AUSTIN, Texas – The Texas district attorney who brought the criminal case against House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search) gave a movie crew behind-the-scenes access during the investigation — proof, DeLay's defenders say, that the D.A. is trying to make headlines for himself.
"It proves that Ronnie Earle's determination to move ahead with a baseless case was scripted from day one," said Ben Porritt, DeLay's spokesman in Washington.
Independent filmmakers Mark Birnbaum and Jim Schermbeck said the Travis County district attorney (search) and his staff gave them some interviews but did not give them access to any of the secret grand jury proceedings or let them witness any of the staff's deliberations in the DeLay investigation.
DeLay was charged earlier this week with conspiring to illegally funnel corporate campaign contributions to Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature (search). Texas law bans the use of corporate money for direct campaign expenditures.
The charge forced DeLay to step aside from his post as the No. 2 Republican in the House.
"My office follows all the same proper rules about rightfully protected information for all the media no matter who they are," Earle said. "When somebody said to Harry Truman, 'Give 'em hell Harry,' he said 'I just tell them the truth and they think it's hell.'
Earle's office declined to comment on the access given to the filmmakers.
"I told them the truth and they thought it was a movie. Go figure. I'm just doing my job," Earle said.
"Oh yeah, he's just doing his job. He's just doing his job. He's got a film crew that has been following him around for two years to document how he's going to get Tom DeLay," DeLay said on a Houston talk radio show Friday.
DeLay's supporters said the documentary, "The Big Buy," is part of a pattern of headline-grabbing by Earle.
Long before the indictment, DeLay defenders had said Earle, a Democrat, was on a witch hunt and was seeking national publicity with his campaign-finance probe. Earle made appearances in connection with the investigation on "60 Minutes" and PBS' "NOW" and has been profiled by Time and Esquire magazines and other news organizations.
The access given to the filmmakers "clearly shows Ronnie Earle (search) had ulterior motives. Not only was he out for partisan gain, he was out to promote himself as well," said Carl Forti, spokesman for the National Republican Congressional Committee.
"It kind of indicates Ronnie's proclivities to make a big splash with this," said Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's attorney.
But Schermbeck said he and Birnbaum approached Earle about the low-budget film two years ago, long before they knew there would be indictments.
"We had to talk him into this," Schermbeck said.
The film looks at the 2002 elections and the plan by Republicans to win the Texas state House so they could take the unusual step of redrawing congressional districts in the middle of the decade and increase the number of Texas Republicans on Capitol Hill, Birnbaum said.
Birnbaum and his partner interviewed some of Earle's staff and were in Earle's office with his staff members last year minutes before they walked out to a news conference to announce the first set of indictments in the case, he said.
The filmmakers had already written an ending to the film, but rewrote it when DeLay was indicted.
"I think it's a more dramatic movie" with DeLay's indictment, Schermbeck said. "It makes it more historically important."