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House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) and two associates were indicted Tuesday for allegedly attempting to evade Texas’ ban on the use of corporate campaign donations in state races, forcing DeLay to give up his leadership post and throwing the powerful lawmaker’s future into doubt.

Also indicted were Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, two DeLay operatives who were involved in the operations of Texans for Republican Majority PAC, a leadership political action committee founded by DeLay in 2001.

A statement from Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle said the charges center on a $190,000 soft-hard money swap between TRMPAC and the Republican National State Elections Committee, with corporate funds going to RNSEC and hard money then sent to GOP candidates in state legislative races.

“The indictment charges DeLay with conspiring with Ellis and Colyandro to violate the Texas Election Code by contributing corporate money to certain candidates for the Texas Legislature,” said the statement from Earle’s office. “It describes a scheme whereby corporate, or ‘soft’ money, was sent to the Republican National Committee where it was exchanged for ‘hard’ money, or money raised from individuals, and sent to those candidates.”

DeLay said in his own statement that he would resign his leadership post following his indictment on one count of criminal conspiracy. The indictment followed a nearly three-year investigation by Earle.

“I have notified the Speaker that I will temporarily step aside from my position as Majority Leader pursuant to rules of the House Republican Conference and the actions of the Travis County District Attorney today,” said DeLay.

Kevin Madden, DeLay’s spokesman, blasted Earle, calling the probe a “purely political investigation” and claiming that Earle, a Democrat, went after DeLay for political reasons. “These charges have no basis in the facts or the law. This is just another example of Ronnie Earle misusing his office for partisan vendettas,” said Madden in a statement. “However, as with many of Ronnie Earle’s previous partisan investigations, Ronnie Earle refused to let the facts or the law get in the way of his partisan desire to indict a political foe.”

Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) will push to have Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) appointed Majority Leader, although Majority Whip Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) may assume some duties normally handled by the Majority Leader. The House Republican Conference is expected to meet today to review the day’s stunning events.

Government watchdog groups in Texas and Washington, D.C., applauded the indictment. “No jury can undo the outcome of Texas’ 2002 elections,” said Texans for Public Justice Director Craig McDonald, “but the justice system must punish those who criminally conspire to undermine democracy — no matter how powerful they may be. If we are to be a democracy,then powerful politicians cannot flout such laws with impunity.”

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