EDITOR’S NOTE: This piece appears in the October 24, 2005, issue of National Review.
There’s no all-purpose guidebook for such things, but generally when a Washington official is indicted, he confidently proclaims his innocence and then announces–with great regret–that he will not be able to say anything more about the case. That’s how it’s usually done, but it’s not how House majority leader Tom DeLay chose to do it.
”This morning, in an act of blatant political partisanship, a rogue district attorney in Travis County, Texas, named Ronnie Earle charged me with one count of criminal conspiracy,” DeLay told reporters in Washington on September 28, hours after he was accused of campaign-finance-related violations. The indictment, DeLay continued, was “a reckless charge wholly unsupported by the facts. This is one of the weakest, most baseless indictments in American history. It’s a sham, and Mr. Earle knows it.”
With that, DeLay pretty much set the stage for what will be known in the courtroom as The State of Texas vs. Thomas Dale DeLay, but will be known everywhere else as Ronnie vs. Tom.
In one way, Earle opened himself up to the attack by choosing to include almost no evidence against DeLay, not only in the first indictment of DeLay on conspiracy charges, but also in a hastily drawn second indictment on money-laundering charges handed up on October 3 (many of the crimes alleged in the indictment are said to have occurred on October 4, 2002, and Earle was apparently rushing to press charges before the three-year statute of limitations expired). Indeed, one can read both documents and still be unable to discern what Earle has actually accused DeLay of doing, other than being part of something that allegedly violated a Texas law against corporate political contributions.
It was that very lack of specificity–coupled with the arcane nature of the law involved–that allowed DeLay to turn the indictments into a question about Ronnie Earle. If there had been clear, solid evidence of misconduct in the charges, then the public and the press would have had actual facts to work with, some grounds on which to say that DeLay did wrong. But there wasn’t. So now it is the congressman versus the prosecutor. And the early rounds appear to go to . . .
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