Friday, October 7, 2005

Rep. Tom DeLay said District Attorney Ronnie Earle, who is prosecuting him for trying to involve corporate money in Texas politics, has taken such contributions himself.

“It’s real interesting he has this crusade against corporate funds. He took corporate funds, and he’s taken union funds, for his own re-election. That’s against the law,” Mr. DeLay told The Washington Times yesterday.

A review of Mr. Earle’s campaign-finance filings in Texas shows that he has received contributions from the AFL-CIO, including a $250 donation on Aug. 29, 2000. He also has received contributions listed on the disclosure forms only as coming from the name of an incorporated entity, often a law firm.

Mr. Earle has said repeatedly that state law bars corporate and union contributions. Attempts to reach Mr. Earle yesterday for comment, including a phone message left on his assistant’s voice mail detailing Mr. DeLay’s charge, were unsuccessful.

The prosecutor for Travis County, Texas, has secured indictments against Mr. DeLay on charges of conspiracy to violate campaign-finance laws, money laundering and conspiracy to launder money.

He argues that a political action committee founded by Mr. DeLay and run by associates of his collected corporate money and sent a check for $198,000 to the Republican National State Elections Committee (RNSEC), an arm of the Republican National Committee. The RNSEC then contributed money to state candidates in Texas — donations that Mr. Earle says were an attempt to funnel corporate contributions into state races.

Mr. DeLay followed House Republican rules and stepped down as majority leader after the first indictment Sept. 28.

Party leaders have said he will return to his leadership post if he defeats the charges, but Mr. DeLay said he intends to run for the House again even if he is not majority leader.

“That’s up to the people I represent, but I’m confident they’ll send me back to do their work,” he said. “No matter what title they give me back in Washington, I’m ‘congressman’ first. I intend to run, I intend to run harder than ever before, and I intend to win.”

Mr. DeLay was interviewed by The Times in the majority leader’s room just down the hallway from the front entrance to the House floor. He said he is eager to advance House Republicans’ agenda and said for now he will fill the role of adviser to the leaders.

He said he and House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, have forged a long partnership.

“He has expressed it this way — I have institutional knowledge that’s valuable. I have an energy level that’s valuable. I have assets that are valuable. The leader’s staff is still in place,” he said. “I think most of the members will find there’s not much, as far as their ability to have input into the agenda and into the leadership, it’s not going to change a whole lot. So the Democrats did not win.”

Mr. DeLay said the House will tackle most of the major issues that leaders have set out including reducing entitlement spending through the budget process, cutting taxes, passing new energy legislation and approving “a strong border-security bill and a bill that forces the government to enforce our immigration laws.”

The Texan said his legal defense is simple.

“Money raised legally by corporations was sent to the RNSEC. They took that money — what is it, Texas is only one of 16 states that forbids corporate funds to be in campaigns, the vast majority of the country’s campaigns can accept corporate money — that money went to them,” he said. “In fact, $1.4 million was sent to Texas [by the RNSEC], not just $198,500.”

Mr. DeLay said it’s up to his lawyers whether to ask for a change of venue from Austin, a liberal enclave in the midst of one of the country’s most conservative states.

Asked whether Mr. Earle should be disbarred, Mr. DeLay said he “ought to be held accountable.”

“I don’t know how, but there’s all kinds of avenues, I’m told,” he said. “You just think about how he has abused his power, how he has undermined the criminal justice system, how he is undermining the election system by criminalizing elections and dragging them into criminal courts, it’s incredibly dangerous to our representative government. And if he’s not held accountable, then other DAs who would like to do this can feel they can freely do it.”

Mr. DeLay said he is convinced that Mr. Earle has coordinated with national Democratic officials, and said the same thing happened with outside groups when a Democratic member of Congress brought ethics charges against him last year.

“It was all set up with [Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington] — they’re out there doing the media stuff, paying for ads,” he said. “One ad would start, stop at the end of the week, a new ad from another organization would start up — my, isn’t that a coincidence? That would go on for weeks.”

He said he does not know whether Mr. Earle is taking orders from Washington, but said the entire situation is collaboration.

“If you step back and look at his operation for three years on this particular issue, talking to the press, of course he’s talked to the Democratic leadership. I don’t know who. But he’s a political animal; he’s not a district attorney,” he said.

He also said the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee “was shopping the story” that Mr. DeLay was about to be indicted a day before the Sept. 28 indictment was handed up, which Mr. DeLay implied means that the DCCC had knowledge of secret proceedings.

“How did they know it was the deadline, number one, and how did they know I was going to be indicted the next day?” he said. “Isn’t it amazing how much information they have when they’re spinning you? All of that is coordinated.”

Democrats have consistently said there is no basis to Mr. DeLay’s charges.

“I know that Tom DeLay may find himself distracted by conspiracy-related issues, but I’m being honest when I say that there are no local or federal jurisdictions that allow the DCCC to indict anyone,” DCCC spokesman Bill Burton said yesterday. “At some point, Tom DeLay is just going to have to come to grips with the fact that it’s the evidence that did him in, not Web sites or newspapers or the staff of the DCCC.”

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