WASHINGTON – Texas Republican Rep. Tom DeLay (search) left an Austin courtroom Friday for his first court appearance on money laundering and conspiracy charges after his arraignment was delayed while the presiding judge asks a higher authority for a decision on whether to recuse himself.
State District Judge Bob Perkins said he would ask Judge B.B. Schraub, the administrative judge for the 3rd Judicial District in Seguin, Texas, to review the motion and set a hearing on whether to change the judge.
DeLay, the former majority leader who was required to step down under House ethics rules when he was indicted in September, attended his arraignment hearing following attempts by Dick DeGuerin, his lawyer, to get a new judge and a new trial venue before DeLay was forced to appear in court.
"I'm confident that with a fair trial and fair tribunal, the jury will find that Tom DeLay has not committed a crime," DeGuerin told reporters outside the courthouse after the brief court session that lasted about four minutes.
DeLay's attorney argued that Perkins has a conflict of interest because he contributed money to the congressman's political opponents.
DeLay did not speak during his court appearance and did not make a plea. Afterward, he held a news conference outside of the Texas state capitol to lambaste Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle (search), the lead prosecutor in the case.
"I've committed no wrongdoing. I know that and I know Ronnie Earle knows that," DeLay said. "Because I was successful in exercising my right to be involved in a political process that elected more Republicans, I became a target of Ronnie Earle.
"In short, I have been charged for defeating Democrats. I have been charged for advocating constitutional representation and I have been charged for advancing the Republican agenda," he said.
Supporting DeLay's arguments, DeGuerin dropped off several motions to the court late Thursday to dismiss the indictment, to change the venue and to urge Perkins to withdraw from adjudicating the case. The motion listed two pages of organizations that had received contributions from Perkins, including Moveon.org and the Democratic National Committee.
Raw Data: DeLay Motion for Change of Venue (pdf)
Raw Data: DeLay Motion for Judge's Recusal (pdf)
"All we want is a fair trial and a fair tribunal, and I'm confident that with a fair trial and a fair tribunal the jury will find that Tom DeLay has not committed a crime," DeGuerin said after the hearing.
Earle, however, said DeLay is just trying to demonize him to deflect from his crimes. He brushed off the motions filed the previous day.
"What this means is if a judge had contributed to Crime Stoppers (search) that judge could not hear a burglary case," Earle said. "Carried to its extreme, that is what I think this motion means and I think that's absurd."
"We don't live in a country where political party determines the measure of justice," Earle said, adding that he though DeLay could get a fair trial in the state's capital.
In the courtroom, DeLay, dressed in a dark suit and an orange tie, sat next to his wife, Christine.
In opening the court hearing, Perkins, who recently returned from vacation, was greeted by a large group of court viewers and media. He joked, "I should have stayed in Italy."
DeGuerin said that Perkins should recuse himself because he made contributions to Moveon.org, which DeGuerin said has been selling T-shirts with DeLay's mug shot on them.
"I have never seen that T-shirt. I have never bought it," said Perkins, who added that his donation to Moveon.org was given to help Sen. John Kerry's 2004 presidential campaign.
Moveon.org denied it was selling any such t-shirts, and issued a statement questioning DeLay's attorney.
"DeGuerin has either bad information or lied in court," said Tom Matzzie, the Washington director of Moveon.org.
Smiling For the Camera
DeLay was photographed, fingerprinted and released on bond after appearing before a judge on Thursday at a Houston sheriff's office. DeLay, who had a big grin on his face in the police photo, left in less than 30 minutes, said Lt. John Martin with the sheriff's department.
"He posted $10,000 bond and they have left the bonding office," Martin said.
DeLay, who was accompanied by DeGuerin on Thursday, was booked a day after a state court issued an arrest warrant for him with an initial bail set at $10,000.
Earlier reports said that DeLay was expected to be booked at Fort Bend County Jail but under Texas law he could turn himself in anywhere in the state.
Fort Bend County Chief Deputy Craig Brady told wire reporters that arrangements were being made to bring DeLay to the sheriff's office sometime Thursday for booking and fingerprinting.
Two grand juries have charged DeLay and two political associates in an alleged scheme to violate state election law, by funneling corporate donations to candidates for the Texas Legislature. State law prohibits use of corporate donations to finance state campaigns, although the money can be used for administrative expenses. DeLay has denied wrongdoing.
The indictments charge that a DeLay-founded Texas political action committee sent corporate donations to the Republican National Committee in Washington, and the national party sent funds back to the state for 2002 campaigns. DeLay argues the campaign finance charges did not constitute a crime under the law at the time they occurred.
DeLay's supporters have accused Earle, who leads the investigation, of having partisan motives.
John Colyandro, the former executive director of the Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, was also indicted by the grand jury along with Jim Ellis, a co-founder and paid consultant to TRMPAC. On Thursday, Colyandro said Earle's seeking an indictment was a sign of his hubris
The "DeLay indictment is insidious," Colyandro said, arguing that Earle was abusing the legal system and the grand jury reached a "conclusion unsupportive by the law and facts.
"The prosecution cannot stipulate that evidence that they have ... is even factual," he said.
Earle did not ask for the arrest warrant for DeLay, but approved the court's request, his office said Wednesday. DeGuerin said Earle wanted DeLay taken down in handcuffs, fingerprinted and photographed to use for political advantage.
He wanted this "mug shot so he could put it out to Congressman DeLay's political opponents and he's got what he wanted. There is no reason for this. This is pure retaliation on the part of Ronnie Earle," DeGuerin said after DeLay left the bonding office.
DeLay's Republican fundraising in 2002 had major political consequences, allowing the GOP to take control of the Texas Legislature. The Legislature then redrew congressional boundaries according to a DeLay-inspired plan, took command of the state's U.S. House delegation and helped the GOP retain its House majority.
Fundraising for DeLay's re-election campaign reached an all-time high last quarter, before the indictment came.
FOX News' Molly Hooper and Melissa Drosjack and The Associated Press contributed to this report.