WaPo editorializes on DeLay indictment; Chron silent

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The Washington Post managed a fast turnaround on the DeLay indictment, with an editorial in today’s edition that is somewhat skeptical of Ronnie Earle’s action:

Nonetheless, at least on the evidence presented so far, the indictment of Mr. DeLay by a state prosecutor in Texas gives us pause. The charge concerns the activities of Texans for a Republican Majority (TRMPAC), a political action committee created by Mr. DeLay and his aides to orchestrate the GOP’s takeover of the Texas legislature in 2002. The issue is whether Mr. DeLay and his political aides illegally used the group to evade the state’s ban on corporate contributions to candidates. The indictment alleges that TRMPAC took $155,000 in corporate contributions and then sent a check for $190,000 to the national Republican Party’s “soft money” arm. The national committee then wrote $190,000 in checks from its noncorporate accounts to seven Texas candidates. Perhaps most damning, TRMPAC dictated the precise amount and recipients of those donations.

This was an obvious end run around the corporate contribution rule. The more difficult question is whether it was an illegal end run — or, to be more precise, one so blatantly illegal that it amounts to a criminal felony rather than a civil violation. For Mr. DeLay to be convicted, prosecutors will have to show not only that he took part in the dodge but also that he knew it amounted to a violation of state law — rather than the kind of clever money-trade that election lawyers engineer all the time.

That’s liable to be difficult for Earle, and his indictment seems to reflect the fact that he’s still trying to build a case (or even concrete charges).

Unsurprisingly, the Chronicle editorialists could not manage a timely comment on the indictment today. Instead, they offer yet another of the “In the aftermath of Katrina” series. But, we’ll cut them a little slack, since their reader representative pointed out last week that they all worked really hard to cover a big news event. Anybody who’s ever had a long work day will surely sympathize.

The Chronicle did post some legal reporting/analysis from Mary Flood, whose work on the Enron trial has drawn praise. Flood’s piece is balanced between skepticism and the notion that Earle must have some “smoking gun” to have brought this indictment. Here’s an excerpt:

Most legal experts looking at the conspiracy indictment of U.S. Rep. Tom DeLay said Wednesday that either an insider has turned against DeLay or the prosecutor may have gone too far.

“I can’t imagine indicting a majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives without having a smoking gun, and that means someone who flipped on DeLay,” said Buck Wood, an Austin lawyer who filed a related civil lawsuit on behalf of Democratic congressional candidates. “He’s got to have corroborating evidence, too, bills and things proving where DeLay was at key times.”

Several lawyers and law professors said Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle could have talked the grand jury into a questionable indictment if he hasn’t secured key witnesses who were “in the room” with DeLay. Otherwise, this conspiracy case could be too hard to prove with just circumstantial evidence, they said.

The indictment’s easy. Clarifying the vague charges so that they point to specific violations of law, and then proving them, will be harder. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Every major newspaper in the state managed to comment on the DeLay indictment today, except of course the major newspaper that actually serves DeLay’s district. How embarrassing for the Chronicle. Perhaps the editorial idealists will get rested up enough from the hard work of putting out a newspaper during a big news event to work up an opinion for tomorrow’s newspaper. In the meantime, here are editorials from the Dallas Morning News, Austin American-Statesman, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, and San Antonio Express-News.

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Kevin Whited
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