Tom DeLay

He was one of the most powerful Republicans in Washington and redrew the shape of Texas politics. But now former U.S. House majority leader Tom DeLay is a convicted felon who is awaiting sentencing and promising to appeal the jury verdict against him. A Travis County jury convicted DeLay on charges of conspiracy and money laundering on Wednesday — five years after he was initially indicted by then-Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle for alledgedly violating Texas’ campaign finance laws. “There were numerous commentators who said this was meaningless, that the indictments were just a local prosecutor gone wild,” said adjunct UT law professor Steve Bickerstaff. “The convictions show these charges were substantial all along.” Just after the convictions were handed down, DeLay and his attorney, Dick DeGuerin, said the verdict was a miscarriage of justice. “I’m not going to blame anybody. This is an abuse of power,” DeLay said on Wednesday. “I still maintain that I’m innocent and that the criminalization of politics undermines our very system. Maybe we can get it before people who understand the law.” Travis County prosecutors had their hands full from the start due to Texas’s porous and contradictory election code laws, said Cal Jillson, a political science professor at Southern Methodist University. When prosecutors brought another subject of the DeLay investigation, the Texas Association of Business, to trial for violating Texas’ campaign laws, many of their charges were tossed because of the problems with the Texas election code. “The prosecutors for Travis County decided that the campaign finance rules were just too tenuous to base their case around,” Jillson said. “They changed the theory of the case to a very novel interpretation of money laundering.” DeLay’s Texas political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, sent $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions to an arm of the Republican National Committee in October 2002, along with a list of seven candidates to donate money to and how much money to send to each campaign. Just a few days later, the RNC sent a total of $190,000 from a separate bank account — money that could be contributed to campaigns in Texas — to the seven listed candidates. “At no point was it illegal money or illegitimate money,” Jillson said. “It was just transparent that it was the same corporate money sent to Washington coming back as individual contributions.” Bickerstaff offered a comparative analogy — a company can’t donate $10,000 to a political campaign; therefore it is illegal to give their lawyer $10,000 with the instruction that he give $10,000 of his own money to the candidate they want to back. He said it’s not uncommon for national political groups such as the RNC to donate to state campaigns, but the list of candidates and the level of specificity made the transaction unique. “The transaction was one I’ve never seen before,” Bickerstaff said. “It was clearly an attempt to get around the law.”

 

The Travis County jurors deciding the fate of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay told the trial judge on Tuesday that they were making progress but would need more time to arrive at a verdict.

Jurors will return Wednesday to continue deliberating on DeLay’s fate. He faces charges of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money, which stem from his role in helping to orchestrate the controversial 2003 redistricting of Texas’ congressional districts.

“It’s going to be a long deliberation because of the complexity of the case,” said Gary Cobb, Travis County’s lead prosecutor on the case. “We’re not concerned about the time it’s taking them to come to a decision. We are heartened by the fact they say they are making progress.”

DeLay’s defense attorney, Dick DeGuerin, promised to appeal any conviction on grounds that Texas’ ban on corporate campaign contributions is an unconstitutional violation of a corporation’s right to free speech.

“We know [the jurors] are working hard because they’re writing intelligent questions,” he said. “It means they’re looking very hard at the evidence. I think they’re zeroing in right on the weaknesses of the prosecution’s case.”

The indictment was based on questions about the propriety of money used to help finance Republican candidates for the Texas House in the 2002 election.

DeLay’s Texas political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, sent $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions to an arm of the Republican National Committee in October 2002, along with a list of seven candidates to donate money to and how much money to send to each campaign.

Just a few days later, the RNC sent a total of $190,000 from a separate bank account — money that could be contributed to campaigns in Texas — to the seven listed candidates.

The Travis County District Attorney charged that the money swap was money laundering and indicted DeLay. His defense claimed it was standard practice in politics.

“I don’t think there’s enough money in politics,” DeLay said during an earlier pre-trial hearing. “Money is corruptible to the corruptible; it is up to the individual. There is nothing wrong with participating in the process and [raising money to help] candidates get elected. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done.”

During the closing days of the trial, the prosecution repeatedly argued, while the defense strenuously objected, that DeLay’s motive to conspire and launder money to GOP candidates for the Texas House was to push through what would become the controversial 2003 redistricting of the state.

Retaking the Texas House was essential to DeLay’s plans to redraw Texas’ congressional districts, with the aim of cementing GOP control of the U.S. House of Representatives, said Dave McNeely, a retired longtime political columnist for the Austin American-Statesman.

