Thursday, October 06, 2005

Did I say "Guilty?" I meant "Not Guilty."

Seems Delay has a new problem - in his Grand Jury testimony, he may have accidentally confessed to the money laundering scheme.

For those who aren't following this story that closely, here's the basic thrust of the new charges against Delay. There was a little under $200,000 that Delay had raised from corporate donors that he allegedly intended all along to be used in the Texas state legislature elections in November 2002. But since Texas law prohibits corporate giving to political candidates, Delay decided to funnel the money through the RNC.

However, it was late in the game, and Texas law also prohibits donations to political parties from corporations in the final 60 days before on election (that restriction exists in part to prevent schemes like this one.) So TRMPAC, Delay's state PAC, couldn't write the check to the RNC.

Thus John Colyandro, head of TRMPAC, sent a check to Jim Ellis, head of ARMPAC, Delay's national PAC. ARMPAC sent the money over to the RNC, and the RNC turned around and gave the money to the political candidates for whom it was originally raised.

There seems to be little question that Ellis and Colyandro violated the law. The question in recent weeks has basically been whether Delay knew about this transaction, which occurred on October 4th, 2002. In Delay's interview before Earle's first grand jury, Delay reportedly admitted to having known about the transaction in advance.

When Earle got this new piece of information, he immediately impaneled a grand jury, presented them with Delay's statement, and tried to get them to indict Delay on money-laundering charges. The grand jury declined to indict, so Earle went back to Ellis and Colyandro to lean on them for additional info. Once he got some more information out of them, he impaneled a third grand jury which indicted Delay quickly.

Now Delay claims that he simply misspoke, and that he didn't learn of the transaction until after the fact. That's a doomed defense if he's actually going to try to present it at trial - verbal confessions are notoriously hard to live down, even if they are coerced (as this one clearly was not - Delay wasn't even under oath.)

But it's somewhat understandable how this might have happened. The reason people under investigation often refuse to appear in front of a Grand Jury is that the proceedings are heavily weighted in favor of the prosecution. You can't call any witnesses, you can't cross-examine anyone, and while you are in the witness box you can't get any help from your lawyer.

So Delay, being an arrogant bastard, took the stand in front of the grand jury without proper preparation, and he didn't realize that in addition to maintaining that the scheme was legal, he needed to profess no prior knowledge of the transaction. So when Earle asked him about the check, he didn't deny knowing about it because he thought the defense was that the check was a legal transaction.

As I said before, it's hard for me to have Schadenfreude about somebody facing life in prison for something like this. It's illegal, and it's a serious subversion of democracy, but it's not a capital crime. However, I do take some small measure of satisfaction in knowing that the reason you can go to prison for life on money laundering charges is mostly due to the hysterical crusade to overcriminalize every level of the illegal drug economy, and that of course Delay has been a champion of the drug war whenever it suited his needs.

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