Taking On Tom DeLay notes that one of DeLay's defense attorneys may be needed as a witness in the TRMPAC investigation. Quoting from a Roll Call article:
Former Rep. Ed Bethune (R-Ark.), now a partner at the law firm Bracewell & Patterson, was recently hired by DeLay to defend against a House ethics complaint filed by Rep. Chris Bell (D-Texas.)
Bethune began serving as a registered lobbyist for the Burlington Northern Sante Fe Corp., a Texas-based railroad company in May 2001. Burlington Northern paid Bracewell & Patterson $720,000 for its lobbying work between 2001 and Dec. 31, 2003, according to federal records. It is unclear whether he or his firm is still doing any work for the railroad.
Both Bethune and a spokesman for DeLay rejected the notion that Bethune was in any way compromised. DeLay plans to keep Bethune as his ethics lawyer, the spokesman added.
Burlington Northern may find itself under scrutiny during a criminal investigation by Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle. Earle is looking into the activities of Texans for a Republican Majority PAC (TRMPAC), a group founded by DeLay in September 2001.
Earle is looking into whether TRMPAC and other pro-GOP groups such as the Texas Association of Business violated Texas law by illegally steering millions of dollars in corporate contributions into Lone Star State legislative races in the months leading up to the 2002 elections. The use of corporate donations for political campaigns is illegal under Texas law.
Burlington Northern donated $26,000 to TRMPAC in October 2002, according to reports filed by the group with the IRS.
Earle has already subpoenaed a number of individuals with close ties to DeLay to appear before a grand jury in Austin. These include Jim Ellis, a top DeLay fundraiser, and DeLay's daughter, Danielle DeLay Ferro, who serves as his campaign manager and as a TRMPAC consultant. DeLay himself has not been subpoenaed.
Bell, who filed his ethics complaint against DeLay last month, has more recently raised concerns about the Texas Republican's decision to retain Bethune, citing his ties to Burlington Northern.
In his ethics filing, Bell alleged that DeLay, among other things, "used TRMPAC to illegally funnel corporate money to state races," which would be a felony under Texas law. "Rep. DeLay engaged in this pattern of illegal conduct for the purpose of stealing control of the state House for the Republicans so he could then push through a radical redistricting plan designed to eliminate Texas Democratic seat in the United States Congress."
Noting that Earle is continuing his criminal probe of TRMPAC, Bell said that if the ethics committee takes up his complaint and decides to investigate DeLay and TRMPAC as well, then Bethune could find himself in an untenable position. Bethune might find himself representing the Majority Leader during an ethics probe in which another client of his firm, Burlington Northern, could be drawn into.
If the two parties' legal interests diverge at some point, Bethune or his firm could be placed into a conflict of interest.
In an interview, Bell said he also wants to know if Bethune had any role in the decision by Burlington Northern officials to donate to TRMPAC in the first place.
"Based on what we laid out [in the complaint] ... I think the ethics committee needs to be made aware of the potential conflict" facing Bethune, said Bell. "If there is clearly a conflict, I think he should give up the case."
UPDATE: I stand corrected - the DMN and the Star Telegram did indeed carry the WaPo story. I had assumed it'd be in their Elections/Politics sections, but it wasn't and I didn't bother with a site search. My bad. Thanks to Kevin for pointing this out.Posted by Charles Kuffner on July 12, 2004 to Scandalized! | TrackBack