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DeLay trial: The prosecution rests

The prosecution has rested its case in the money laundering trial of Tom DeLay.

Visiting Judge Pat Priest today denied former House Majority Leader Tom DeLay’s motions for a directed verdict of innocent in the political money laundering trial against him.

Travis county prosecutors rested their case this morning.

Defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin argued the prosecution offered no proof that DeLay, R-Sugar Land, directed the money exchange or knew it would have been illegal even if he had known.

“The deal was done when he learned about it. So he was not a party to the defense,” DeGuerin said. “The only thing they have proved is that three years after the fact Mr. DeLay said Jim Ellis told him about it.”

The defense is up now.

As the defense began its presentation, it continued to drive home its point that the deal was cut before DeLay knew about it.

Charles Spies, who was an RNC lawyer in 2002, testified about an Oct. 2, 2002, RNC memo approving the $190,000 swap. He testified that four RNC officials signed off on the deal with their initials before the checks were cut Oct. 4.

DeGuerin asked Spies whether the memo indicated that “the deal was done” before Oct. 2. He said yes, adding that it could have taken anywhere from 24 hours to a week for the memo to be drafted.

On cross-examination, Spies agreed that it would take time to circulate the memo to four RNC officials.

Peter Shuvalov, who was the RNC regional political director for Texas in 2002, said he reviewed the list of seven Texas candidates that Ellis had provided to the RNC.

During cross-examination, prosecutors re-read part of Shuvalov’s grand jury testimony from years ago. Shuvalov acknowledged saying the dollar-for-dollar exchange was unusual and that he assumed the favorable rate was because of DeLay, a powerful leader in Congress at the time. (Corporate money was less valuable in politics because of legal restrictions on how it could be spent.)

But Shuvalov disagreed sharply with prosecutors when they suggested that he had said DeLay was involved in the transaction.

He said his RNC boss, Terry Nelson, might have mentioned DeLay’s name in “an off-hand remark” when he sent him the list of candidates.

Shuvalov testified that Nelson told him that Texans for a Republican Majority — not DeLay — had requested the exchange.

So far, they’re doing a good job pointing a finger at DeLay’s co-conspirators, though they are also claiming nobody did anything illegal. Ellis and John Colyandro better hope the jury buys that, because the prosecutor’s script for going after them is pretty clearly written.

Speaking of the prosecutors, here’s a roundup of what they presented in this second week of testimony. Monday was about TRMPAC’s finances, plus a bit from the RNC.

A Republican National Committee official testified Monday in the Tom DeLay money laundering trial that his organization donated no corporate money to seven Texas candidates during the 2002 elections.

“Everything was segregated,” Jay Banning, the committee’s chief financial officer, said about various sources of money accepted and distributed by the national committee. He said corporate money was “firewalled” — kept in a bank account separate from individuals’ donations.

[…]

On Monday, the prosecution used [Russell Anderson, TRMPAC’s accountant] to illustrate the financial affairs of Texans for a Republican Majority.

In the final weeks of the 2002 election, the committee had such severe cash flow problems that John Colyandro, its executive director, loaned it $40,000 from his personal bank account. He was repaid later.

Travis County prosecutor Gary Cobb told reporters he brought up the loan to explain why Colyandro sent a corporate check with a blank amount to Ellis.

He said Colyandro didn’t know how much corporate money would be available when Ellis began talking to national committee officials about a swap. Without the loan, Cobb said, the $190,000 check to the national committee would have bounced.

Ellis filled in the amount and the date (Sept. 13, 2002) after negotiating with Terry Nelson, another national committee official, who testified that Ellis gave him a list of seven candidates and the size of donations for each candidate. The donations totaled $190,000.

Under cross-examination, Anderson said he never took direction from DeLay. He said only Colyandro could authorize expenditures.

On Tuesday there was more of the same, plus a dip into the politics of redistricting, much of which was shut down by the judge.

In his testimony, Marshall Vogt, the forensic accountant [for the Travis County DA’s office], said Texans for a Republican Majority had two accounts — one for corporate money and another for campaign donations from individuals.

Vogt testified that the committee’s largest bank balance was $107,000 in February 2002, just eight months before the election. That account included only money raised from individuals. By the time of the money swap, the balance had shrunk to $30,000.

Although Texans for a Republican Majority was more successful raising corporate money, the committee was running short on that cash, too.

Vogt said the committee’s $190,000 check to the RNC would have bounced without a $40,000 personal loan from Colyandro.

Vogt testified that the Texas committee’s books labeled the $190,000 corporate check as “soft money contribution.” But the defense rebutted that was just the terminology of the committee’s accountant and had nothing to do with DeLay.

Under cross-examination, Vogt said he didn’t see one check written on the committee’s corporate bank account go to a candidate.

Vogt also analyzed the cell phone records of Ellis, Colyandro and DeLay’s travel aide, Chris Perkins. Several phone calls were exchanged during the time of the money swap, but he said none of them was traced to DeLay’s phone because prosecutors never could find his cell phone number.

There was also a side issue regarding one of the reporters that has covered this issue from the beginning.

Prosecutors last week played for jurors a recording of an August 2005 interview with investigators in which DeLay said he was told of the exchange in advance. After that hearing, DeLay gave several interviews in which he said he was misunderstood and that he did not learn of the Sept. 13, 2002, transaction until Oct. 2.

However, that date puts DeLay in the middle of the exchange because the RNC did not deliver the money to seven Texas candidates until Oct. 4.

According to Copelin’s story as it appeared in the Nov. 11 newspaper:

“I probably could have stopped it,” Delay said of the money swap. “Why would I? It was a legal deal done by Democrats and Republicans for years.”

DeLay made similar statements to the Houston Chronicle, San Antonio Express-News and the Associated Press.

Lawyers for the American-Stateman objected to Copelin testifying. Judge Pat Priest said the reporter had to take the stand, but that raised the possibility that as a witness he would be barred from covering the remainder of the trial’s testimony. Prosecutors, DeLay’s defense and the Statesman attorneys worked out a compromise in which Copelin today will take the witness stand to verify the tape, but the recording and a transcript will serve as the evidence, allowing him to continue to cover the trial.

That strikes me as the strongest evidence the prosecutors have of DeLay’s direct involvement. I’ve felt for a long time that the case against Colyandro and Ellis is much clearer than the case against DeLay, at least in the absence of direct testimony from someone like Warren Robold, and I can’t say I’ve seen anything that has changed my mind about that. It’s pretty easy to see what DeLay’s defense will look like.

During nine days of testimony over nearly three weeks, the most dramatic piece of evidence has been an audio interview in which DeLay says he knew beforehand about the money swap. DeLay says he misspoke in the interview with prosecutors and only found out about the transaction after it happened.

Most of the evidence has been circumstantial and hasn’t directly tied DeLay to the alleged scheme.

“In that army of people working on the case, not a single soul has come up with any evidence that Tom DeLay called the shots on this deal. Right?” Dick DeGuerin, DeLay’s lead attorney, asked a forensic accountant who told jurors on Tuesday that the ex-lawmaker’s PAC referred to $190,000 it raised as corporate campaign contributions. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot go directly to political campaigns.

Marshall Vogt, a senior forensic analyst with the Travis County District Attorney’s Office, said he didn’t know how to answer the question.

Not exactly a smoking gun moment for the prosecutors. We’ll see how it goes from here.

UPDATE: PDiddie notes that the defense got off to an uncharacteristically rocky start.

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