Earle Throws Another Log on the Fire

If one indictment feels good, two must feel better.

A Texas grand jury indicted Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) yesterday for alleged involvement in money laundering related to the 2002 Texas election, raising new and more serious allegations than the conspiracy charge lodged against the former House majority leader last week.

The surprising new indictments followed by a matter of hours a motion by DeLay’s Texas legal defense team to quash last week’s charge on grounds that the Texas prosecutor in charge of the case lacked authority to bring it. The lawyers alleged that the crime of conspiracy was not covered by the state election law at the time of the alleged violation.

Later on Monday, a different grand jury — which had no prior involvement in the case — brought the new charges, which roughly match allegations made against two of DeLay’s political associates one year ago.

DeLay, who had earlier accused the prosecutor — Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle — of partisan zealotry, promptly issued a statement accusing him of stooping “to a new low with his brand of prosecutorial abuse.” DeLay said Earle “is trying to pull the legal equivalent of a ‘do-over’ since he knows very well that the charges he brought against me last week are totally manufactured and illegitimate.” The congressman added: “This is an abomination of justice.”

I expect the media circus to run for awhile on this DeLay matter, so long as political hay can be made.

The other new count alleges that DeLay and the two associates “did knowingly, conduct, supervise, and facilitate” the transfer of the $190,000 to Washington and back to Texas in violation of the state’s money-laundering statutes. Last week’s conspiracy charge, in contrast, involved the state’s election law, and it was that linkage that DeLay’s attorneys challenged.

Earle, who spoke to reporters after last week’s action, did not explain his decision to present his case to a new grand jury on the first day it met. DeLay spokesman Kevin Madden said that Earle’s action came after he “panicked” after realizing his error in bringing last week’s charges.

But a source close to the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he lacks authority to speak publicly, responded by noting that Earle told reporters last week his investigation was continuing, and asserting that Earle had intended to bring these charges even before the challenge raised by DeLay’s lawyers.

Whatever the reason, the potential consequences for DeLay are more dire. Both money-laundering crimes are more serious felonies, and the maximum punishment is life in prison.

BUT, we’ll have to wait a year, maybe two before we know whether DeLay will have to serve any time. At least that’s what I believe, as I am convinced that Earle wants this fight to continue in the political arena more than a court of law.

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