- The Washington Times - Monday, October 3, 2005

Former Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s political future depends on how quickly he can beat criminal charges against him — if he can at all.

Republican leaders on Capitol Hill insist that the majority leader’s desk awaits Mr. DeLay’s triumphant return. But GOP aides privately concede that those hopes will fade the longer Mr. DeLay is deposed.

“The next 90 days will be crucial to whether he comes back or not,” said one Republican leadership aide. “At some point, we will get used to him not being on the Kremlin wall.”

Just yesterday, Mr. DeLay’s attorneys filed a motion to have the case dismissed, arguing that the conspiracy laws he is charged with violating had not yet taken effect in Texas. But within hours, Mr. DeLay found himself the target of a new indictment — on money-laundering charges — handed up by a different grand jury.

If Mr. DeLay gets his indictments quashed in short order, Republicans say, he can resume his leadership post without a House Republican Conference election. When Congress reconvenes in January, however, members will want to elect a new majority leader, and if Mr. DeLay remains under indictment, he’ll be frozen out of Republican leadership.

Anyway, Republicans say, GOP members will be focused on next year’s midterm elections and will be opposed to assuming additional ethics baggage.

And, said DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin, Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle knows that.

“He will try to delay it as long as possible,” Mr. DeGuerin said. Mr. DeGuerin and other DeLay supporters say that Mr. Earle has no prosecutable case against Mr. DeLay, so he’s using the indictment to either force Mr. DeLay from his powerful perch in the party or push him from office altogether.

The Houston lawyer said it’s the same “tactic” Mr. Earle used against another one of his clients, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, who beat back charges of political misconduct pressed by Mr. Earle more than a decade ago.

Indeed, there are similarities in timing between the two cases.

In 1993, a Texas grand jury impaneled by Mr. Earle issued a last-minute indictment against Mrs. Hutchison. It was handed up on Sept. 27, the year before Mrs. Hutchison faced election.

This year, a Texas grand jury again issued its last-minute indictment against Mr. DeLay. Again, the indictment was handed up on Sept. 27 and again, it is the year before Mr. DeLay faces election.

If Mrs. Hutchison’s case is any indicator, Mr. DeLay may be in for a long haul. Her case did not go away until the following February, when Mr. Earle tried dropping the case for a lack of evidence. Mr. DeGuerin, however, refused to let the charges be dropped, and the jury exonerated her.

Mr. Earle, who has made a career of pursuing politicians, declined comment for this article.

DeLay staffers say their boss is eager to rebut the charges as soon as possible.

“It goes without saying that we want to deal with this head-on and swiftly,” said spokesman Kevin Madden, who said he’s confident the Texan will be exonerated. “We are only focused on fighting these charges and getting back to what Mr. DeLay was elected to do.”

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