Friday, May 20, 2005

DALLAS — State Republican Party leaders yesterday called for the resignation of Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, whose Austin office is investigating associates of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, for referring to the Texas Republican as a ‘bully’ at a Democratic fundraiser here.

And defendants in a case involving a DeLay-led political action committee may file motions to force Mr. Earle to recuse himself, at least from the politically charged investigations.

‘For Ronnie Earle to say with a straight face that he is an unbiased prosecutor is laughable,’ said state GOP Chairman Tina Benkiser of Houston. ‘Ronnie Earle’s political motives are transparent. He is tainted and he should resign.’

Mr. Earle, who investigates Texas’ white-collar crime, could not be reached yesterday, but has told an Austin reporter, “I’d speak to any group interested in honest and open government.”

In his speech earlier this month at the Democrat fundraiser sponsored by the Texas Values in Action Coalition, Mr. Earle suggested Mr. DeLay had been corrupted by money and power.

“This case is not just about Tom DeLay,” said Mr. Earle, district attorney of Travis County, which includes Austin. “If it isn’t this Tom DeLay, it’ll be another one — just like one bully replaces the one before. This is a structural problem involving the combination of money and power. Money brings power and power corrupts.”

Republicans consistently have criticized Mr. Earle, a Democrat, insisting he is biased and that the current probe into Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), of which Mr. DeLay was a founder, is totally motivated by politics.

“It raises the issue of whether Mr. Earle should be removed from the case, or the case dismissed outright,” said Joe Turner, who represents John Colyandro, one of three charged with fundraising abuses via TRMPAC.

“I was surprised that he did that,” Rusty Hardin, lead lawyer for Warren RoBold, another TRMPAC defendant, told the Houston Chronicle. “It fuels the perception that he is engaged in a partisan prosecution.”

Mr. DeLay has denied any wrongdoing and has not been charged with any crime. The investigation primarily concerns fundraising activities for Texas’ 2002 state legislative races — in which corporate financing is said to have played a huge role in Republicans thoroughly thrashing Democratic candidates up and down the ballot.

The May 12 gathering raised $102,000 for Democratic candidates, according to Dallas lawyer Russell Langley, a co-founder of the new fundraising committee.

Mr. Earle and Mr. DeLay sparred in a “60 Minutes” segment recently. Mr. DeLay called the Earle investigation “partisan” and “frivolous.” To which Mr. Earle replied: “Being called vindictive and partisan by Tom DeLay is like being called ugly by a frog.”

Terry Keel, a Republican state representative from Austin who once was an assistant to Mr. Earle, said yesterday he “wouldn’t propose to second-guess” his ex-boss. But, he agreed, “it’s a little out of character for him.”

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