WASHINGTON – A prosecutor tried to persuade a grand jury that Rep. Tom DeLay (search) tacitly approved illegal use of campaign money and became angry when jurors decided against an indictment, according to two people directly familiar with the proceeding.
"The mood was unpleasant," one person said Wednesday, describing Travis County prosecutor Ronnie Earle's reaction.
The people familiar with the proceeding insisted on anonymity because of grand jury secrecy.
Earle presented evidence to three grand juries. Two of them returned indictments against DeLay, triggering a House Republican rule that forced the Texas Republican to step aside — at least temporarily — from his post as majority leader.
Both indictments focused on an alleged scheme to move money around to conceal the use of corporate contributions to support Texas Republican candidates. State law prohibits corporate donations to support or oppose state candidates — allowing the money to only be used for administrative expenses.
Little was previously known about the grand jury that refused to indict DeLay, who has maintained his innocence and accused Earle — a Democrat — of bringing the prosecution to politically damage him. Earle has denied the allegation and pointed out he has indicted far more Democrats than Republicans.
One person said the sole evidence Earle presented to the grand jury that declined to indict was a DeLay interview with the prosecutor in August. DeLay reportedly said he was generally aware of activities of his associates.
The person said Earle tried to convince the jurors that if DeLay "didn't say, 'Stop it,' he gave his tacit approval."
DeLay said in an interview with conservative talk show host Rush Limbaugh (search) Tuesday that he was indicted based on one sentence he "misspoke" in the meeting with Earle, according to an interview transcript provided by DeLay's office.
DeLay said he discussed with Earle a meeting he had with an indicted political associate on Oct. 2, 2002.
Two days after the meeting, the Republican National Committee sent out contributions to seven Texas House candidates totaling $190,000. That was the same amount of a check from a Texas fundraising committee, started by DeLay, to the RNC on Sept. 13, 2002.
The check from the DeLay-founded committee to the national Republicans was written from an account containing corporate contributions. Prosecutors contend that DeLay and two associates were trying to circumvent the law by using the roundabout method of getting the corporate funds in candidates' hands.
"Basically they think that before the check was cut and sent to the Republican National Committee, I approved that check, which is totally false," DeLay said in the radio interview. "I didn't know that this went on 'til well after it happened — it had happened."
DeLay lawyer Dick DeGuerin (search) said the lawmaker did not discuss the plan to give money to the Republican National Committee in his Oct. 2 meeting.
"He confused what he learned later with what he knew at the time," DeGuerin said. "Someone told him about it and he said, 'Well, that's fine.' It would be about like if someone told him the Astros had beat the Reds and he said, 'That's fine.' ... He didn't participate in that."
DeLay has said the money for the check delivered to the RNC was not the same money that went to Texas candidates. He said the RNC used money from a different account, made up of contributions from individuals, for the candidates' checks.