Off the Kuff Rotating Header Image

Warren RoBold

DeLay trial update

The state keeps presenting its case.

A former Republican National Committee official testified Thursday that he was told Tom DeLay wanted the RNC to swap corporate money for campaign donations to Texas candidates during the 2002 election campaign.

Terry Nelson, the RNC chief of staff at the time, testified that DeLay’s political aide, Jim Ellis, wanted to swap corporate dollars for the same amount in campaign donations. Texas law prohibits corporate donations to candidates.

Nelson said it was common for the RNC to do money swaps with state political parties — but not with political action committees such as the one Ellis represented.

He also said the dollar-for-dollar exchange rate was “unusual” because corporate money is worth less in politics because of the restrictions on how it can be spent.

“Tom DeLay wanted us to do that,” Nelson said Ellis told him.

After four days, Nelson’s testimony is the most direct connection prosecutors have made between DeLay and the $190,000 exchange at the heart of the money laundering and conspiracy charges against the former U.S. House majority leader.

All that is very interesting, but I have a strong feeling that in the end this is going to come down to DeLay testifying in his own defense. Yes, I know, he doesn’t have to, but does anyone think he won’t insist on it? I almost want to drive to Austin just to see that in person.

Under cross-examination, Nelson said he had “no doubt” that corporate money was never given to a candidate because the RNC keeps corporate dollars in a separate account from political donations raised from individuals.

The argument that campaign donations and corporate money were kept in separate accounts is a crucial element in DeLay’s defense.

DeGuerin repeatedly has argued, “It’s different money.” During testimony, DeGuerin has objected when prosecutors talk about “the money coming back to Texas.”

DeGuerin and his team of defense lawyers have not persuaded Judge Pat Priest.

Earlier this week, outside the presence of the jury, the judge said the fact that the corporate money might be kept separate wouldn’t matter if there were criminal intent to launder it into political donations.

“I don’t care if you put it in one pocket and took money out of the other pocket,” Priest said. “Money is absolutely fungible. It’s like beans.”

The six-man, six-woman jury will decide guilt or innocence. But the judge gives jurors written directions on the law before they deliberate.

That sound you hear is DeLay’s appellate brief being written. Finally, a mystery gets solved. Sort of.

[Warren] Robold, a Washington-based fundraiser who raised more than $400,000 in corporate donations in 2002, helped prosecutors paint a picture of the finances of Texans for a Republican Majority.

John Colyandro, the committee’s executive director, sent Robold several urgent e-mails — presented into evidence Thursday — because the committee was struggling to raise donations from individuals.

[…]

Under cross-examination, Robold said he relied on legal advice when he told corporate donors that they didn’t have to disclose their donations to Texas authorities. He said some were upset when the donations appeared on the committee’s Internal Revenue Service document.

But he said, “I did nothing wrong.”

Travis County prosecutors apparently agreed. In August, they dismissed nine felony counts of illegally accepting corporate donations against Robold, who said he testified without a deal.

So Robold is testifying for the prosecution, and he did get his charges dismissed. He says the two are not connected, which who knows? I think I’m enjoying this a little too much.

At long last, the DeLay trial gets underway

You know what today is? It’s Tom DeLay Sees The Inside Of A Courtroom Day, that’s what day it is. Yes, I know, he’s out of trouble with the feds – this is about the state charges that have been pending against him since 2005. Yes, it’s been a long, strange trip, and here’s what we have to look forward to.

During the 2002 elections, DeLay and his co-defendants used a political committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, to raise and spend $600,000 in corporate money, mostly from lobbyists and companies with interests before Congress.

Some facts are not disputed. The Texas political committee sent $190,000 in corporate money to the Republican National Committee, which, in turn, donated the same amount to seven legislative candidates in Texas.

The legal issue is whether DeLay conspired to launder the corporate money back to Texas despite a state ban against using corporate money in state elections. Or, as the defense contends, the national committee donations were from a different pot of money that came from individuals, not corporations, and there was no conspiracy.

[…]

At Tuesday’s hearing, senior Judge Pat Priest of San Antonio will consider a series of motions to dismiss the charges, including the defense’s allegations that prosecutors abused the process by shopping for indictments with three grand juries as time ran out on the investigation.

He will also consider whether to move the trial (Waco and San Antonio have been suggested) and to try the three defendants separately, among other motions.

DeLay already appears on track to be tried separately, but the question remains in what order the defendants would be tried and whether Ellis and Colyandro should be tried together.

DeLay’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said his client is willing to be tried first. Prosecutors favor trying DeLay’s aides first.

As for moving the trial, DeGuerin said, “There is so much ill feeling in Travis County about Tom DeLay that he can’t get a fair trial — even to this day.”

[…]

At Tuesday’s hearing, prosecutors will answer allegations about their conduct in the investigation.

Courthouse observers are watching to see how far Priest allows the defense to pursue questions about the secret grand jury process.

By all accounts, the end of the three-year investigation leading up to the indictments was chaotic.

After three years, with time running out, a grand jury indicted DeLay and his associates on a Wednesday. Two days later, the prosecutors — fearing a problem with the first indictments — asked a second grand jury to indict DeLay as its term was ending.

When grand jurors refused, the defense alleges, prosecutors improperly interrupted grand jury deliberations and tried to coerce them, a charge that prosecutors deny.

On the following Monday, prosecutors presented their three-year investigation to a new grand jury on its first day; prosecutors said they had obtained new information about the case over the weekend.

I know I’ve excerpted quite a bit here, but there’s still more than that, so do read the whole story. You can also visit my archives for an obsessive level of past coverage. Today ought to be a full day, and the folks at Court TV have any sense, they’ll be there in force. One more thing:

Finally, one co-defendant in the DeLay case has been so out-of-sight that there’s a rumor he’s turned state’s evidence.

Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin said prosecutors have not required DeLay’s fundraiser, Warren Robold, to appear in court over the years, but he denied that it was because of a deal.

Instead, Hardin said he allowed his client to be interviewed by prosecutors after he was indicted. The interview, which lasted several hours, was taped, and Robold’s remarks can be used in court.

But Hardin said Robold didn’t ask for immunity or a deal.

“That’s how sure we are that he’s innocent,” Hardin said. “And he doesn’t know anything bad about DeLay.”

I’ve been pushing that as a pet theory for a long time now, but as far as I know this is the first time it’s appeared in print outside of my blog. Maybe I’m the only one who’s been dumb enough to write it down, I don’t know. In any event, these and other questions will be answered starting today. Pop some corn and enjoy the spectacle.