“TRMPAC was allegedly founded as a means of shuttling corporate money to help Republicans in targeted races in the Texas House of Representatives,” McNeely said. “It was obviously aimed at electing [state] Rep. Tom Craddick, [R-Midland], as speaker of the Texas House, and then having him oversee the drawing of new congressional districts that would punish senior Democrats and help DeLay pad the Republican majority. It worked.”

McNeely said the extra seats were needed to ensure there were enough votes for Craddick to defeat then-Speaker Pete Laney, a Democrat who had some Republican support.

Encouraged by DeLay and Gov. Rick Perry, Craddick spearheaded the controversial 2003 midcycle redrawing of Texas’ congressional districts, which resulted in Texas sending an additional six Republicans to the U.S. House.

After three days of deliberations, a Travis County jury convicted former U.S. House Majority Tom DeLay of money laundering and conspiracy charges on Wednesday. The trial, which lasted for about a month, stemmed from DeLay's scheme to help fund a conservative Republican takeover of the Texas House in 2002, which was key to the controversial 2003 redrawing of Texas’ congressional districts. “By the time the trial ended, [the jurors] could see that it was more than just a lot of smoke, there was a lot of fire involved in this evidence," said Gary Cobb, the lead prosecutor on the case. Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg said the jury’s conviction on both counts of the indictment showed the strength of their case. The money laundering conviction is first degree felony that carries a sentence of 5 to 99 years in prison or probation. The conspiracy charge is a second degree felony and carries a potential sentence of 2-20 years in prison or probation. Lehmberg said her office has not considered a sentence recommendation for DeLay. Sentencing has been tentatively schedule for Dec. 20. Dick DeGuerin, Tom DeLay’s defense attorney, promised to appeal the conviction. “To say I’m shocked would be an understatement,” said DeGuerin. “This is a terrible miscarriage of justice. We will appeal.” Tom DeLay thanked God before attacking the verdict handed down by the six men and six women who served on the jury. “I’m not going to blame anybody, this is an abuse of power,” DeLay said. “I still maintain that I’m innocent and that the criminalization of politics undermines our very system. Maybe we can get it before people who understand the law.” On Tuesday, DeGuerin told reporters in the courtroom that if there were a conviction, he would consider appealing on constitutional grounds — arguing Texas’ ban on corporate campaign contributions is a violation of the First Amendment. Once one of the most powerful politicians in Washington, D.C., the former House majority leader's fall from power sprung directly from his efforts to finance and engineer the controversial 2003 redistricting of Texas’ congressional districts. DeLay’s Texas political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, sent $190,000 in corporate campaign contributions to an arm of the Republican National Committee in October 2002, along with a list of seven candidates to donate money to and how much money to send to each campaign. Just a few days later, the RNC sent a total of $190,000 from a separate bank account — money that could be contributed to campaigns in Texas — to the seven listed candidates. The Travis County District Attorney charged that the money swap was money laundering and indicted DeLay. His defense claimed it was standard practice in politics. “I don’t think there’s enough money in politics,” DeLay said. “Money is corruptible to the corruptible, it is up to the individual. There is nothing wrong with participating in the process and [raising money to help] candidates get elected. I’m not ashamed of anything I’ve done.”

It was supposed to take at least two days, but after a marathon court hearing that lasted for more than eight hours Tuesday, a state district court seated a jury of six men and six women to hear the long-delayed trial of former U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay on money laundering and conspiracy charges.

The charges stem from allegations that DeLay laundered corporate campaign contributions made to DeLay’s Texas political action committee through the Republican National Committee and then had the funds donated to a select group of Republicans running for the Texas House.

Under Texas law, it is illegal for corporations or unions to donate money to candidates running for statewide office.

When asked if prosecutors had a smoking gun to link DeLay to the transfers, Travis County Assistant District Attorney Gary Cobb said, “I believe we will be able to pull some [evidence] out that has the odor of smoke about it.”

The jury selection process got bogged down late in the afternoon as the prosecution objected to the defense’s challenges to all but one African-American juror.

Initially, there were six African-Americans on the jury, but the prosecution asked for one to be removed because he was acquainted with potential witnesses in the case.

DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin, a UT law professor, said the defense objected to one of the black jurors because he was an investigator and they had challenged the other investigators who were in the jury pool. They objected to a second because he wore headphones throughout the hearing. As for the other three potential black jurors, DeGuerin said he objected to them because they “gave me hateful looks.”

Cobb objected and said the defense was using the caricature of an “angry, black person” to push for their exclusion and “that’s not right.”

There are two black women on the jury, one is a juror and the other is an alternate.

DeGuerin said race played no role in the defense’s attempt to exclude any jurors who happened to be African-American.

DeLay’s trial begins Monday.