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Tuesday, October 04, 2005

DeLay Is Indicted Again in Texas; Money Laundering Is Charge - New York Times

DeLay Is Indicted Again in Texas; Money Laundering Is Charge - New York TimesOctober 4, 2005
DeLay Is Indicted Again in Texas; Money Laundering Is Charge
By PHILIP SHENON

WASHINGTON, Oct. 3 - A grand jury in Texas issued a second indictment on Monday against Representative Tom DeLay, accusing the Texas Republican and two aides of money laundering in a $190,000 transaction that prosecutors have described as a violation of the state's ban on the use of corporate money in local election campaigns.

The indictment was announced without warning on Monday in Austin, the state capital, after lawyers for Mr. DeLay went to court earlier in the day to ask that the original conspiracy indictment be dismissed on technical grounds. Mr. DeLay was forced to step down temporarily as House majority leader as a result of that indictment last week.

In their court papers Monday, defense lawyers argued that the conspiracy laws did not apply to the 2002 election violations cited in the original indictment and that the charges should be dismissed before they did any more political damage to Mr. DeLay.

Within hours, Mr. DeLay and his aides had been indicted on the new money-laundering charges, which can carry a prison sentence of up to life in prison. Mr. DeLay and his lawyers described the new indictment as a last-minute effort by prosecutors to avoid the humiliation of seeing their case against the former majority leader collapse only days after it was brought.

"Ronnie Earle has stooped to a new low with his brand of prosecutorial abuse," Mr. DeLay said in a statement after learning of the new indictment, referring to the district attorney of Travis County, Tex., where both indictments were brought. "He is trying to pull the legal equivalent of a 'do-over' since he knows very well that the charges he brought against me last week are totally manufactured and illegitimate. This is an abomination of justice."

Mr. Earle, a Democrat who has a long history in Travis County of prosecuting both Democratic and Republican lawmakers, did not return phone calls for comment on Monday about his reasons for bringing the new money-laundering indictment, or whether it reflected a fear that the original indictment was flawed. The new indictment was issued as Bush administration officials confirmed news reports in London that the Justice Department had asked the British police to question former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about the circumstances of her meeting in 2000 with Mr. DeLay during a trip to Britain organized by the Washington lobbyist Jack Abramoff.

The interview request was the first publicly disclosed evidence from the Justice Department that Mr. DeLay was under scrutiny in the department's wide-ranging corruption investigation of Mr. Abramoff.

The new indictment was brought on the first day of deliberations by a newly empaneled grand jury in Austin. The grand jury that brought the original conspiracy charges against Mr. DeLay, and which had been investigating the lawmaker for months, was disbanded last week.

Without an explanation from the prosecutors, local criminal law specialists seemed perplexed by Mr. Earle's actions, saying they may reflect an effort by the prosecutor to ensure that some charge sticks to Mr. DeLay even if the conspiracy indictment is dimissed.

George E. Dix, a law professor at the University of Texas and a specialist in criminal procedures, speculated that prosecutors "saw a potential problem" with the conspiracy counts "and didn't want to hassle over it, so they went with a legal theory on money laundering that wouldn't present the same problems." He said if that was the case, it could be embarrassing to Mr. Earle because "it is a little awkward to have to change a theory before your horse is out of the gate."

The essential allegations are identical in the new and old indictment - that Mr. DeLay and his aides transferred $190,000 in corporate donations from a Texas political action committee to the Republican National Committee in September 2002, and that it was returned to individual Republican candidates for the Texas state house. A century-old ban in Texas prohibits the use of corporate money in the campaigns of state candidates.

Mr. DeLay's lawyers argued in their court papers on Monday that the conspiracy statute cited in the original statute did not apply to election law violations that occurred in 2002; they said the law was not amended until the following year to allow electoral code violations to be prosecuted as a conspiracy.

In a letter to Mr. Earle on Monday, Dick DeGuerin, a lawyer for Mr. DeLay, repeated the arguments for abandoning the conspiracy charges and said that "since you have professed not to be politically motivated in bringing this indictment, I request that you immediately agree to dismiss this indictment so that the political consequences can be reversed."

Within hours, Mr. Earle responded with the new money-laundering indictment, brought before a grand jury that was in its first hours of operation. Mr. DeGuerin said in a telephone interview that the new grand jury could not have understood what it was approving: "These are 12 people who are newly sworn in, and just getting them oriented takes them all day."

Spokesmen for the Justice Department in Washington and for Mr. DeLay had no immediate comment on the news reports about the interview request for Mrs. Thatcher and its significance in the larger corruption investigation of Mr. Abramoff.

A spokesman in London for the former prime minister, speaking on condition that he not be identified by name, acknowledged that the British police had recently contacted Mrs. Thatcher to "clarify" details of the meeting that she had with Mr. DeLay when he visited London in May 2000.

The spokesman was quoted by The Press Association, the British news agency, as saying that Mrs. Thatcher would cooperate with investigators and that the meeting with Mr. DeLay, which she had previously acknowledged, was a "courtesy call" at which no business of any sort was conducted.

In Washington, a Bush administration law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of grand jury secrecy rules, confirmed that the interview request had been made to the British police as part of the investigation of Mr. Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist once described by Mr. DeLay as being among his "closest and dearest friends." The official said that Mrs. Thatcher was not suspected of any wrongdoing.

The interview request to Mrs. Thatcher was first reported in Monday's editions of The Mirror, a British newspaper, which said it had obtained a briefing paper prepared by the British Home Office about the Justice Department's reasons for questioning Mrs. Thatcher.

The newspaper quoted the document as saying that "U.S. officials are investigating whether Abramoff was involved in obtaining legislative assistance from public officials in exchange for arranging and underwriting trips to the U.K." Federal bribery laws bar members of Congress and other government employees from accepting money or other favors in exchange for official actions.

The document said that the Justice Department investigation involved "high-profile American and U.K.-based individuals, including a leading congressman and former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher," the newspaper reported.

Mr. DeLay has asked that the House ethics committee review the propriety of three overseas trips arranged for him by Mr. Abramoff, including the 10-day visit to Britain in May 2000 that included a stop in London, where Mr. DeLay met with Mrs. Thatcher, and a golfing excursion to the fabled course at St. Andrews in Scotland.

Mr. DeLay has said that he understood the trip to Britain was paid for by a conservative educational group associated with Mr. Abramoff, the National Center for Public Policy Research, and not by Mr. Abramoff himself; House ethics rules bar lawmakers from accepting travel expenses from lobbyists.

The lawmaker has insisted he did no favors for Mr. Abramoff as a result of any of his trips with the lobbyist. Mr. Abramoff was long among the best-paid lobbyists in Washington because of his work for the gambling operations of Indian tribes and for garment manufacturers in the Northern Mariana Islands, an American territory in the Pacific.

Mr. DeLay was instrumental in blocking moves by the government to tighten federal regulations on the garment factories.

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