U.S. house majority leader DeLay indicted, steps down temporarily

Wednesday, September 28, 2005 File:Tom Delay old pix.jpg

Tom DeLay
(Image missing from Commons: image; log)

U.S. House of Representatives majority leader Tom DeLay was today indicted in Austin, Texas by a Travis County grand jury on conspiracy charges. DeLay announced that he will step down temporarily from his leadership position.

DeLay has publicly countered that the charges are partisan and thus politically motivated. The charges originate from the District Attorney of Travis County, Ronnie Earle, a Democrat who has prosecuted Democrat and Republican office holders, including U.S. Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. [1]

Mr. DeLay's attorney Steve Brittain said that DeLay was accused of a criminal conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme along with two associates, namely John Colyandro, former executive director of a Texas political action committee formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis, the head of DeLay's national political committee.

Attorneys for Colyandro and Ellis have filed to have the proceedings moved out of Travis County in order to obtain a fair trial. [2] Travis County, located in central Texas, contains the state capital of Austin and is politically known as a liberal county within a conservative state, as indicated by the most recent presidential elections.

According to the indictment, "the defendants herein, with the intent that a felony be committed, did enter into an agreement with one or more of each other with a general purpose committee known as Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (political action committee) that one or more of them would engage in conduct that would constitute the offense of knowingly making a political contribution in violation of Subchapter D of Chapter 253 of the Texas Election Code..." The indictment does not include specific charges of how DeLay was involved in the conspiracy. Mr. DeLay waived a three-year restriction for the indictment.

Mr. DeLay, upon announcement of the indictment, made a solitary public comment: "I have notified the speaker that I will temporarily step aside from my position as majority leader pursuant to rules of the House Republican Conference and the actions of the Travis County district attorney today."

Earlier, DeLay denied all charges in the lengthy investigation. Bill White, another of DeLay's attorneys, said "it's a skunky indictment if they have one." DeLay's spokesman, Kevin Madden, called the indictment "nothing more than prosecutorial retribution by a partisan Democrat," referring to prosecutor Ronnie Earle, a Democrat.

According to House Republican party rules, DeLay must resign upon indictment. Party officials told the Associated Press that Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert R-Illinois, will likely recommend Republican David Dreier of California as replacement, while some duties may also go to Majority whip Roy Blunt, R-Missouri.

DeLay has previously been admonished three times by the House Ethics Committee. In their October 6, 2004 letter to him, the members wrote in part concluding, "...it is clearly necessary for you to temper your future actions to assure that you are in full compliance at all times with the applicable House Rules and standards of conduct. We remind you that the House Code of Official Conduct provides the Committee with authority “to deal with any given act or accumulation of acts which, in the judgment of the committee, are severe enough to reflect discredit on the Congress.” [3]

House Republicans earlier eliminated the rule requiring his resignation upon indictment, but reinstated it fearing voters' outcry.

DeLay's Political Action Committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, was earlier indicted on charges it accepted corporate contributions mostly from the credit card industry .[4] for use in state legislative elections. Texas law prohibits corporate money from being used in elections, permitting it only for administrative expenses.

Having gained GOP control of Texas's legislature, DeLay masterminded a redistricting plan in 2004 that allowed the GOP to gain six seats in the U.S. House, formerly won by Democrats, and build a majority in Congress. In one case, one lawmaker switched parties, to maintain office.