DeLay blasts indictment, prosecutor
Texan steps aside as majority leader, blames partisan retribution
DeLay: "My defense in this case will not be technical or legalistic. It will be categorical and absolute."
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rep. Tom DeLay went on the attack after his indictment on a conspiracy charge, blasting a Texas prosecutor and rejecting the allegation that forced him to give up the House leadership as "blatant political partisanship."
A Texas grand jury charged DeLay Wednesday with conspiring to illegally funnel corporate cash to state Republicans in 2002, and party rules forced DeLay to abandon his leadership post.
DeLay told reporters he was the victim of a partisan vendetta by the Democratic district attorney in Austin, Ronnie Earle.
"My defense in this case will not be technical or legalistic. It will be categorical and absolute," he said. "I am innocent. Mr. Earle and his staff know it, and I will prove it." (Watch Rep. DeLay's comments -- 4:23)
House Republicans met Wednesday to choose a new leader for their conference, naming Majority Whip Roy Blunt of Missouri their temporary leader.
Deputy Whip Eric Cantor of Virginia and Rules Committee Chairman David Dreier of California will also share in the duties. (Full story)
DeLay's lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, said the congressman "has nothing to hide" and wants a trial "before the end of the year."
"There's no crime that's been committed," DeGuerin said. "I am confident that, when we get to trial, we'll show that Tom DeLay did nothing wrong."
Reaction in Washington to DeLay's indictment broke down along party lines.
Democratic National Committee Chairman Howard Dean took the opportunity to draw attention to other GOP controversies.
"With House Republican leader Tom DeLay under criminal indictment, Senate Republican leader [Bill] Frist facing SEC and Department of Justice investigations and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove under investigation, the Republican leadership in Washington is now spending more time answering questions about ethical misconduct than doing the people's business," Dean said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, a California Democrat, described congressional Republicans as "plagued by a culture of corruption."
But Republicans offered support for DeLay.
New York Rep. Tom Reynolds, chairman of the National Republican Congressional Committee, said prosecutor Earle "has been incapable of separating his personal politics from his professional responsibilities."
"Democrats resent Tom DeLay because he routinely defeats them -- both politically and legislatively," he said.
White House spokesman Scott McClellan lauded DeLay as a "good ally" of President Bush and said of the indictment: "The president's view is that we need to let the legal process work."
Earle denied any partisan motivation, telling reporters in Austin that 12 of the 15 public corruption cases he has prosecuted involved Democrats. (Watch: DeLay faces conspiracy charge -- 3:38)
Earle's record on high-profile corruption cases is mixed.
A 1994 case against Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchinson, a Republican, was tossed out of court on the first day of trial, and Democratic Attorney General Jim Mattox was acquitted in 1985.
But House Speaker Gib Lewis, a Democrat, pleaded no contest to ethics charges in 1992, and several cases against lower-profile officials have resulted in convictions, Earle said.
Nicknamed "The Hammer" during his tenure as GOP whip, DeLay has been the Republican leader in the House of Representatives since 2002. He has represented a suburban Houston district in the House since 1985. (Chronology)
The grand jury in Austin charged DeLay, 58, and two associates who already faced criminal charges with a single count of criminal conspiracy, alleging they improperly steered corporate donations to Republican candidates for the Texas legislature in 2002. (Read the indictment)
The 2002 races led to GOP control of the state legislature and a controversial mid-census redistricting effort that bolstered Republican control of Congress.
DeLay called Earle "a partisan fanatic" bent on punishing him for that success.
If convicted, DeLay could face up to two years in prison and fines up to $10,000.
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