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From NPR News, this is WEEKEND EDITION. I'm Liane Hansen.
In Austin, Texas, this past week, a Travis County grand jury indicted former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. DeLay was accused of conspiring to evade Texas campaign financing laws and faces up to two years in prison if convicted. DeLay, his lawyers and fellow Republican politicians have denounced the indictment as a vindictive partisan legal attack. But the foreman of the Travis County grand jury says the indictment was no witch-hunt, and there was more than enough evidence to charge the congressman. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.
WADE GOODWYN reporting:
At 76 years old, William Gibson Jr. is retired from his long career as an investigator for the State board of insurance. In April of this year, he was picked for a 90-day stint on a Travis County grand jury. Mr. Gibson didn't know it, but he was about to serve on one of the most famous grand juries in Texas history. Since issuing their indictment of House Speaker Tom DeLay five days ago, the grand jury's action has been the object of considerable derision by Republicans. So among the first things the jury foreman wants to say about all this is that the five men and six women he served with are people of integrity.
Mr. WILLIAM GIBSON Jr. (Travis County Grand Jury Foreman): We had Democrats, we had Republicans and we had some Independents on it. And this was not a handpicked grand jury.
GOODWYN: Between robberies and auto thefts, Gibson's grand jury heard evidence about a political action committee started by Tom DeLay called TRMPAC, Texans for a Republican Majority. In 2002, TRMPAC's purpose was to raise money to elect a majority of Republicans to the Texas House for the first time since Reconstruction. With DeLay's help, TRMPAC raised hundreds of thousands of dollars in corporate contributions, but in Texas, it's illegal to use union or corporate contributions for political campaigning. That's what Gibson's grand jury was investigating, whether Tom DeLay had conspired with a few of his political associates to launder nearly $200,000 in corporate contributions to seven Republican candidates for the Texas House.
Mr. GIBSON: What we were looking at was a broad spectrum of information and evidence that was presented to us.
GOODWYN: The facts of the case, actually, aren't in dispute. One issue is whether this transaction was illegal under Texas law. In a civil suit against TRMPAC, a state judge has already ruled this was money laundering. Still, that was in civil court. But if illegal, it leads to another big question: Did Tom DeLay know about this alleged money laundering, and did he participate in it? Gibson says based on the documents and evidence he saw, there is no question about it.
Mr. GIBSON: I would not have put my name on that indictment had I not been convinced there was sufficient evidence to proceed on. I did not sway. It was put up to a vote and it was, I would say, a unanimous decision that the indictment be returned.
GOODWYN: It takes only nine out of the 12 grand jurors to issue an indictment, but Gibson says there was no argument since there were e-mails and phone logs that convinced them DeLay knew about the alleged scheme. When asked if there was any uncertainty among any of the grand jurors, Gibson is definitive, if not effusive.
Mr. GIBSON: No.
GOODWYN: There's an old saying that a district attorney worth his salt can get a grand jury to indict a ham sandwich. But it's also true that grand juries can grasp their power and take seriously their commission for justice. If you ask William Gibson whether District Attorney Ronnie Earle might have been leading them by the nose, Gibson takes quick offense.
Mr. GIBSON: And you be assured that Mr. Earle did not come and tell us, `I want this. I want that.' And I'm quite sure that Mr. Earle did not persuade us in any form or fashion. It wasn't Mr. Earle that indicted Mr. DeLay; it was the 12 members of the Travis County grand jury.
GOODWYN: If there is one regret that Gibson has in all of this, it's that Congressman DeLay never came to talk to the grand jury. Gibson said the House majority leader had an open invitation. After the indictment, DeLay denied he'd been asked to appear before them, but on Friday DeLay's lawyers conceded Gibson's position. Gibson says they just wanted to hear DeLay's side.
Mr. GIBSON: We wanted to talk with him and see if he could enlighten us on his side of the story. We kept getting, `He may come. He may come,' but he never did show. I'll just say that he'll have his day in court, and I don't regret what this grand jury did. I'll stand behind our indictment, and I'll tell Mr. DeLay that right to his face.
GOODWYN: William Gibson predicts that those who believe there is no evidence against the former House majority leader are going to be surprised once the case gets under way. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News, Dallas.
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