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CNN Larry King Live

Panel Discusses Tom DeLay Indictment

Aired September 28, 2005 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, CNN ANCHOR: Tonight, one of Washington's most powerful men indicted. A Texas grand jury charges House Majority Leader Tom DeLay with conspiracy. A defiant DeLay says he's innocent. We'll talk with his attorney Dick DeGuerin.
Plus, Laylan Copelin covering the story from the get-go in DeLay's home state of Texas; Michael Isikoff, "Newsweek's" Washington- based investigative correspondent; Ann Coulter, the outspoken conservative commentator; Katrina vanden Heuvel, the editor of the liberal magazine "The Nation"; Democratic Representative Marty Meehan of Massachusetts; and Republican Representative Ileana Ros Lehtinen of Florida, all next on LARRY KING LIVE.

Our panel will join us in a little while. We'll spend the first segment with Dick DeGuerin, the well-known defense attorney in Austin, Texas. He is the representative of Tom DeLay, the Republican Congressman indicted by a Texas grand jury today. Did you expect this, Dick?

DICK DEGUERIN, DEFENSE ATTORNEY FOR REP. TOM DELAY: Yes, actually we did, Larry. We were hopeful that it wouldn't happen and we laid the roadmap out to Ronnie Earle why he shouldn't do it but it happened anyway.

KING: Ronnie Earle is the prosecutor, the district attorney of Travis County. He was invited to appear on the show tonight and declined. Did the Congressman testify before the grand jury?

DEGUERIN: What he did was he went in and was interrogated by Ronnie Earle and a couple of other of his assistants on the record, answered all their questions and still they indicted him.

KING: What are they saying?

DEGUERIN: Well, they're saying that this was a conspiracy to violate Texas election laws and we laid out, the lawyers that have represented him from the get-go have laid out how that didn't happen. It just didn't happen. There's no crime here and he didn't do anything wrong.

KING: What specifically when they say broke the election law, specifically if he were here he would say what, the district attorney?

DEGUERIN: If Ronnie Earle were he, I guess he would say that there was a conspiracy to put corporate money into the campaign accounts of individual candidates in Texas but that did not happen. In Texas we have a kind of peculiar rule that you can't -- corporations cannot contribute to individual campaigns. They can contribute to political action committees and that's what the corporations involved here did and they did so in a lawful fashion.

That money never went to any candidates in Texas and we've showed him the roadmap how that didn't happen and it just didn't matter because he wanted to indict him from the beginning.

And I think Laylan Copelin will tell you that for years Ronnie Earle has been saying that Tom DeLay was not a target of this investigation and all of a sudden here at the last minute he gets indicted.

KING: Did this have to do with redistricting?

DEGUERIN: Yes, I think that's what -- you see, Tom DeLay changed the face of politics in Texas through redistricting, particularly in Austin where Austin was split up into four different districts where they had one person representing them before. So, there's a lot of hard feelings. There's a lot of people that are angry about that.

But he did it lawfully. He did it the right way. He did it by getting a lot of Republicans elected to the Texas legislature, which then redrew the lines rather than having a court do it. And so, this is Ronnie Earle's payback.

KING: Have you gone up against Mr. Earle before?

DEGUERIN: Yes, he did the same thing, Larry, to Senator Kay Bailey Hutchison, one of the finest Senators in Washington, our Texas Senator when she became the second Republican Senator from Texas and that changed the face of politics.

And shortly after that happened, Ronnie Earle brought trumped up charges on her that he didn't even have the guts to send to trial. He tried to dismiss it as we were picking the jury and the judge wouldn't let him do it.

KING: Now, the grand jury indicts. Is this a case, as is often said, they would indict a ham sandwich?

DEGUERIN: You know I don't know anything about these particular grand jurors but a prosecutor, if he wants to, can mislead a grand jury and tell the grand jury whatever he wants. It's all done in secret and never has to be accountable for that. I think that's what happened.

KING: Is this political or personal?

DEGUERIN: I think it's political. I think it's political because Ronnie Earle sees himself as someone that can be the savior of the Democratic Party in Texas. It's just not going to happen that way. Politics belongs in the ballot box and it doesn't belong in the jury box. KING: Now, there are other co-conspirators under indictment. Do you fear that some of them may turn to testify against your client, the bigger fish concept?

DEGUERIN: No, not at all. In fact, John Colyandro and Jim Ellis have both gone and talked to Ronnie Earle either directly or through their attorneys and told Ronnie Earle there's not a thing they can say about Tom DeLay that would be anything wrong, that he did anything wrong. Those two guys, Colyandro and Ellis didn't do anything wrong. When you say co-conspirator, you know, that has such a bad sound to it but they're just -- they're hardworking guys who did the right thing.

KING: What did Tom say to you today?

DEGUERIN: He said let's get out there and fight them. He's ready for the fight. He was hoping that he wouldn't be indicted because, you know, an indictment, Larry, is as bad as a conviction.

KING: Yes.

DEGUERIN: Because he had to step down as majority leader. But he's resolved to fight this out. There's going to be no compromise, no settlement. This is either going to go to trial and we're going to win or it's going to be dismissed before trial.

