DeLay was offered plea, his lawyer says

Indicted former House majority leader continues to seek dismissal of charges


Washington -- Before indicting Rep. Tom DeLay on felony conspiracy and money-laundering charges, a Texas prosecutor offered him a chance to plead guilty to a misdemeanor that would have let DeLay keep his job as House majority leader, the Texas Republican's attorney said yesterday.

In a letter to Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, attorney Dick DeGuerin said the prosecutor "tried to coerce a guilty plea from Tom DeLay for a misdemeanor, stating the alternative was indictment for a felony which would require his stepping down as Majority Leader."

The letter also informed Earle that DeLay was filing new motions in an Austin court seeking to dismiss the charges.

A spokesman for Earle said the office had no immediate comment on the letter or on the motions for dismissal of the charges.

DeLay has fought back hard since two grand juries indicted him last month on charges of conspiracy and money-laundering in a campaign finance case. He has strongly denied any wrongdoing, and he and his lawyers have accused Earle, a Democrat, of pursuing a political vendetta against him. Earle has denied that charge.

DeLay's lawyers have filed several motions seeking to get the charges dismissed. But this was the first time his defense team has said Earle tried to persuade him to plead guilty to a lesser charge.

In the letter, DeGuerin told Earle that DeLay "turned you down flat so you had him indicted." DeGuerin did not return a phone call seeking details on his claim.

DeLay's legal woes have caused turmoil within the ranks of House Republicans. With DeLay - known for his hard-edged political style - replaced temporarily as majority leader by Rep. Roy Blunt of Missouri, some conservative Republicans have been flexing their political muscle.

They have demanded deeper budget cuts to offset the costs of rebuilding the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. And they have pushed for an election of House leaders in January, when DeLay might not be able to run for his old post or any other leadership job.

Rules adopted by GOP House members disqualify a lawmaker under indictment from holding a leadership post.

DeLay has vowed to regain his former job and has said he wants a speedy resolution of the charges against him.

In the motions filed yesterday, DeGuerin sought to dismiss the conspiracy and money-laundering charges on a number of technical grounds.

DeLay and two of his close associates were charged after a lengthy investigation into allegations that they had illegally funneled corporate money into the political accounts of Republican candidates for the Texas Legislature in an effort to influence the outcome of the 2002 elections. A grand jury initially indicted DeLay on a charge of conspiracy, a fourth-degree felony punishable by a two-year state prison term.

A few days later, a second grand jury indicted DeLay on the far more serious charges of conspiracy to commit money-laundering, a second-degree felony, and money-laundering, a first-degree felony. The charges could result in a life sentence.

Mary Curtius writes for the Los Angeles Times.

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