ROBERT SIEGEL, host:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.
MELISSA BLOCK, host:
And I'm Melissa Block.
A Texas state judge today dismissed some of the charges against former Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Gone are charges of conspiracy to violate the Texas election code, but the judge let stand charges of money laundering. This means DeLay will go on trial next year. He's accused of illegally funneling nearly $200,000 to GOP candidates in elections for the Texas Legislature in 2002. The judge's ruling dashes DeLay's hopes for an early return to his post as House majority leader. NPR's Wade Goodwyn joins us now.
And, Wade, this is a mixed decision today from the judge for Congressman DeLay. What's been his reaction?
WADE GOODWYN reporting:
Well, a spokesman for Congressman DeLay just said that the fact that one of the charges were dismissed shows how baseless all of the charges are. The spokesman also said the congressman expects to be acquitted. While I'm sure the congressman and his lawyer Dick DeGuerin are pleased that they prevailed with the judge on whether Mr. DeLay engaged in conspiracy to violate the election code, the money laundering charges are going to trial and I think that's gotta be very disappointing for Mr. DeLay. The congressman had to relinquish his very powerful position as House majority leader after the charges were filed, and he'd hoped that he would be rid of this case and the scandal, and that would have allowed him to reclaim his seat quickly. Now that's not going to happen. And Judge Priest has indicated that he has no intention of rushing this case to trial. This is going to go well into next year, and the longer it goes, the worse it is for Mr. DeLay. He's looking at having to run for re-election while under indictment this spring.
BLOCK: Now this ruling from the Texas judge, Pat Priest--walk us through what he said in dismissing these conspiracy charges but then keeping the money laundering charges.
GOODWYN: Well, the argument that Mr. DeLay has prevailed on with the judge is the charge that the accusations of conspiracy were never meant to apply to the the--Texas' election code, that the Legislature didn't intend for conspiracy laws to be connected to election code violations, and the judge agreed with that legal analysis.
The second defense argument was that the definition of money laundering under Texas law did not include checks. The money was passed back and forth between DeLay's political action committee and the Republican National Committee. They were in the form of checks, and defense lawyers argued that checks were not considered funds, which is the exact word that the statue uses. That argument didn't fly with the judge, who ruled that he considered checks to be funds; it's a rose by any name.
And finally the defense contended that no money laundering occurred, that moving $190,000 in corporate contributions from DeLay's PAC to one account at the Republican National Committee and then taking another $190,000 from a different account and giving it to Texas Republican candidates was not a potential crime. But Judge Priest made it clear in his ruling that if prosecutors could prove that's what happened, he did indeed consider that to be money laundering.
BLOCK: And that will be at the heart of the argument in the trial next year. What are the next steps in this case of Tom DeLay?
GOODWYN: There's going to be a change of venue hearing. In 2004, during a middecade redistricting in Texas, DeLay broke the city of Austin into three congressional districts to try to get rid of liberal Austin Congressman Lloyd Doggett. One district looks like a long snake that stretches all the way from Austin to the Mexico border. And DeLay's lawyers have argued that Austinites are angry about how DeLay gerrymandered their city, that they haven't forgotten that, and the trial needs to be moved out of the liberal state capital.
BLOCK: And, Wade, briefly, if Tom DeLay were to be convicted at trial, what possible sentences might he face?
GOODWYN: Well, up to life in prison, but that's extremely unlikely. I've talked to lawyers and judges here in Texas, and they believe Mr. DeLay would be looking at a matter of months. But any conviction would be catastrophic for Congressman DeLay's political career, no matter what the sentence.
BLOCK: Wade, thanks very much.
GOODWYN: It's my pleasure.
BLOCK: NPR's Wade Goodwyn in Dallas.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.