That loud thudding sound you just heard? It was a size 15EEEE hiking boot dropping.
A Travis County grand jury today indicted U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on one count of criminal conspiracy, jeopardizing the Sugar Land Republican’s leadership role as the second most powerful Texan in Washington, D.C.
The charge, a state jail felony punishable by up to two years incarceration, stems from his role with his political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, a now-defunct organization that already had been indicted on charges of illegally using corporate money during the 2002 legislative elections.
An indictment does not force DeLay to resign as a member of Congress, but the GOP’s rules demand that he resign his post as majority leader as he fights the charges. Congressional Republicans earlier tried to drop that requirement, citing Earle’s investigation as a political vendetta, but they ultimately maintained the rule after withering criticism.
Over the past year, Travis County grand jurors have indicted three DeLay associates — John Colyandro, Jim Ellis and Warren Robold — as well as eight corporate donors, the Texas Association of Business and DeLay’s Texans for a Republican Majority. Colyandro and Ellis were re-indicted this morning as part of the conspiracy indictment.
DeLay had appeared to escape criminal scrutiny as early as last year when Travis County prosecutors concluded they did not have the jurisdiction to pursue election code violations against him. Under the law, only DeLay’s local district attorney, a Republican, had jurisdiction, and he expressed no interest in the case.
But a conspiracy charge falls under the criminal code, not the election statute that bans corporate money from being spent on a campaign. And Earle has the jurisdiction to prosecute DeLay for conspiring with others to circumvent state law.
In recent days, the broad-based investigation has focused on one particular transaction during the 2002 campaign.
In late September 2002, Colyandro, the executive director of Texans for a Republican Majority, sent a blank check to Ellis, who is DeLay’s primary fundraiser in Washington.
According to the money-laundering indictment returned against those two last year, Ellis was accused of having the Republican National Committee launder $190,000 of corporate donations into noncorporate money that was sent to to seven Texas House candidates, including Austinites Jack Stick and Todd Baxter.
As late as Tuesday, Travis County prosecutors were interviewing Republican National Committee staffers about their roles in the transaction.
You know what the best part about this is going to be? For the foreseeable future, every story written about Tom DeLay or anyone associated with him – every story about Jack Abramoff and Bob Ney and the Ellis/RoBold/Colyandro triplets and the TAB and TRMPAC civil suits, and on and on and on – will no longer include the sentence “DeLay himself has not been charged with any wrongdoing in these matters”. From here on out, it’ll be “DeLay is currently under felony indictment in Travis County for criminal conspiracy”. How sweet that is.
All that said, this is a bit of a surprise:
The grand jury, however, took no action against Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, Texas Association of Business President Bill Hammond or state Reps. Dianne Delisi and Beverly Woolley, both of whom sit on the political committee’s board, for their roles in the election.
I have to say, it always looked to me like Craddick was the more likely of the two Toms to have left fingerprints somewhere. Maybe I underestimated the guy.
I’m sure there’ll be plenty of blogospheric reaction and analysis shortly. In the meantime, here’s Ronnie Earle’s statement on the indictment, and the indictment itself; both are Word docs, and both come via the Quorum Report. Here also is a press release from CREW lauding the indictment, and a reminder from them that House corruption goes well beyond DeLay.