March 24, 2006
What's it all about?

In the comments to this post about the status of the charges against Tom DeLay, Right of Texas asks:

Don't you agree that all of this is semi-politically motivated?

My honest answer, at least right now, is no, I don't. Travis County DA Ronnie Earle has said that this case is about "cops and robbers". I do believe that's how he sees it, and I believe that's what's driving him.

That doesn't mean that he hasn't overstepped his bounds. One of the points raised by Earle's critics in the movie The Big Buy is that Earle is prosecuting based on what he believes the law should be, not on what it actually is. While I think that if that were truly the case, all of the indictments would have been flushed by now, I do think there's some merit to that assessment. I believe Earle is an idealist, and I think he sees himself as a protector of democracy and the integrity of elections. That doesn't alter the facts of the case, but it does suggest that perhaps he's a bit more motivated than another DA might have been.

I think Earle is taking a big risk by indicting Tom DeLay. From all that I've seen so far, I think he has a pretty solid case against the TRMPAC Three of Ellis, Colyandro, and RoBold. I think the reason why they're pursuing this to my mind bizarre theory that checks are not the same as cash is because they know they're in trouble on the facts, so their best bet is to get the law invalidated before a jury can be empaneled. It would have been much safer for Earle to simply go after these three guys. Convicting them would have been damaging to DeLay, enough so to have an effect on the 2006 election. Admittedly, DeLay would still be Majority Leader if he were not under indictment, and having a criminal trial hanging over his head is more damaging to him than just having three more felonious friends. But still, convicting the TRMPAC Three would be a blow to him and to his work.

Convicting DeLay is a taller order. I don't doubt that everything these guys did was completely in accord with DeLay's philosophy. I believe that to whatever extent he was involved in the daily business of TRMPAC, he authorized whatever was presented to him. I'm just not so sure he was all that hands-on, and unless someone (like RoBold, who's been mysteriously quiet and apparently uninvolved in all the appeal activity) testifies that he did give the go-ahead on a specific item or two, I think it could be very hard to prove that he had a direct hand in the actual criminal acts. That's why the conspiracy charge, whose dismissal Earle is appealing, matters - it's the easiest of the three to prove.

I believe the risk for Earle is that in the end he's going to be judged solely on whether or not he convicts DeLay. If he does, then that speaks for itself. If not, even if the TRMPAC Three go down on all the charges against them, I think the story line will be that Earle failed to get DeLay. He's putting a reasonably achievable result on the line for one that's more of a reach. I'm not sure I'd do the same if I were in his shoes.

So why bother? I don't believe he's doing it because indicting Tom DeLay benefitted (at least temporarily) the Democratic Party, nationally or in Texas. I just don't see that as part of the equation for him. As such, if that's your definition of "political motivation", I disagree. I think Earle saw what happened in the 2002 elections - by that I mean the influx of corporate money and the way it was used - as a grave wrong, and I think he saw Tom DeLay as being ultimately responsible for it. I think it's the fact that it happened, not who it happened to, that motivates him, and I think he believes the way to prevent it from happening again to anyone is to make an example of the person who made it happen this time.

That's my opinion. There's a lot of dime-store psychologizing in there, much or all of which could be utter BS, but after following this case for a long time, that's how I see it.

One last thing: If the trial timeline does drag out past November 7, and if as DeLay believes Earle does drop the charges against him once Election Day is over, then (assuming there have been no adverse court rulings against him that would change his prospects) I will be forced to conclude that everything I'm saying here is wrong, and that Earle really did only care about submarining DeLay's re-election chances. Obviously, I don't believe that will happen. But if it does, I'll take all of this back and admit that I was wrong.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on March 24, 2006 to Scandalized! | TrackBack

This seems about right to me, with two exceptions:

1) At their secret meeting in Austin in Ausgust, Delay said something that gave Ronnie Earle what he thought was proof of Delay's prior knowledge and/or approval of the $180,000 laundry run.

Having seen a lot of post-indictment Fox interview footage of DeLay running off at the mouth, I can beleive he said somethign that could be used against him in a court of law.

2) I think Earle will be using some of those interviews against DeLay as well.

I also think 1/2 of the supeonas going out of Earle's office are intended to build the case that Delay's money-laundered before, while the other 1/2 are attempts to scare the shit out of DeLay and make him want to accept the plea he turned down during that Ausgust meeting.

Posted by: chegandhi on March 24, 2006 7:09 PM