“I have done nothing wrong.”
Log that one in the book that includes Richard Nixon’s “I’m not a crook.” And Bill Clinton’s “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” Beyond that, Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay also told the Capitol press corps that he did nothing “unethical” and nothing “unprecedented.” A clean ethical bill of health for Tom DeLay? As we say down here in Sugar Land, “not hardly.”DeLay made one legitimate point. The conspiracy indictment that Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle handed down, naming DeLay and two fund-raisers running a political action committee he helped set up in Austin, is “political.” DeLay is the most powerful politician in Congress, and he is a Republican. Ronnie Earle is one of the last Democrats with any real power in Texas. He’s starting a process that threatens the career (and the ability to walk the streets and play golf) of an elected Republican.But Earle is hardly a “rogue district attorney.” Nor is it true that he targets only Republicans. In 26 years in office, he has brought charges against 12 Democrats and three Republicans. The last big Texas politician Earle retired was an ethically (and intellectually) challenged speaker of the House who was spending too much time in a Mexican resort with a lobbyist known as Tonii Barcelona. That was back when Democrats had enough House members to elect speakers in Texas. And when women found them attractive. It’s been a while.Earle has had his failures. Twenty years ago, he lost a big case against then-incumbent Democratic Texas Attorney General Jim Mattox. Then Earle walked away from his prosecution of Texas Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison on charges that she had used her state-treasurer office to run a campaign for the U.S. Senate, and ordered staffers to destroy the evidence that might have convicted her. It was an embarrassing moment for Earle, who folded in the face of one adverse evidentiary ruling the judge handed down on the first day of the trial. Don’t look for him to be embarrassed again.Ronnie Earle probably has had evidence to indict DeLay for some time. Texas law
makes it illegal to raise corporate money to spend on political campaigns. As
reported here months ago, there is a paper and e-mail trail that puts DeLay’s
hands in the corporate till. Consider the text of the letter from an Oklahoma
oil-and-gas company, also published in these pages months ago:
Dear Congressman DeLay:
On behalf of the Williams Companies Inc., I am pleased to forward our contribution of $25,000 for the TRMPAC [Texans for a Republican Majority] that we pledged at the June 2 fundraiser.
On another occasion, documented bye-mail, a former DeLay aide, now lobbying for
an energy company, handed DeLay a $25,000 check from a corporate donor. Earle
couldn’t pursue those and other infractions, because they involve election-code
violations, which in Texas are prosecuted in the county where the perp resides.
In DeLay’s case, that is Fort Bend County, where a Republican wouldn’t prosecute
DeLay if he were caught in bed with a boy. Earle didn’t find a boy. He found a
more circuitous route to the majority leader’s office: a money trail he followed
from Texas to Washington, then back to Texas.
On September 2002, as reported in the Texas Observer, DeLay’s Texas PAC sent $190,000 to the Republican National State Elections Committee. It was corporate “soft” money that was illegal to spend in Texas. Two weeks later, the money made the trip back to Austin as non-corporate “hard” money that was legal to spend in Texas. The coincidence was too great for Ronnie Earle to ignore. It now appears that he has tied DeLay to it.
Earle is not going public with his evidence. But also indicted with DeLay
were Jim Ellis and Jim Colyandro. Ellis is a longtime DeLay associate who told
the Washington Post that he and DeLay conceived Texans for a Republican
Majority as they drove around Austin four years ago, trying to think of a way
to get more money to Texas House candidates. Once they took the House from the
Democrats in the 2002 election, they re-drew the state’s congressional lines as
DeLay wanted them. Colyandro did the fund-raising for the political action committee
in Austin. Together they raised $1.5 million, half of it corporate. Because they
believed no one in this reddest of red states would touch them, they left a long
paper trail. Earle and his small staff are now working it.
California had its moment today, when it appeared that Representative David Dreier,
the movie-star-handsome chair of the Rules Committee, was going to be named acting
majority leader after DeLay temporarily stepped down. Someone with the “lean and
hungry look” of which Dreier is possessed would have had a leg up in the race
to take DeLay’s place. And that was more than Roy Blunt, the Republican majority
whip, could stand. Blunt prevailed and will be acting majority leader. Odds are
good that Tom DeLay won’t be coming back.
“I have done nothing wrong.”