On the heels of the Justice Department’s decision not to charge former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay with any crimes related to his association with Jack Abramoff, the Hammer will appear in an Austin court today for a pretrial hearing over charges that he laundered money to secure Republican victories in the 2002 elections.
According to prosecutors, DeLay and two aides donated $190,000 — raised from corporations — to the Republican National Committee. Along with the cash, they allegedly provided a list of Texas Republican candidates they wanted to help. The RNC then donated that same amount, $190,000, to seven candidates.
It is illegal in Texas for candidates to take corporate money. Prosecutors say DeLay’s actions amount to conspiring to launder the money.
But DeLay’s defense claims the money he gave to the RNC went into a different pot than the money the RNC then gave to Texas candidates.
“It’s not the same money, so there was no illegality in the beginning,” DeLay’s lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, told TPMmuckraker in April.
Either way, the case has dragged on for nearly a decade. Travis County D.A. Ronnie Earle, a Democrat, began investigating DeLay after the 2002 elections, when Republicans took the state legislature for the first time since Reconstruction. In 2005, as the three-year statute of limitations ran out, a grand jury indicted DeLay. But the state, concerned that the indictment would too easily face legal challenges, asked a second grand jury to indict him. They refused.
So the prosecution put together another grand jury who indicted DeLay within a week.
DeLay’s attorneys, not surprisingly, called foul, accusing Earle of playing politics.
That was five years ago.
At today’s hearing — which, according to DeGuerin’s office, is scheduled to last for three days — a judge will decide on a series of motions. The defense wants to have the charges dismissed on various grounds, including that prosecutors inappropriately sought the indictments and that, because of the delay, DeLay has been denied his right to a speedy trial.
They also want the trial moved out of the largely Democratic Travis County.
The judge will also decide whether to try DeLay separately from his two co-defendants, James Ellis and John Colyandro, whether to try them separately from each other and who to try first.
Any way you look at it, it’s going to be a long time before DeLay goes to trial — if he ever does.