DeLay: Newspaper Pressured Prosecutor

By KELLEY SHANNON, Associated Press Writer
Thu Sep 29, 5:27 AM ET

AUSTIN, Texas - House Majority Leader Tom DeLay is blaming an editorial in the Austin American-Statesman for pressuring a Texas prosecutor to pursue the criminal case against him.

"It was this renewed political pressure in the waning days of his hollow investigation that led this morning's action," DeLay said Wednesday after a grand jury indicted him on a criminal conspiracy charge.

The indictment accuses DeLay of conspiring to violate political fundraising laws with two associates. He temporarily stepped aside as majority leader to fight the charge, which could result in a jail term of up to two years if he is convicted.

DeLay said that prosecutor Ronnie Earle had said as recently as two weeks ago that DeLay was not the target or focus of his probe into election spending in the 2002 state legislative campaigns.

"Soon thereafter, Mr. Earle's hometown newspaper ran a biting editorial about his investigation, rhetorically asking what the point had been, after all, if I wasn't to be indicted," DeLay said.

The editorial, published Sept. 11, questioned why Earle's probe had resulted in indictments of organizations, but not individuals. DeLay was not mentioned by name.

A state political action committee that DeLay created, Texans for a Republican Majority, was indicted earlier this month on charges of accepting corporate contributions for use in state legislative races. Texas law prohibits corporate money from being used to advocate the election or defeat of candidates; it's allowed only for administrative expenses.

Arnold Garcia, editorial page editor for the American-Statesman, said the newspaper was doing its job in writing the opinion piece.

"We're commenting on an item of public interest," Garcia said. "But you should never forget the newspaper didn't indict Mr. DeLay. A grand jury did."

The editorial said Earle and the grand jury may have good reason for indicting just organizations, but "time is running out, and on the face of it, the felony indictments returned last week against the Texas Association of Business and the now nonexistent Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee are disappointing."

The American-Statesman posted the Sept. 11 editorial on its Web site Wednesday, along with a new editorial commenting on the indictment and on Delay's remarks.

"DeLay was not mentioned by name, nor was there an allusion to him," the new editorial states. "It is either DeLay's hubris or his conscience that leads him to think that the editorial targeted him."