INTERNATIONAL

Bush ally indicted for accepting illegal corporate donations

Tom DeLay accused of passing on funds to party candidates

Dan Glaister

LOS ANGELES: U.S. President George W. Bush suffered a significant blow to his already problematic second presidential term when a key Republican, Tom DeLay, Majority leader in the House of Representatives, was indicted by a grand jury. Mr. DeLay is to step down while a criminal investigation is held into a single conspiracy charge related to a political fundraising.

``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,'' Mr. DeLay said in a statement.

Key figure

The indictment is a blow to Mr. Bush's already damaged legislative programme. The House Majority leader is one of the key figures for advancing the White House's agenda and Mr. DeLay — known as ``the Hammer'' on Capitol Hill — was a particularly effective enforcer of party discipline.

Already derailed by Hurricane Katrina, the President's key objectives for his second term, notably social security reform, are likely to be further weakened.

The charge against Mr. DeLay relates to a committee he set up in his home State of Texas. It is alleged that the committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, took illegal corporate donations and laundered the money before passing it to Republican candidates in the 2002 elections for the Texas legislature. The move helped the Republicans win control of the State legislature for the first time since the Civil War. Mr. DeLay, it is alleged, then engineered legislation that resulted in more Texas Republicans being elected to the U.S. House of Representatives. The indictment was dismissed on Wednesday by Mr. DeLay's spokesman, Kevin Madden, as politically motivated.

``This indictment is nothing more than prosecutorial retribution by a partisan Democrat,'' he said, referring to District Attorney Ronnie Earle. ``We regret the people of Texas will once again have their taxpayer dollars wasted on Ronnie Earle's pursuit of headlines and political paybacks.'' Mr. DeLay (58), met Mr. Earle two weeks ago in an attempt to persuade him he was not involved in the day-to-day activities of the committee.

Mr. DeLay's lawyer, Bill White, also dismissed the indictment in remarks reported by CNN. ``Like a dead skunk in the middle of the road, it stinks to high heaven.''

White House spokesman Scott McClellan said Mr. Bush would stand by Mr. DeLay. ``The President considers him a good ally and a friend, a leader who we have worked closely with to get things done for the American people. I think the President's view is that we need to let the legal process work.''

Jury trial

The blow comes days after the leading Republican in the Senate, Bill Frist, faced hostile questions about his decision to sell shares in a blind trust shortly before their value dropped. Mr. Frist insisted that he did no wrong and was merely trying to remove the impression of a conflict of interest.

The conspiracy charge facing Mr. DeLay means that he will face a jury trial, although proceedings are not expected to start for a year.

- Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005

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