News of the potential indictment and step-aside of Tom DeLay has hit the Chron, and it seems that DeLay has reacted to his situation the way he reacts to pretty much everything else: Cry "partisanship" and raise funds.
U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay apparently is preparing for the possibility that a Travis County grand jury may indict him on charges of violating state campaign finance laws.
DeLay, R-Sugar Land, told a group of Houston supporters earlier this month he may need to raise more money for a legal defense fund.
DeLay and an aide in a March 8 private meeting at the Omni Houston Hotel talked to Houston supporters about the possible need to pay for a legal defense in connection with the grand jury investigation, according to two people who attended the meeting.
The meeting at the Omni was part of a regular event DeLay holds every three months for supporters called the "Congressional Quarterly Luncheon." The two people interviewed by the Chronicle spoke on condition of anonymity.
DeLay talked about the grand jury investigation only after being asked about it by one of the 40 to 50 people in attendance, sources told the Chronicle.
DeLay talked briefly about a legal defense and then had an unidentified aide discuss the possible need for raising money for a legal defense fund.
One of those interviewed quoted DeLay as saying, "I fully anticipate being indicted."
The other person did not remember hearing DeLay say anything like that, "but I gathered the money he might raise would be for him," he said.
The Chronicle attempted to contact others who are known to have been at the meeting, but none responded.
Grella said neither DeLay nor the aide talked about setting up a new fund or of having any expectation of needing one.
Grella said the aide, whom he declined to name, explained to the crowd that a legal defense can be expensive. He said DeLay found that out when the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee sued him for racketeering in 2000, a lawsuit that was later dropped.
"One staffer discussed the Democrats' previous frivolous lawsuit that was thrown out of court, but didn't discuss a new legal defense fund," Grella said.
The Tom Delay Legal Expense Trust was set up in July 2000, according to the Capitol Hill newspaper Roll Call. Through November 2001 it had paid out $320,222 -- about half the legal bill owed to the Houston law firm of Bracewell & Patterson to defend DeLay in the lawsuit.
Republican Conference rules state that a member of the elected leadership who has been indicted on a felony carrying a penalty of at least two years in prison must temporarily step down from the post. He or she may return to the job if found not guilty or if the charges are reduced below a felony or dismissed.
Texas Rep. John Carter (R), a former Williamson County district judge, said an indictment “is not intended to be a declaration of guilt” and that it would be “pretty rough” if DeLay had to relinquish the Majority Leader post without having been convicted of anything.
Repeating a well-known legal adage, Carter said, “A DA can indict a ham sandwich given the opportunity.”
UPDATE: Missed this story in The Hill, which suggests DeLay may have another Democratic prosecutor sniffing around him, in this case because of his sham charity, Celebrations for Children.
[Common Cause] recently made inquiries with Eliot Spitzer, New York attorney general, to determine whether the charity was properly registered. That may lead to a formal request for an investigation.
[They] allege that DeLay plans to use the charity improperly to fund political activities in New York City during the 2004 Republican National Convention.
Common Cause has made inquiries about DeLay’s charity with Spitzer (D) that may lead to a formal request by the group for his office investigate the charity.
An official at Common Cause said: “We’ve had contact with the office, and they are aware of the situation. The New York attorney general is one of the most aggressive enforcers of charities in the country.”
Spitzer, who would arguably have jurisdiction over the matter because DeLay’s charity would raise money in New York during the convention, which begins Aug. 29, could imperil the majority leader’s plans.
Spitzer has made a reputation by aggressively pursuing allegations of corporate crime when other government enforcement agencies have tread carefully. And many political observers believe he wants to run for governor some day.