DeLay Faces Second Indictment
MICHELE NORRIS, host:
Former House Republican Leader Tom DeLay now faces charges of money laundering in addition to conspiracy. The new indictment by a Texas grand jury yesterday may have been a response to a technical problem with the first set of charges. In media interviews, DeLay is criticizing it as a do-over, but it also could raise the stakes for DeLay. If convicted, he could now face up to 20 years in prison. NPR's Andrea Seabrook reports.
ANDREA SEABROOK reporting:
It may seem a little odd. Tom DeLay was indicted last week, and now he's indicted again for essentially the same thing. Today, just like last week, DeLay battled back by going first to one of his most important constituencies: conservative talk radio listeners.
(Soundbite of "The Rush Limbaugh Show")
Mr. RUSH LIMBAUGH (Host): Welcome back. Without any further delay, welcome to the program Congressman Tom DeLay.
Congressman, welcome to the program. It's great to have you with us.
Representative TOM DeLAY (Republican, Texas): Thank you, Rush. Good to be with you.
Mr. LIMBAUGH: It appears that...
SEABROOK: On "The Rush Limbaugh Show," DeLay repeated his defense that these indictments are politically motivated and that Ronnie Earle, the district attorney who brought them, holds a political grudge against him. In DeLay's view, he was about to win his case yesterday before Earle unexpectedly brought the second indictment.
Rep. DeLAY: He was panicked and he went to a grand jury that was impaneled at 12 noon yesterday. And even before they were going through orientation, he brought this to them and forced them to bring this indictment.
SEABROOK: And because of the statute of limitations, today was the last day the grand jury would have been able to bring this indictment. But though the charges are essentially the same in the two indictments, there are important differences which could change the nature of DeLay's trial.
The original indictment alleged that DeLay conspired to break a Texas law that bars corporations from donating to state candidates. The prosecutor, Ronnie Earle, said that DeLay and two close associates collected almost $200,000 from corporate contributors, channeling the checks through the national Republican Party and then back to Texas candidates in order to skirt that law. The new indictment labels these actions money laundering and a conspiracy to launder money. Andrew McBride, a Republican and a federal prosecutor for seven years, says there are several interesting points in this case so far. One is that DeLay and his lawyers have mostly attacked the district attorney who brought the indictments rather than disputing the actual charges.
Mr. ANDREW McBRIDE (Former Federal Prosecutor): I'm not sure there's gonna be a lot of dispute over the conduct that went on here. I mean, it is, you know, easily documented.
SEABROOK: In other words, the money left a paper trail and the district attorney has copies of checks and campaign finance records that show corporations sending money to the national Republican Party that in turn sends money to state candidates.
Mr. McBRIDE: One issue might be the involvement of former Majority Leader DeLay himself in that most of the acts in the indictment--passing the check, passing the list of Texas candidates to be supported with the money that is corporate money and would be illegal under Texas law--were not done by DeLay himself.
SEABROOK: But they were alleged to have been done by DeLay's associates, and that's where the new indictment may matter most. The money-laundering charges carry a much longer maximum sentence--20 years rather than two--so the prosecutor has a bigger threat to hold over DeLay's business associates. If those associates say DeLay was part of the conspiracy, McBride says that could be very damaging to DeLay. Andrea Seabrook, NPR News, the Capitol.