One Charge Against Tom DeLay Dismissed

A Texas judge Monday dismissed one conspiracy charge against former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Still, the most serious counts in the indictment were upheld and DeLay still faces a possible criminal trial for illegally funneling money to Texas Republican candidates.

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A Texas judge turned back an effort to avoid a trial for Tom DeLay. The Republican congressman had been asking to get various indictments dismissed. In response, the judge threw out conspiracy charges, but DeLay still faces a possible criminal trial for illegally funneling money to Texas Republican candidates. And because he is still under indictment, he cannot return to his job as Republican leader in the House of Representatives. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.

WADE GOODWYN reporting:

Tom DeLay's defense lawyers landed a strong left hook yesterday and succeeded in punching out one of the counts in District Attorney Ronnie Earle's indictment. But DeLay needed a knockout to end the fight entirely. That didn't happen. The judge allowed the most serious charges to go forward which means this bout between the dogged prosecutor and the powerful congressman is just getting started.

Mr. DICK DeGUERIN (DeLay's Lead Defense Lawyer): Well, I'm a little disappointed that the entire set of indictments didn't get thrown out.

GOODWYN: Dick DeGuerin is Tom DeLay's lead defense lawyer.

Mr. DeGUERIN: The fact remains that there was no crime; there was no crime intended and no crime committed. No corporate money reached any candidate in Texas.

GOODWYN: It is illegal in Texas to use corporate or union campaign contributions for political campaigning. DeLay is accused of soliciting corporate contributions in 2002 and then laundering that money through the Republican National Committee in Washington; $190,000 went from DeLay's PAC to one RNC account. A few days later, checks totaling $190,000 were issued from a different RNC account to a slew of Texas Republican candidates. DeGuerin says it was all perfectly legal.

Mr. DeGUERIN: It's not the same money. The money that TRMPAC sent to the Republicans in DC is not the same money that went to the candidates in Texas. In fact, what the candidates in Texas got was money that was donated by individuals all across the country. That's lawful.

GOODWYN: But public interest advocates in Texas take issue with DeGuerin's explanation. Craig McDonald is the director of Texans for Public Justice, a political watchdog group which filed the initial complaints that led to the indictments.

Mr. CRAIG McDONALD (Texans for Public Justice): On the face of it, it looks like this transaction, that is sending $190,000 at the RNC and sending it back to Texas, was undertaken for the soul purpose of hiding the original source of the money. And that's the classic definition of money laundering.

GOODWYN: McDonald says the ruling yesterday left the prosecution case largely intact.

Mr. McDONALD: I don't think they took but a small chip out of the indictments today. And I think you could argue that they hardly even put a very serious crack into them. There still is one conspiracy charge that remains, and that's conspiracy to money launder, which is a first-degree felony. And a second charge remains, and that's the underlying crime of money laundering. That, again, is a first-degree felony. So Mr. DeLay is still facing two first-degree felonies.

GOODWYN: The pretrial battles are not over. Defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin wants the trial out of Austin. Two years ago, Tom DeLay split the city into three congressional districts in an effort to get rid of liberal Congressman Lloyd Doggett. Doggett still won but DeGuerin says Austinites haven't forgotten and can't be trusted to give DeLay a fair trial.

Mr. DeGUERIN: I think it's obvious to anybody when you see what goes on in Austin, I mean, the judge has asked us not to denigrate the people in Austin, and I don't intend to do that at all. But it's just--I don't think the case can be fairly tried in Austin, Texas.

GOODWYN: With yesterday's ruling, it is looking more likely that Tom DeLay will have to run for re-election and face trial at the same time. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News.

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