What's Behind the Second DeLay Indictment?

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When fabled Houston defense attorney Dick DeGuerin strode into an Austin courthouse last week to defend Congressman Tom DeLay, he quoted Yogi Berra, asserting that this would be "déjà vu all over again." Given the trouncing DeGuerin had handed Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle 12 years ago in their last big face-off, few observers doubted this would be a battle royale. But no one anticipated it would be déjà vu so quickly.

In that 1994 case, DeGuerin defended Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Texas Republican, after Earle brought ethics charges against her. (At the time, Hutchison was the Texas state treasurer.) The first two indictments against her were tossed out, and DeGuerin outmaneuvered Earle in pre-trial motions. On the first day of trial, Earle refused to go forward with the case, and Hutchison was acquitted.

DeGuerin promised a similar assault on Delay's behalf, and Monday he filed a motion to dismiss last week's indictment. There was no crime, DeGuerin said, because there was no conspiracy provision in the Texas Election Code until 2003, one year after DeLay's alleged actions. Within hours of DeGuerin's motion to dismiss, Earle convened a new grand jury, which issued a two-count indictment charging DeLay with money laundering under the state's criminal code.

Was this a re-indictment or a new indictment? Unlike last week, Earle's office held no press conference to herald the late afternoon charges. Despite numerous phone calls, Earle had no comment. But the Austin American-Statesman, quoting sources inside the investigation, said prosecutors feared that the original indictment would be dismissed.

DeLay and his lawyers were quick to respond. This was "an abomination of justice," DeLay said. Earle had "realized he screwed up," DeGuerin said, and scrambled to push out a new indictment. "If this doesn't prove that the motivation behind this indictment is political, then I don't know what it is," DeGuerin said in a news conference in Houston.

The new indictment addresses the same facts as last week's indictments. DeLay and two associates are charged with taking corporate funds raised in Texas, sending them to the Republican National Committee in Washington, D.C. and then dispatching a similar amount to five Texas statehouse candidates. A few weeks later, Republicans gained control of the Texas legislature, enabling DeLay to press for congressional redistricting that would boost Republican numbers in Congress.