Reel Politics: Why Is DA Ronnie Earle in a Documentary About the DeLay Probe?

This is a partial transcript of "Special Report With Brit Hume," October 5, 2005, that has been edited for clarity.

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BRIT HUME, HOST: It may not be coming soon to a theater near you, but there is a movie being made about that Texas county prosecutor, Ronnie Earle. Here is an excerpt from the still-unfinished film.


RONNIE EARLE, TEXAS DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Both the Democrats and the Republicans walk around corporate America, walk up and down corporate America’s main street, with their hand out, asking, you know, or demanding — it’s almost like protection money. I mean, this is a problem for our country. It’s every bit as insidious as terrorism.


HUME: One journalist who has seen the completed parts of the film and has been looking into the matter is Byron York, White House correspondent of "National Review," who joins me now.

So, Byron, welcome. And what sort of a picture of Ronnie Earle — first of all, what are the circumstances of this movie? And what kind of access did they have to him?

BYRON YORK, "NATIONAL REVIEW": There were a couple of filmmakers in Texas who wanted to make a movie about this whole thing after the big redistricting fight in Texas a couple of years ago.

HUME: Which is the result of the election in which these contributions were raised and ultimately spent?

YORK: Exactly. And they asked Tom DeLay to cooperate. Tom DeLay declined. Ronnie Earle said, "Yes." And they followed him around for a couple of years and talked to him at great length, and also got some video inside the grand jury room.


HUME: While the grand jury was meeting?

YORK: It was an empty grand jury room at the time, but you do see some staffers and a few grand jurors in the picture, as well.

HUME: So it wasn’t a quite an empty room?

YORK: The filmmaker said that it was — that they felt they had extraordinary access, but not to any secret grand jury material.

HUME: All right. So how do these filmmakers come out on — how do they portray Ronnie Earle? What can we glean about him from what you’ve seen?

YORK: You know, I think the lesson you get from the picture — obviously, Ronnie Earle has been accused of being a partisan Democrat.

HUME: Well, he is a Democrat.

YORK: And he is a Democrat. And, indeed, his two biggest targets have been Tom DeLay and Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison. He unsuccessfully tried to prosecute her a while back. His defenders say, well, of course, he has — and it’s true — he has prosecuted a lot of Democrats.

HUME: Yes, more Democrats, in fact, in total than Republicans.

YORK: Exactly. And I think the thing you get in the film is that Ronnie Earle has a passion for the cause of ridding the American political system of the evils of corporate campaign contributions. Those are, by the way, illegal in 18 states in the United States, but not illegal in the other 32.

HUME: Texas is one of the states where it’s illegal.

YORK: Exactly. It’s one of the 18. He talks about how corporate money is the root of all evil and we just got to cut off the tap. And it actually was very consistent with a conversation I had with him several months ago.

I had done a story — he had actually indicted a few corporations in addition to some of DeLay’s associates at the time. And he actually offered a number of them, to drop the charges, if they would contribute money to an educational project, to teach Americans about the evils of corporate money.

And he said to me, "I think this is just — we need to have a national conversation about this." So I think, when you look at the film, you get the sense of him seeing himself more as a crusader on this issue of corporate money than even perhaps as any sort of partisan.

HUME: There is a statement attributed to him. I think you quoted it. The movie, I guess, is called "The Big Buy."

YORK: That’s correct.

HUME: One can get an idea of what that’s supposed to mean.

But here’s a statement that we have. He says, "The root of the evil of the corporate and large-moneyed interests’ domination in politics is money. This is in the Bible. This isn’t rocket science. The root of all evil truly is money, especially in politics. People talk about how money is the mother’s milk of politics. Well, it’s the devil’s brew. And what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to turn off the tap."

What about — I mean, it is perfectly — there’s nothing wrong with somebody crusading on that issue. Many people honorably do it. Some would cite John McCain and Russ Feingold, authors of the McCain-Feingold reform bill as examples of that. Nothing wrong with that.

What does this film show us or tell us, if anything, about whether he is meticulous and faithful to the law in pursuing this cause?

YORK: Well, it does feature one critic of his who said that, you know, Ronnie — you’ll ask him about something...

HUME: Who is this critic?

YORK: It’s a lawyer for the Texas Association of Business, which is a group that was investigated by Earle. And he said, you know, you’ll ask Ronnie about something and he’ll say it’s wrong. And you’ll say, "But, Ronnie, where is that against the law?" And he’ll say, "Well, it’s wrong."

And so he suggests that there is kind of a different view of enforcing the law than just a strict, you know, black-and-white, letter-of-the-law interpretation.

HUME: Well, based upon what one assumes, with DeLay not cooperating, and Earle giving extraordinary access, this film is not unfriendly to Ronnie Earle?

YORK: Oh, not at all. It’s a very friendly portrait of Ronnie Earle. And it is — the producers bill it as a crime story. And the criminal in the case is clearly Tom DeLay. And the cop is Ronnie Earle. So it’s a very favorable portrait of Earle.

HUME: Based on what you know about Texas law, is there anything inappropriate that could cause trouble for Earle’s prosecution of DeLay, based on the fact that all of this — a lot of this stuff was being — not the grand jury deliberations, but a lot of it was being filmed?

YORK: I did not see anything in the film. But I should say that lawyers for DeLay’s co-defendants have informed the filmmakers that they intend to seek a subpoena for all of the outtakes, to see what else may have been shot in the production of the movie.

HUME: Oh, boy. Here we go.

All right, Byron, thanks very much.

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