Author Topic: Republican Majority Leader Indicted --- Forced to Step Down  (Read 76 times)


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Republican Majority Leader Indicted --- Forced to Step Down
« on: September 28, 2005, 03:42:41 PM »
DeLay Is Indicted and Forced to Step Down as Majority Leader

WASHINGTON, Sept. 28 – Representative Tom DeLay of Texas, the powerful House Republican majority leader, was accused by a Texas grand jury today of criminal conspiracy in a campaign fund-raising scheme.

Mr. DeLay was indicted on one count charging that he violated state election laws in September 2002. Two political associates, John D. Colyandro and James W. Ellis, were indicted with him.

The indictment of Mr. DeLay, while not entirely unexpected, still reverberated through the Capitol. The House Republican rules require a member of the leadership to step down, at least temporarily, if indicted.

Late this afternoon, Representative Roy Blunt of Missouri, the majority whip, was appointed temporary House majority leader, with David Dreier of California, the chairman of the Rules Committee, designated to assist him. Earlier in the day, Republicans on Capitol Hill said Speaker J. Dennis Hastert intended to appoint Mr. Dreier to take over for Mr. DeLay.

A conviction on the felony charge against Mr. DeLay, 58, carries a maximum sentence of two years in prison. The lawmaker has consistently maintained his innocence and today asserted that the indictment resulted from a "purely political investigation" by the Travis County district attorney, Ronnie Earle, a Democrat.

"I have done nothing wrong," Mr. DeLay said, adding that he had violated "no law, no regulation, no rule of the House." Mr. DeLay, speaking on Capitol Hill, described Mr. Earle, a longtime antagonist, as "a partisan fanatic" and a "rogue district attorney" and said the prosecutor had shamelessly courted journalists on "the only days he actually comes to the office." Mr. DeLay said the charge lodged against him today was "one of the weakest, most baseless indictments in American history," one that is "a sham, and Mr. Earle knows it."

Mr. Earle, in a separate news conference, disputed Mr. DeLay's contentions. "We have over the years prosecuted a number of public officials," he said in Texas, adding that it was his duty to go after "abuses of power." In fact, he said, he has prosecuted more Democrats than Republicans.

At the White House, the president's chief spokesman, Scott McClellan, expressed support for Mr. DeLay, telling reporters, "Mr. DeLay is a good ally and a leader who we have worked closely with for the good of the American people.'' "The president's view is to let the legal process work," Mr. McClellan said. "There's a legal process and we're going to let it work.''

Democrats were quick to seize on Mr. DeLay's troubles. "The criminal indictment of Majority Leader Tom DeLay is the latest example that Republicans in Congress are plagued by a culture of corruption at the expense of the American people," the House minority leader, Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, said in a statement.

Mr. DeLay is second only to Speaker Hastert of Illinois in power in the House of Representatives and has been credited with shepherding much of his party's legislative programs through Congress. He has also been seen as a key in expanding the Republican majority in the House, which now stands at 231 to 202 Democrats, with one independent and one vacancy.

Howard Dean, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, said the indictment was further evidence that "alleged illegal activity reaches to the highest levels of the Republican Party."

"Tom DeLay is neither the beginning nor the end of the Washington Republicans' ethical problems," Mr. Dean said in a statement that also cited questions over a stock sale by the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, and an investigation into the leaking of the identity of a C.I.A. operative that has touched on the presidential adviser Karl Rove.

The DeLay indictment asserts that Mr. Colyandro and Mr. Ellis were part of a scheme in which corporations contributed large sums ($50,000 in one instance, and $25,000 in at least three other instances) that were destined for the Republican National Committee. The indictment includes a copy of a check for $190,000 made out to the Republican National State Elections Committee, a component of the party's national committee. That money was to go to various candidates for the Texas Legislature, the indictment says.

The indictment came just three weeks after a political organization formed by Mr. DeLay, Texans for a Republican Majority, was indicted on charges of taking illegal corporate money while Mr. DeLay was helping Republicans win control of the Texas Legislature as well as strengthening their hold on Congress.

The DeLay organization was charged with accepting a contribution of $100,000 from the Alliance for Quality Nursing Home Care and one of $20,000 from AT&T. A statewide business group, the Texas Association of Business, was also charged.

State law prohibits use of corporate contributions to advocate the election or defeat of state candidates, and prosecutors accuse the DeLay organization of engaging in a complex scheme to circumvent the law.

Mr. DeLay, who has also come under fire from the House ethics committee on three occasions in recent months, will not have to leave his post as the congressman from Texas's 22d District, near Houston, as a result of the indictment. But by his having to step down from his leadership position, his power will be vastly diminished, at least for the time being.

Mr. DeLay has won the grudging respect of Democrats for his effectiveness, not only in pushing legislation through the House but for helping to strengthen the Republican majority. In Texas, he helped to engineer a redistricting plan that boosted the Texas Republican majority to 21-11 in the current Congress.

Mr. DeLay's troubles come at an awkward time for Republicans, as President Bush is sagging in public opinion surveys and as the Senate majority leader, Bill Frist, Republican of Tennessee, has been defending himself against questions about the timing of the sale of stock in a family-owned business.

To compound embarrassment for the Republicans, Mr. DeLay is a close friend of Jack Abramoff, the Republican lobbyist who has been under scrutiny by the Justice Department for more than a year and who has been indicted on unrelated federal fraud charges in Florida. Democrats are sure to try to capitalize on the Republican troubles in next year's Congressional elections, and probably in the presidential election campaign of 2008.

Representative Tom Reynolds of New York, the chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, asserted today that the political motive behind the investigation of Mr. DeLay was obvious. "The majority leader has been a highly effective leader of our conference," Mr. Reynolds said. "Democrats resent Tom DeLay because he routinely defeats them — both politically and legislatively." "Until Majority Leader Tom DeLay has his day in court, it is vitally important he be afforded the same presumption of innocence afforded to every other American," Mr. Reynolds said.

As majority whip, Mr. Blunt has held the third-highest post in the House, with responsibility for rounding up votes to support the leadership's agenda. Before going to Congress in 1997, Mr. Blunt was Missouri's secretary of state and president of his alma mater, Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Mo.

Mr. Dreier, who will take over the majority leader's office, was first elected to Congress in 1980 and is currently chairman of the powerful Rules Committee. On his Web site he describes his "core principles" as "working to promote individual liberty, economic opportunity, strong U.S. global leadership, and limited but effective government."