Key US Republican indicted over funding fraud
TOM DeLay, a leading Republican, was yesterday forced to step down as head of the party in the House of Representatives after being indicted by a grand jury in his home state of Texas.
Mr DeLay, a friend of the United States president, George Bush, was indicted for his part in a criminal conspiracy designed to subvert Texas campaign finance laws.
In a 2002 attempt to win control of the Texas State House for the first time since the American civil war, Mr DeLay helped to set up Texans for a Republican Majority, a political campaign group which received illegal contributions from corporate interests. These were funnelled through Washington DC and back to candidates running in the state. Corporate donations to political fund-raising are illegal for elections to the Texas state legislature.
Although House rules demand that Mr DeLay step down, perhaps temporarily, from his position as majority leader, he will retain his seat.
"It is a skunky indictment," said his lawyer, Bill White. "Like a dead skunk in the middle of the road, it stinks to high heaven."
Republicans believe that the Travis County investigation amounts to little more than a political vendetta against Mr DeLay, the second most important Republican in the House and charged with pushing through his party's agenda. The district attorney in Travis County, Ronnie Earle, is a Democrat known for his vigorous investigations into political malfeasance. Even so, "the indictment wasn't handed down by the district attorney, it was handed down by a grand jury, supposedly a blindly selected cross-section of the community. So I guess we have activist judges and, now, activist juries", said one aide to a senior House Democrat.
Mr DeLay, who was admonished by the House ethics committee on three occasions last year for breaches of regulations, is the main target for Democrats hoping to make gains in next year's Congressional elections.
He was instrumental in the process whereby Texas congressional boundaries were redrawn to increase the number of Republicans elected from Texas. Democrats lost six Texan seats in the 2004 elections.
Democrats will hope to use Mr DeLay's difficulties and other Republican embarrassments, such as the activities of the disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff - with whom Mr DeLay had an excellent relationship - as being emblematic of Republican corruption in Washington as they prepare for next year's mid-term elections.
A White House spokesman said Mr DeLay remained "a good ally" of the president and that he was "a friend with whom we have worked very closely to get things done for the American people".
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