Hoping to regain his post as House majority leader when Congress reconvenes in January, Rep. Tom DeLay asked a judge Tuesday to throw out the campaign-finance case against him.
However, the judge said that the Republican congressman will have to wait until at least December for a decision, and that the conspiracy and money-laundering case would probably not go to trial before the first of the year.
DeLay and two Republican fundraisers are accused of illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate donations to GOP candidates for the Texas Legislature. The direct use of corporate money for political purposes is illegal in Texas.
DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin argued that the conspiracy charges were based on a law that was not even on the books when the alleged conspiracy happened.
But prosecutor Rick Reed disputed that, saying that the Legislature was just clarifying the law in 2003 and that state law has long defined conspiracy as an agreement to commit any felony.
DeLay wants the charges dismissed or resolved in his favor by January. Under House rules, he was forced to give up his leadership post after he was charged with a felony. But he could regain it if he is cleared before Congress returns.
However, Judge Pat Priest said he wants to read written arguments from both sides before making his ruling. He gave attorneys one week to file their arguments, and said he would probably made his decision a week after that.
Trial seen unlikely ‘before first of the year’
“I doubt very seriously we’re going to get to trial before the first of the year,” Priest said.
DeGuerin said “we’re ready now” for a ruling.
“It’s very, very important to Congressman DeLay because he’s been required to step down from his leadership post simply because of the existence of an accusation,” the defense attorney said.
DeLay did not speak with reporters before or after the hearing.
The hearing was DeLay’s first appearance before Priest, who was appointed to the case after DeLay’s attorneys had the first judge removed because of his contributions to Democratic candidates and causes.
Priest was appointed to the case after DeLay’s attorneys succeeded in having the first judge removed because of his campaign contributions to Democratic candidates and causes.
Charges involve $190,000 in donations
He and Republican fundraisers John Colyandro and Jim Ellis are accused of operating a 2002 campaign finance scheme that prosecutors say funneled $190,000 in restricted corporate money to seven Texas House candidates in violation of state law.
DeLay is accused of sending the money to an arm of the Republican National Committee, which then gave the same amount of money to Texas legislative candidates. The direct use of corporate money for political purposes is illegal in Texas.
“It was basically a negotiated swap,” Reed said in court. “It was done in this manner in order to disguise the fact that this ... had been negotiated.”
DeLay would not talk to reporters as he entered the courtroom with his wife.
Hoping for dismissal by January
DeLay wants the charges dismissed or resolved in his favor by January. Under House rules, he was forced to give up his leadership post after he was charged in September with a felon. But he could regain it if he is cleared before Congress returns to session early next year.
Ellis’ attorney, Mark Stevens, argued that the state’s money laundering statute applies only to cash. The campaign contributions in question were checks, he said.
Among other things, DeLay’s attorneys also want to have the trial moved from liberal-leaning Austin, where they say he cannot get a fair trial, to his home county of Fort Bend.