Standing before the state district judge who was deliberating his sentence on Monday, Tom DeLay made one thing clear: He had no regrets. In a remarkable display of defiance before he was sentenced to “three years of confinement” for conspiracy to launder money and five years for money laundering, the former majority leader of the U.S. House of Representatives told Judge Pat Priest he had done nothing wrong, despite his conviction in November of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money.
DeLay described himself as the victim of a political prosecution that began in 1995, when two Democratic members of Congress, Nancy Pelosi and Patrick Kennedy, “announced publicly that they were going to take me down.” After Pelosi’s pronouncements, DeLay said, “the ethics charges began.”
DeLay told the judge that he paid little attention to the letters of admonishment he subsequently received from the House Ethics Committee. “I didn’t agree with those letters,” DeLay said of the admonishments, which he characterized as political in nature. (The Ethics Committee is the only House committee comprised of an equal number of Democratic and Republican representatives. To be admonished, at least one member of his party would have voted against DeLay, and DeLay was the only member of the House receive three such letters from the Ethics Committee.)
“In 2002, I never intended to break the law,” DeLay said, regarding his conviction of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money.
On the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, a Travis County jury convicted DeLay of both counts. A political action committee DeLay set up in Texas had raised corporate funds, which are illegal to contribute to a candidate in Texas, and laundered the money through the Republican National State Elections Committee, which sent it to Republicans running for the Texas House in 2002.
DeLay did not take the stand during his three-week trial. It might have better served his purposes had he declined to address the court before he was sentenced.
“Everything I did was covered by accountants and lawyers who told me what I had to do to stay within the law,” DeLay told the judge. (During the trial, the judge had told the jury that a lawyer advising someone that an act is legal does not make that act legal.)
“This D.A., Ronnie Earle, who has a reputation of going after his political enemies—somebody approached him,” DeLay said of the Travis County District Attorney who brought the charges against him. (Earle has retired since he indicted DeLay in 2005.)
In what was largely a political speech that began, “I have fought the good fight, I have run the race,” DeLay even instructed the judge on the statute by which he was convicted. “In my opinion,” DeLay said, “money laundering has to start with the intent of criminal activity.”
“This criminalization of politics is very dangerous, dangerous to our system, and dangerous to or ability to maintain this Republic,” DeLay also informed the judge. He admitted only that he was guilty of “arrogance” — which might have gone unsaid considering the nature of his remarks to the judge.
Assistant D.A. Gary Cobb told the Observer that he was caught off-guard by DeLay’s remarks. “I have never seen a judge to allow someone to speak like DeLay did at a sentencing hearing,” Cobb said.
Cobb was hesitant to second-guess the judge, but he suggested that DeLay’s speech to the court was ill-advised. The only way someone in such a situation can help himself, Cobb said, “is to accept responsibility for what he had done and show some remorse.”
There was no remorse.
When DeLay concluded and Judge Priest began to speak, it was evident that DeLay’s remarks, and the closing argument of his attorney Dick DeGuerin, were not persuasive.
“What America is about is the rule of law, and there should be no more basic law than that those who write the laws are bound by them,” Priest said. And the judge did not buy DeLay and DeGuerin’s “selective prosecution” argument. “I do not agree with you that the Travis County DA’s office has picked out Tom DeLay,” Priest said.
Priest — a San Antonio Democrat to whom the case was assigned by the Texas Supreme Court after DeLay’s defense team objected to a Democrat from Travis County — sentenced DeLay to “three years of confinement” for conspiracy to launder money and five years for money laundering. The second sentence was probated, with a requirement of 10 years of community supervision.
DeLay was escorted from the courtroom by four marshals, and taken to the county jail. After booking, he was released on bail pending an appeal. DeLay refused to speak to the press.
His attorney Dick DeGuerin, however, made a one-sentence statement to reporters before leaving the courthouse: “This will not stand.”
Former Texas Observer editor Lou Dubose is editor of the Washington Spectator and the co-author, with Jan Reid, of The Hammer: Tom Delay, God, Money, and the Rise of the Republican Congress.
This story has been corrected to reflect the fact that Judge Pat Priest is a Democrat, not a Republican.