AUSTIN, Texas – Former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay remained confident he would prevail at his money laundering trial, telling reporters on Wednesday he believes prosecutors have yet to present any evidence that he did anything that broke the law.
DeLay, the once powerful but polarizing lawmaker, is accused of using his political action committee to illegally funnel $190,000 in corporate donations into Texas legislative races eight years ago. DeLay has denied any wrongdoing and says no corporate money went to Texas candidates.
Nine witnesses who prosecutors have presented to jurors since testimony began Monday have detailed how the PAC was run, how it raised money, donations given to the PAC and DeLay's role in its operation.
But prosecutors said they expect the 10th witness, Warren Robold, the PAC fundraiser who had also been indicted in the alleged scheme, to provide jurors with a better understanding of the case. Lead prosecutor Gary Cobb declined to comment on what Robold would tell jurors, only saying it would be "interesting."
Robold, who testified briefly late Wednesday, was to be back on the stand Thursday. Robold had been indicted on charges of accepting illegal corporate contributions. Cobb said the charges were dismissed earlier this year and that Robold is not testifying as part of any agreement with prosecutors.
Prosecutors have implied that DeLay was the driving force behind the political group. But ex-PAC workers, including DeLay's daughter, told jurors DeLay had little involvement in running the group. No witness has directly tied DeLay to the alleged scheme.
"It's politics. It's nothing criminal about it," DeLay told reporters, referencing what the PAC did.
The presentation of evidence has been methodical and driven by documents, and testimony has often gone into great detail about the country's political process, including fundraising and the role of lobbyists.
In questioning DeLay's daughter, Danielle DeLay Garcia, who worked as an event planner for the PAC, prosecutors highlighted some of the corporate donations DeLay's PAC received.
DeLay's lawyers have said the Texas PAC can legally get corporate money but it can't send it to candidates, which they say didn't happen.
"Money is the lifeblood of politics isn't it?" Dick DeGuerin, DeLay's attorney, asked Garcia earlier Wednesday. "That's just politics isn't it?"
During Wednesday afternoon testimony, three lobbyists told jurors their companies had donated corporate money to DeLay's Texas PAC, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000. All three lobbyists told jurors the donations were made with no intention of breaking the law
DeLay is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering. If convicted, he could face up to life in prison.
Prosecutors allege DeLay and two associates — Jim Ellis and John Colyandro — illegally channeled the corporate money, which had been collected by DeLay's Texas PAC, through the Washington-based Republican National Committee. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for political campaigns.
The money helped Republicans take control of the Texas House in 2002, prosecutors said. That majority allowed the GOP to push through a congressional redistricting plan engineered by DeLay that sent more Texas Republicans to Congress in 2004 and strengthened DeLay's political stature, prosecutors said.
Prosecutors deny defense claims that the charges are politically motivated by former Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a Democrat who brought the original case but has since retired.
DeLay's defense team also worried about the trial being held in Austin — the most Democratic city in one of the most Republican states — and its timing, with testimony beginning a day before Tuesday's midterm elections. DeLay has been pressing for a trial since he was indicted five years ago, but the case was slowed by appeals of pretrial rulings.
The criminal charges in Texas, as well as a separate federal investigation of DeLay's ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, ended his 22-year political career representing suburban Houston. The Justice Department ended its federal investigation into DeLay's ties to Abramoff without filing any charges against DeLay.
Ellis and Colyandro, who face lesser charges, will be tried later.
DeLay, whose nickname was "the Hammer" for his heavy-handed style, has been mostly out of public view since resigning from Congress, except for an appearance on ABC's hit television show "Dancing With the Stars." He now runs a consulting firm based in the Houston suburb of Sugar Land.