- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 6, 2005

Everyone wants an occasional “do-over.” Who wouldn’t want to correct certain life choices — choosing to run a stop sign when an unseen cop was right behind you, or choosing to order one for the road at 3 in the morning. Ex-wives represent heartfelt attempts at a do-over. But when you’re a district attorney ardently pursuing the indictment of a ham sandwich, a do-over is risky.

You could ask Ronnie Earle, the infamous district attorney of Travis County, Texas.

Mr. Earle, who has a history of indicting politicians he doesn’t like and occasionally even taking them to trial (which he sometimes wins), went shopping this week for a grand jury to indict Tom DeLay for laundering campaign money. He had to go through three of them before he could get the indictment he wanted, a “true bill” to correct a defective earlier indictment of Mr. DeLay for unspecified crimes of conspiracy and dark dealing. Now the case against the Republican majority leader in the House, on leave that may or may not be temporary, is crumbling even faster than everyone expected.

Mr. Earle, who has experience in explaining curious indictments, says he did the do-over because he uncovered new evidence after the first indictment was handed up by the grand jury. Tom DeLay has his fighting clothes on and his lawyer is all but giddy. “What could have happened over the weekend?” he asks. “They investigate for three years and suddenly they have new evidence? That’s beyond the pale.”

Mr. Earle, like most Texas Democrats, wants to make Tom DeLay pay for his successful takeover of the Texas Legislature by orchestrating a mid-decade redistricting that tipped the balance in the Legislature, and in the Texas delegation to the U.S. House of Representatives, to the Republicans. Like Carthage of old, Tom DeLay must be destroyed.

The first indictments were returned last week, and then the district attorney discovered that well, maybe the law under which the indictment was returned didn’t apply after all. Hmmmmm. Maybe somebody ought to do it over. But the term of Mr. Earle’s original grand jury, compliant as all grand juries are expected to be, had expired. So Ronnie Earle went shopping.

But grand jury No. 2 was not so accommodating. Unlike the first grand jury, presided over by a Democrat, No. 2 was presided over by Judge Julie Kocurek, a Republican. The district attorney told the grand jurors that he had “some evidence” which he wanted to show them “out of an abundance of caution.” The grand jurors balked. This sometimes happens, and when it does district attorneys sometimes throw fits.

The Associated Press, quoting two sources, reported yesterday that when grand jury No. 2 declined to take Mr. Earle’s word for the quality of the ham he was asking them to indict, he became “visibly angry” and the “mood turned unpleasant.” This is polite lawyer talk for “the district attorney started kicking and screaming” and “everybody was about to start breaking up the saloon.”

Mr. Earle went shopping again. This time he found a grand jury presided over by another Democrat, Judge Brenda Kennedy, which was meeting for its first day of the new term. Four hours later, the Austin American-Statesman reported, the new felony indictments were returned.

You can’t find anyone in Austin, the seat of Travis County, who thinks Ronnie Earle will get a conviction. Few believe that the indictments, such as they are, will even get to trial. That’s not the point of this kind of partisan barn-burning. The indictments themselves get a lot of ink and airtime, and Mr. Earle understands that the public often conflates indictment with conviction, as exacerbated by history. So many officers of the House, beginning with Jim Wright and Dan Rostenkowski and continuing with Newt Gingrich and Bob Livingston, have been booted out of office reeking of various body odors that an indictment alone might be enough to destroy the Hammer. It’s a stunning abuse of the law and manipulation of a grand jury, even circa 2005, but it testifies eloquently to the times we live in.

Mr. Earle’s timing is impeccable and not at all coincidental. Certain lobbyists with whom Mr. DeLay has kept company, Jack Abramoff first among them, are giving off ripe body odors themselves. Maybe the public will add 2 and 2 and come up with 5. (Or even 4.) It’s the Washington game, and Democrats and Republicans, liberals and conservatives, all seem to play it equally well. History, after all, is the ultimate do-over.

Wesley Pruden is editor in chief of The Times.

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