Remember all of Tom DeLay's protestations about the criminal case against him? Forget them. The Washington Post reports today that, before DeLay was indicted, his lawyers signaled to prosecutor Ronnie Earle that their client might be prepared to plead guilty to a misdemeanor.
Sources tell the Post that the trial balloon came after DeLay made a potentially devastating admission during a meeting with Earle in August. During that meeting, sources say, DeLay acknowledged that he knew about and supported a plan to transfer $190,000 in mostly corporate campaign contributions from his political action committee in Texas to the RNC in Washington and then back to Republican candidates in Texas. "In the prosecutor's view," the Post says, "DeLay's admission put him in the middle of a conspiracy" not only to violate a state campaign law but to launder money as well.
By signaling a willingness to plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge, DeLay's lawyers apparently hoped to help their client avoid felony charges and hang on to his job as the House majority leader. If yesterday's GOP meltdown in the House is any indication, the Republicans may be wishing today that the plan had worked. Earlier this week, the Republican leadership in the House was forced to backtrack on a plan to ram ANWR oil drilling through Congress as part of a filibuster-proof budget bill. But even that concession was not enough to keep moderate Republicans on board, and yesterday the Republican leadership was forced to pull its budget bill off the floor entirely.
The Post says that the leadership's failure to get the budget bill passed was another sign that "the Republican Party's typically lock-step discipline is cracking under the weight of Bush's plummeting approval ratings, Tuesday's electoral defeats and the increasing discontent of the American electorate." That's probably right. As even Republicans seem to acknowledge, the White House isn't exactly a force to be feared at the moment. Still, it's hard not to wonder: How would the Hammer have handled it?