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Ellis, Colyandro Deny Cooperation With Earle

Two political associates of Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Texas) have denied rumors that they are cooperating with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle in his investigation of the former House Majority Leader, spurring further questions about the source of “additional information” that Earle claimed he had received against DeLay last weekend. On Monday, Earle convinced a Texas grand jury to issue felony indictments against DeLay for money laundering and conspiring to violate Texas’ ban on using corporate campaign donations in state legislative races.

A lawyer for a third DeLay associate who also is under indictment in the Texas probe, Warren RoBold, did not return calls seeking comment on whether he is cooperating with Earle’s investigation.

However, attorneys for Jim Ellis and John Colyandro issued a joint statement on Wednesday afternoon refuting any suggestion that they were assisting Earle while also proclaiming their clients’ innocence. Colyandro was the executive director of Texans for a Majority PAC, which is at the heart of Earle’s investigation, while Ellis is the head of Americans for a Republican Majority PAC, DeLay’s federal leadership PAC. Both organizations were created by DeLay, and Earle is investigating a $190,000 soft-money donation by TRMPAC to an arm of the Republican National Committee in September 2002. Those funds were later routed back to Republican state candidates in Texas as hard money, and Earle alleges this transaction violated Lone Star State law. Corporate campaign donations cannot be used in Texas state legislative races.

“Rumors are circulating, and have been aired in the media, to the effect that Jim Ellis or John Colyandro has reached a deal to cooperate with with Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle in his vendetta against Congressman Tom DeLay. These rumors are absolutely false,” said a statement from J.D. Pauerstein, a partner in the San Antonio, Texas-firm of Loeffler Tuggey Pauerstein Rosenthal. Joseph Turner, Colyandro’s lawyer, said the statement covered both men.

“Neither Mr. Ellis nor Mr. Colyandro has made such a deal, nor would they, because, like Mr. DeLay, they did nothing wrong, let alone illegal. Since nothing illegal occurred, there is nothing that Mr. Ellis or Mr. Colyandro could say that would implicate Congressman DeLay in any misconduct. They in fact stand by Congressman DeLay without reservation or equivocation, as we all look forward to the exoneration of those who have been swept up in this political persecution.”

Colyandro and Ellis have the subject of multiple indictments on a variety of campaign-finance charges stemming from Earle’s nearly three-year investigation into Texas’ 2002 state legislative races. The two men have maintained their innocence since first being indicted in September 2004.

Earle was able to obtain an indictment of conspiracy to violate Texas election law against DeLay on Sept. 28, and DeLay stepped down from the post of Majority Leader that day.

But when DeLay’s lawyers planned to offer a motion to dismiss the indictment on conspiracy charges on the grounds that the conspiracy statute was not applicable in the case, Earle first went to one, and then another, grand jury in Austin to obtain the new indictments against DeLay.

In a statement released by his office, which has come under heavy criticism from DeLay and his GOP allies for “grand jury shopping,” Earle said “additional information” had come to his attention “over the weekend,” and that evidence was presented to the third grand jury, which in turn indicted DeLay on Monday on the more serious charges of money laundering and conspiracy to launder money.

Since the second indictments came down Monday there had been widespread speculation that Ellis, Colyandro or RoBold were cooperating with Earle. Wednesday’s statement by Ellis and Colyandro was designed to quash those rumors.

The latest developments in the Texas TRMPAC probe came as the Justice Department announced that David Safavian, a former Bush administration official with ties to ex-GOP lobbyist Jack Abramoff, was indicted by a federal grand jury for obstructing a Senate investigation, obstructing an investigation by the General Services Administration, and making false statements. Each of the five charges carries a maximum of five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Safavian allegedly attempted to help Abramoff and some of his American Indian clients obtain federally owned property from GSA. Safavian was chief of staff at GSA when he went to Scotland in August 2002 on a junket paid for by an Abramoff-controlled nonprofit group. Rep. Bob Ney (R-Ohio) was part of the Scotland trip.

Safavian allegedly lied to GSA officials about the nature of his relationship with Abramoff, and also lied to Senate investigators in February 2003 when he was contacted by officials from the Indian Affairs Committee, which is conducting its own probe of Abramoff. Abramoff, formerly a close DeLay ally, was indicted in August in Miami on federal wire and fraud charges, and the Justice Department is still investigating his business dealings with American Indian tribes.

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