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How long is this thing gonna take?

We may have the Tom DeLay trial to entertain us into December.

[Monday] prosecutors announced that they might be done by next Tuesday. That would give the defense only a couple of days if they want to make final arguments by the Monday of the short holiday week. (The court hasn’t been working Fridays.) It also means the trial, scheduled for three weeks, will lap into a fourth week.

Scheduling conflicts are already popping up among the lawyers. Who knows whether jurors have early Thanksgiving plans?

Till yesterday, things hadn’t been all that exciting. The state’s case was circumstantial, without any smoking-gun link to DeLay. The man himself started the week professing confidence that he’ll get away with it. Yesterday, things got a little more interesting.

Jurors in the Tom DeLay money-laundering case heard from DeLay himself today, but it was a voice recording made five years ago as prosecutors pressed him about his role in a 2002 money swap with the Republican National Committee.

In the 2005 interview, DeLay said Jim Ellis, who ran his Washington-based political committee, told him he was going to exchange $190,000 of corporate money for campaign donations from the Republican National Committee.

“Jim Ellis told me he was going to do it,” DeLay told prosecutors.

“Before he did it?” the prosecutors asked.

“Uh-huh. By the way, it’s very common practice by both Democrats and Republicans,” DeLay said.

It’s that brief answer among the 83-page transcript that prompted prosecutors to proceed with the money-laundering and conspiracy charges against DeLay.

It’s a statement that the former U.S. House majority leader has tried to recant over the past five years. He has said he “misspoke” and that prosecutors “twisted” his words. “I was indicted over one sentence,” DeLay has complained.

Later during the 2005 interview, DeLay told prosecutors that Ellis brought up the money swap “at his own initiative” during a Oct. 2, 2002 meeting. DeLay said Ellis was just informing DeLay because of the large amount of money involved.

“It wasn’t my decision,” DeLay told prosecutors. “I don’t make decisions” for Texans for a Republican Majority, the political committee which sent the corporate money to the RNC.

Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s lawyer, told reporters today that the context of the 83-page transcript shows that DeLay didn’t know about the money swap until after the deal was done.

It’s something, but I confess I’m still hoping for a bit more. On the other hand, to people who haven’t followed this as obsessively as I have, it could be pretty impressive. It’ll be awhile before we know for sure.

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