AUSTIN, Texas – Rep. Tom DeLay (search) was indicted for a second time in less than a week by a Texas grand jury looking into campaign contributions, a development the former U.S. House majority leader called "an abomination of justice."
The latest indictment, for one count of conspiring to launder money and one count of money laundering, was brought hours after DeLay's lawyers attacked on technical grounds another indictment handed down last week.
District Attorney Ronnie Earle (search) did not return repeated phone calls from The Associated Press, but legal experts say the new charges from the Democratic prosecutor were likely filed to head off a potential problem with the previous charge.
Defense lawyers asked a judge Monday to throw out the first indictment, arguing that the charge of conspiring to violate campaign finance laws was based on a statute that didn't take effect until 2003 — a year after the acts in question.
It was unclear when Delay would appear in court to face the new charges.
Bruce Buchanan (search), a University of Texas political science professor, said the new indictment offers an opening for DeLay's defense team. "It's an opportunity to claim these guys don't have a case, and it allows the defense to allege that it's purely political," he said.
DeLay, 58, is the highest-ranking member of Congress to face criminal prosecution. The initial charge, conspiracy to violate the election code, forced DeLay to step down from his GOP leadership post last week.
If convicted, the money laundering charge carries a penalty of up to life in prison. The charge of conspiracy to launder money is punishable by up to 20 years in prison. The initial conspiracy charge carries a punishment of up to two years.
"Ronnie Earle has stooped to a new low with his brand of prosecutorial abuse," DeLay said in a statement. "He is trying to pull the legal equivalent of a 'do-over' since he knows very well that the charges he brought against me last week are totally manufactured and illegitimate. This is an abomination of justice."
DeLay and two political associates are accused of conspiring to get around a state ban on corporate campaign contributions by funneling money through the DeLay-founded Texans for a Republican Majority Political Action Committee.
All of the charges stem from an alleged check for $190,000 in corporate money sent from the political committee to the Republican National Committee and the Republican National State Elections Committee. The national party then sent a similar amount of money to seven candidates for the Texas House of Representatives in 2002.
Prosecutors argued that was a violation of the state's ban on the use of corporate money in local election campaigns. DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin (search) maintained that the money spent on Texas candidates was "lawfully collected from individuals who knew what they were contributing to."
The indictment alleges that DeLay knowingly facilitated the transfer of the corporate money to help the GOP win a majority in the Texas Legislature. Subsequently, Texas lawmakers adopted a DeLay-engineered congressional redistricting plan to put more Texas Republicans in Congress, strengthening the GOP grip on Congress as well.
Two of DeLay's associates, John Colyandro of Austin and Jim Ellis of Washington, were previously indicted on charges of conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws and money laundering.
"The judicial incompetence and political hatred that Ronnie Earle showed today demonstrates that Texans did not elect their best and brightest to the position of Travis County DA," said Stuart Roy, a GOP consultant and former DeLay aide. "Ronnie Earle may truly be the Elmer Fudd of politics."
The judge who will preside in DeLay's case is out of the country on vacation and couldn't rule on the defense motion. Other state district judges declined to rule on the motion in his place.
George Dix (search), a professor at the University of Texas law school, said the new indictment appears to have been filed to avoid the glitch with the previous indictment that defense attorneys had claimed.
Two other members of Congress have been indicted since 1996.
Former Republican Rep. William Janklow, of South Dakota, was convicted of vehicular homicide and sentenced to 100 days in prison after his car struck and killed a motorcyclist in 2003. Former Democratic Rep. James Traficant, of Ohio, was sentenced to eight years in prison after being convicted on charges from a 2001 indictment accusing him of racketeering and accepting bribes.