle that his evidence would be admissible. Mr. Earle withdrew the case but the judge refused to allow the case to be dropped and ordered a verdict of acquittal. This is what Republicans are referring to when they say Ronnie Earle is a partisan hack.

The evidence is $190,000 raised from corporations through Texans For A Republican Majority (TRMPAC), a political action committee founded* by Congressman DeLay. The money was then sent to the Republican National Committee with instructions to donate the funds to seven Texas candidates. TRMPAC couldn't donate the money directly because it is illegal to raise political contributions from corporations in Texas. That the law was intentionally circumvented is beyond doubt. According to the Washington Post the "key question will be whether DeLay knew about the $190,000 transactions -- an allegation that lawyers say could be proved only by documentary evidence, such as an e-mail, or in grand jury testimony by one of those involved."

The smoking gun is that three of Tom DeLay's associates were under indictment already. It seems probable that one of them rolled over on the congressmen. There are also the corporations involved who see this as nothing more than a business transaction. Loyalty walks as far as the prison's gate.

DeLay's response was a vicious assault on Ronnie Earle.

Blatant political partisanship - A rogue district attorney. - This is one of the weakest, most baseless indictments in American history. It's a sham and Mr. Earle knows it. Mr. Earle is abusing the power of his office to exact personal revenge.**

What DeLay didn't mention in his response was that Ronnie Earle has prosecuted 15 politicians during his tenure, twelve of them were Democrats.***

The Swift-boating of the prosecutor has already begun. Ann Coulter on Larry King Live hours after the indictment "I think we do know something about Ronnie Earle and it's not insignificant.I mean the indictment of Kay Bailey Hutchison gets sort of brushed off as so, yes, well he indicted her and it went no place. This was a sitting United States Senator."**** Dick Deguerin, DeLay's attorney, stated on the same show, "That money never went to any candidates in Texas," which is untrue. True perhaps in the sense that it didn't immediately go to any of the candidates. It went instead to the RNC with detailed instructions on which candidates to disburse the money to and in what amounts.

There are questions unanswered. A majority leader has never been indicted before. There are massive ethical cracks showing in the Republican Party. The Democrats would need to win sixteen more seats than the Republicans in 2006. Many think that Texas District 22 will be one of those seats. Still, this trial is likely to drag for a year, an albatross on the congressman and his party. A well lit reminder of what is wrong with American politics and the Republican party in particular.


*TRMPAC was financed by a transfer of corporate funds from DeLay's leadership fund. He was a member of the advisory board in 2001 and 2002. Participated in fundraising. DeLay denies participating in its day-to-day activities.

** Mr. Earle once said that being accused of partisanship by Mr. DeLay was like being called ugly by a frog.

*** There was also this from the Associated Press - The grand jury's foreman, William Gibson, told The Associated Press that Earle didn't pressure members to indict DeLay. "Ronnie Earle didn't indict him. The grand jury indicted him," Gibson said in an interview at his home.

**** Ronnie Earle had considered running against Kay Bailey Hutchison in the special election of 1993. Her spokesman, Chris Paulitz, told me Earle had brought up the accusations before she was elected but did not file until after she won the special election in June of 1993. Kay Bailey Hutchison was indicted by Ronnie Earle on September 27 1993.

- Stephen Elliott