Doubling down on Tom DeLay

The displaced House majority leader faces a second indictment in Texas and evidence of an investigation back in Washington.

Published October 4, 2005 1:21PM (EDT)

Tom DeLay was indicted again in Texas Monday, but it's hard to tell yet whether the new indictment should be considered an addition to or a replacement for the first.

The new indictment centers around the same set of facts and allegations as the first: the claim that DeLay and the political action committees with which he is involved conspired to funnel corporate campaign contributions through the Republican National Committee and back into the hands of Republicans running for the Texas Legislature. What has changed is the nature of the crimes charged. In the indictment handed down last week, DeLay was charged with a conspiracy to violate state election laws. In the new indictment, DeLay is charged with money laundering and conspiring to engage in money laundering.

As the Washington Post reports, the new indictment came immediately after DeLay's lawyers filed a motion to quash the first indictment. Did that motion alert prosecutor Ronnie Earle to a flaw in his original indictment, one that he moved quickly to fix with a second indictment? That's the way DeLay and his lawyers are characterizing it: The prosecutor helped himself to a "do-over," DeLay said yesterday, and his lawyers said that Earle had to make the fix quickly so that he could get the new charges on file before DeLay's agreement to waive the statute of limitations expired.

A source close to Earle tells a different story, reminding reporters that Earle said last week that his investigation was continuing and insisting that the prosecutor had intended to bring the additional charges all along. That story is a little hard to swallow: If Earle had meant to bring the charges all along, why didn't he file them together with his original conspiracy charge? Why did he wait until a new grand jury was impaneled this week? If Earle really did have to change his legal theory in the face of the motion filed by DeLay's attorneys, it's a pretty significant embarrassment for the prosecutor. It's not at all unprecedented for a lawyer to find himself having to change a legal theory as a case progresses. But an about-face just days after an indictment is filed -- and in a case as high profile as this one -- deserves a little bit of explaining.

That said, DeLay probably isn't celebrating today: Whatever ends up happening in Texas, the displaced House majority leader still has trouble brewing back in Washington. As the New York Times reports, the Justice Department confirmed yesterday that it has asked British police to question former Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher about a meeting she had with DeLay in 2000. The meeting came during a DeLay trip to Britain organized by Jack Abramoff. By acknowledging that it's looking into the circumstances of that trip, the Justice Department has publicly, if implicitly, acknowledged for the first time that DeLay is part of its investigation into Abramoff's dealings.

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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