Page 29


Buckle Up THERE’S AN OLD SAYING in the legal trade: “You can beat the rap but you can’t beat the ride.” Whether or not she gets indicted for her troubles at the state Treasury before her election to the United States Senate, Kay Bailey Hutchison has had a hell of a ride. Hutchison has complained that Travis County District Attorney Ronald Earle was making a “media circus” out of grand jury proceedings, but when she showed up to pay her respects to the grand jury on September 9 she waded through a throng of approximately 30 supporters in front of the courthouse and she emerged defiant less than an hour later, as the crowd cheered. As Sam Howe Verhovek of the New York Times noted, “Her appearance could have easily been confused with a campaign rally.” The time she spent with the grand jury was not enough for a grilling but it was plenty of time to invoke her Fifth Amendment right to refuse self-incriminating statements. She showed up at the courthouse after a week of what appeared to be a coordinated counterattack by Republican operatives depicting Earle as a politically motivated prosecutor trying to sabotage her election to a full six-year term next year. She showed up after expressing concern about a stalker who reportedly has been pursuing her \(although an assistant district attorney pointed out that concern about the stalker had not stopped her from making other public appearThe grand jury reportedly has been looking into allegations that Hutchison used state employees to do private errands and political campaign work on state time and with state equipment and that she later ordered state records destroyed. At the onset of the investigation Earle said the grand jury was looking into allegations of tampering with government records, tampering with evidence, official misconduct and open-records violations. In an August 19 letter seeking to get her to commit to appear before the grand jury, the DA stated that Hutchison had been “accused of serious criminal conduct and along with others is subject to a criminal investigation.” Her public answer has been to join state Republican leaders in speeches and press releases in attempts to discredit Earle. “It is clear what we have here is a battle for public opinion,” GOP consultant Karl Rove was quoted in the Dallas Morning News on September 11. Republicans pointed out that Governor Richards installed private telephone lines in her office and at the Governor’s Mansion, although records showed 306 calls totalling 22 hours were made at the expense of her campaign organization during the past six months, an average of 51 per month. In comparison, Hutchison and her staff made more than 7,200 calls an average of 360 calls a month for the 20 months a private line was operated in the Treasury office. Rove also distributed an index of computer files from the Treasury under Richards that showed headings such as “AWR Personal Correspondence” and “Forgive and Remember.” Richards’ staff said the files were for routing incoming mail. Among the Richards operatives who handled the incoming mail was Twyla Earle, wife of the District Attorney. Hutchison aides also said that a secret May 12 subpoena of a former Hutchison aide shows Earle began his investigation at least two weeks before he announced that any probe would wait until after the June 5 runoff. They seemed to think that proved a Democratic political plot, but as Dave McNeely of the Austin American -Statesman noted, “Had he been part of a Democratic political plot, Earle almost certainly would have raided Hutchison’s office before the June 5 election, not afterward.” And the May 12 subpoena would not have remained a secret. As for what she told the grand jury, John Dowd, Hutchiqpn’ s attorney from Washington, D.C., said he instructed her to remain silent because the defense team suspected prosecutors were seeking to ensnare her on a perjury charge. As Molly Ivins recently wrote, there is another way to avoid a perjury charge … Hutchison showed up for the grand jury, although she complained that the subpoena forced her to miss Senate votes, which she claimed were the first votes she had ever missed as a state or federal lawmaker. The following day she apologized after the Dallas Morning News found she missed 97 votes over two terms in the 1970s as a state representative from Houston. Hutchison’s office also reported a breakin occurred at her Dallas office the day before her grand jury appearance. Files, lists, franked envelopes and other documents were missing. It was the third reported burglary at one of Hutchison’s offices in the past month. Her Austin office was reported burglarized on August 10 and 23. In the Austin breakins, desk calendars were taken, a virus was inserted into the computer system and equipment was damaged. Getting hauled before a grand jury is not that far out of the ordinary in the U.S. Senate, althOugh only eight sitting senators have been indicted. Still, pleading the Fifth before a grand jury is not the sort of thing the GOP likes to see in its fresh new faces. John Gravois of the Houston Post in a September 12 article inquired whether Hutchison’s star was growing faint. Gravois reported that many Republicans acknowledge Hutchison’s star isn’t shining as brightly as it was after her stunning defeat of interim Senator Bob Krueger in the June 5 special election, although they still support her publicly. Anne Marie Kilday of the Dallas Morning News on September 18 said Hutchison is still in great demand as a speaker in Repub :lican circles, particularly in Washington, where the inquiry has gotten little media attention. Kilday also cited an unnamed Democratic Congressman from Texas who said Hutchison got a break because the grand jury appearance was overshadowed by the Middle East peace accord as well as NAFTA and speculation about President Clinton’s health care reforms. Joe Cutbirth wrote in the September 19 Fort Worth Star -Telegram that “GOP insiders are grumbling privately that the investigation is forcing them to walk a political tightrope: balancing personal loyalty and party loyalty that prevents them from openly talking about replacing Hutchison, and the possibility that keeping silent too long could cause them to lose the seat.” Of the eight senators who have been indicted, Cutbirth noted, five were acquitted, but only one Burton Wheeler, who served from 1923-1947 survived politically. Senator David Durenberger, a Minnesota Republican, is under indictment on two charges of conspiring to file fraudulent claims for lodging expenses. He is not seeking re-election. Senate rules and procedures would allow Hutchison to keep her seat even if she were indicted. If she were convicted and refused to step down, the Senate Ethics Committee likely would conduct an inquiry and could recommend action against her ranging from censure to expulsion. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Careful readers know that the Observer is the first to defend any accused individual’s constitutional rights. We will be no less scrupulous in the case of Senator Hutchison, whether or not she pleaded the Fifth before the grand jury. Is it too much to hope that she and her putative defenders in the Republican Party will emerge from this difficulty with a new appreciation for civil liberties? J.C. 6 OCTOBER 1, 1993