At the center of the case against the indicted Tom DeLay and his indicted PAC director, Jim Ellis, is a October 2, 2002 meeting in DeLay's Capitol office.
The timeline is pretty simple:
September 13: Ellis, as executive director of TRMPAC, sends a $190,000 check from corporate donations to the RNC.
October 2: Ellis and DeLay meet.
October 4: RNC sends checks totaling $190,000 to seven Texas candidates.
So what happened at that meeting?
TRMPAC sent the check on Sept. 13, 2002. DeLay met with Ellis in Washington on Oct. 2, 2002.
But DeLay and his lawyer, Dick DeGuerin, have changed their stories this week about what DeLay knew about the money and when.
DeLay told talk show host Rush Limbaugh that in August, he mistakenly told prosecutors he knew about the TRMPAC check before it was sent to the Republican National Committee. He said Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle would not allow him to change his statement.
"I misspoke one sentence — one sentence — and they have based all of this on one sentence," DeLay said during a radio interview with Limbaugh on Tuesday. "They think that before the (TRMPAC) check was cut and sent to the national committee that I approved this check. I didn't know this went on until well after it happened."
On the same day, DeGuerin told the Houston Chronicle that DeLay likely found out about the check at an 10:15 a.m. Oct. 2, 2002, meeting with Ellis. DeGuerin said what DeLay learned was informational and did not put him into a decision-making process.
"The bottom line is DeLay didn't have any decision to make, and he didn't make any decision. He might have been informed about it, but it was kind of as, 'Hey, I got this done,' and he might have said, 'Sure, that's great,' " DeGuerin said.
But on Thursday, DeGuerin told the Chronicle that Ellis and DeLay did not talk about the TRMPAC donation to the RNC during that meeting. He said DeLay remembers Ellis telling him about it at a later meeting. DeGuerin said he clarified what happened after talking to DeLay and Ellis' lawyer.
It is not credible that DeLay would have:
a) shown no interest in how much money he was putting into which races;
b) not wanted to know when $190,000 of money he helped to raise was being moved around; and
c) not discussed TRMPAC during a half hour meeting with TRMPAC's director.
(And what about doing political business out of his Capitol office? Update: Apparently there's only a narrow prohibition about soliciting funds on federal property.)
What it boils down to is this, in Smith's words, is this:
To prove that DeLay participated in money laundering or in a conspiracy to conduct it -- the two allegations in the felony indictment brought against DeLay on Monday morning -- Earle will have to prove two things, according to lawyers who are closely following the case: The transactions involving the $190,000 were illegal, and DeLay played some critical role, by approving them or by helping to carry them out.
So put yourself in Ellis's shoes. You tell your boss your sending $190,000 to one place and they'll send it to the people you've chosen to get it. If you're Ellis, you have to know you're crossing the line. So you check in with your boss about it. What does your boss say? According to your boss's lawyer, he says, "Sure, that's great."
Sounds like just the approval Ellis needed.
If the evidence shows that DeLay was told by Ellis about these transactions before they happened, DeLay is guilty.