WASHINGTON (AP) -- A Texas grand jury on Wednesday charged Rep. Tom DeLay and two political associates with conspiracy in a campaign finance scheme, forcing the House majority leader to temporarily relinquish his post.
DeLay attorney Steve Brittain said DeLay was accused of a criminal conspiracy along with two associates, John Colyandro, former executive director of a Texas political action committee formed by DeLay, and Jim Ellis, who heads DeLay's national political committee.
"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," DeLay said.
GOP congressional officials said Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., will recommend that Rep. David Dreier of California step into those duties. Some of the duties may go to the GOP whip, Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri. The Republican rank and file may meet as early as Wednesday night to act on Hastert's recommendation.
The charge carries a potential two-year sentence, which forces DeLay to step down under House Republican rules.
"The defendants entered into an agreement with each other or with TRMPAC (Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee) to make a political contribution in violation of the Texas election code," says the four-page indictment. "The contribution was made directly to the Republican National Committee within 60 days of a general election."
The indictment against the second-ranking, and most assertive Republican leader came on the final day of the grand jury's term. It followed earlier indictments of a state political action committee founded by DeLay and three of his political associates.
The grand jury action is expected to have immediate consequences in the House, where DeLay is largely responsible for winning passage of the Republican legislative program. House Republican Party rules require leaders who are indicted to temporarily step aside from their leadership posts.
However, DeLay retains his seat representing Texas' 22nd congressional district, suburbs southwest of Houston.
DeLay has denied committing any crime and accused the Democratic district attorney leading the investigation, Ronnie Earle, of pursuing the case for political motives.
Chronology: House Majority Leader Tom Delay
Some key events and controversies in the career of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Texas:
1984: Elected to represent the 22nd District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.
1994: Elected majority whip.
July 1997: DeLay was part of a group that tried, but failed, to oust House Speaker Newt Gingrich.
October 1998: DeLay attacks the Electronics Industries Alliance for hiring former Democratic Rep. Dave McCurdy as its president and later receives a private rebuke from the House ethics committee.
November 2002: Elected majority leader without opposition.
September 2004: Grand jurors in Texas indict three DeLay associates - Jim Ellis, John Colyandro, and Warren RoBold - in an investigation of alleged illegal corporate contributions to a political action committee associated with him. The investigation involved the alleged use of corporate funds to aid Republican candidates for the Texas legislature in the 2002 elections.
September-October 2004: DeLay is admonished by the House ethics committee on three separate issues. The committee chastised DeLay for offering to support the House candidacy of Michigan Republican Rep. Nick Smith's son in return for the lawmaker's vote for a Medicare prescription drug benefit. The panel said DeLay created the appearance of linking political donations to a legislative favor, and that he had improperly sought the Federal Aviation Administration's intervention in a Texas political dispute.
January 2005: House Republicans reverse a controversial rule passed in November 2004 that would have allowed DeLay to keep his leadership post if he were indicted.
March 2005: Media reports spur Democrats to question DeLay's relationship with lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who is under federal investigation. Delay has asked the House ethics committee to review allegations that Abramoff or his clients paid some of DeLay's overseas travel expenses. DeLay has denied knowing that the expenses were paid by Abramoff.
April 2005: House Republicans scrap controversial new ethics committee rules passed earlier in the year that would have made it harder to proceed with an ethics investigation. Democrats charged the rules were meant to protect DeLay.
September 2005: Ellis and Colyandro are indicted on additional felony charges of violating Texas election law and criminal conspiracy to violate election law for their role in 2002 legislative races.
Copyright 2005 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.