KING: So, they know there's no plea bargain here or anything?

DEGUERIN: Hell no, excuse me, but no there's not going to be.

KING: When does it go to trial? Give me the time frame in Texas.

DEGUERIN: I'm hopeful that we could get to trial actually before a jury before the year is out, sometime in December. I don't know whether that's possible or not. The judge is on vacation. We can't talk to him about that. We want to do due diligence. We want to get our motions filed and have the judge rule on them. But we can be ready for trial I believe as soon as December.

KING: Want a jury trial?

DEGUERIN: Yes, sir.

KING: Because of the stature of DeLay would you say off the top he would have to testify?

DEGUERIN: Well, you know, we don't make that decision until later.

KING: I know.

DEGUERIN: But, yes, he would. He doesn't have anything to hide and he's already undergone questioning by Ronnie Earle and his compatriots and I think he probably would.

KING: What do you think this -- you've mentioned the sin of an indictment. This has happened on all quarters when Democrats get indicted, Republicans get indicted. When anybody is arrested in America there's a presumption of guilt would you say?

DEGUERIN: It's like a tattoo, Larry. It's something that you never get rid of and it's -- Ronnie Earle knows that. The prosecutor knows that. The indictment alone is almost enough to wreck his career. Thank goodness in Senator Hutchison's case it only made her stronger. Maybe it will only make Tom DeLay stronger.

KING: And is he concerned at all? You have to be concerned.

DEGUERIN: You're concerned anytime a serious charge like this is brought and you're concerned anytime a grand jury indicts but when you -- when you get to the bottom of it, when you know the facts like I'm learning the facts and like Tom DeLay and the lawyers that have represented him for two years know the facts, you know that there's nothing, no crime there. There's nothing that he did that was wrong.

KING: Can you say you're confident?

DEGUERIN: I'm very confident. I have yet to see anything that would shake that confidence. I don't think that any of the corporations or any of the people that have been indicted through all of this two or three-year investigation have anything bad to say about Tom DeLay.

KING: Thank you, Dick. We'll be calling on you again and good to see you again.

DEGUERIN: Good to see you again, Larry, thank you.

KING: Dick DeGuerin the attorney for Congressman Tom DeLay.

Our panel assembles right after this.


RONNIE EARLE, TRAVIS COUNTY, TEXAS DISTRICT ATTORNEY: The indictment describes a scheme whereby corporate money, which cannot be given to candidates in Texas, was sent to the Republican National Committee where it was exchanged for money raised from individuals and then sent to those Texas legislative candidates. Criminal conspiracy is a state jail felony punishable by six months to two years in the state jail and a fine of up to $10,000.



KING: We have an outstanding panel, diverse points of view. Let's meet them. Laylan Copelin is in Austin, reporter with the "Austin American Statesman." He has covered Texas politics and state government for more than 25 years and one of the first reporters to investigate and write about the campaign finance activities that led to today's indictment.

In Washington, D.C. is Michael Isikoff of "Newsweek" magazine, their famed investigative correspondent.

Here in New York Ann Coulter, the conservative columnist, "New York Times" best-selling author. Her most recent book "How to Talk to a Liberal if you Must," is just out in paperback. There you see its cover.

Katrina vanden Heuvel is the editor "The Nation."

Representative Ileana Ros Lehtinen is a Republican of Florida and member of the Government Reform Committee.

And, Congressman Marty Meehan is a Democrat of Massachusetts who has introduced the Lobbying and Ethics Reform Act of 2005 and co- sponsor of the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002.

Laylan, are you surprised at this indictment?

LAYLAN COPELIN, "AUSTIN AMERICAN-STATESMAN": Yes, a little bit but not totally. About a month ago, we thought that Tom DeLay probably wouldn't be indicted but here recently his lawyers were expressing concern.

KING: What changed?

COPELIN: Several months ago the Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, I think he felt like he didn't have jurisdiction that only DeLay's local D.A. could prosecute him under the election code. But there was always the possibility of going outside the election code to the criminal code and that's what they ended up doing.

KING: What is DeLay's local district?

COPELIN: It would have been Sugar Land, Texas and there's a Republican district attorney and he had no interest in this case.

KING: Michael Isikoff from "Newsweek's" standpoint in Washington what's your read?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, "NEWSWEEK" INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's if nothing else a stunning political development. Ronnie Earle in one stroke has achieved something Democrats have been trying to achieve for years, which is to topple Tom DeLay.

You know the obvious question here is whether it's going to hold up in court and, if you look at the indictment there are some broad charges there relating to this turnaround of $190,000, which goes from DeLay's political action committee in Texas to the RNC and then back to political candidates. That's corporate money going to Texas political candidates, a violation of Texas election law.

What's unclear from the indictment is the specific evidence tying Tom DeLay to that particular transaction. We know this was Tom DeLay's political action committee, Trim Pack that he was -- he founded it. He was the godfather of it and he did play a role in the raising of the money. The question outstanding is whether Earle has the evidence that is going to be able to show that DeLay had specific knowledge of this specific transaction and I think the case will stand or fall on that question.

KING: Ann Coulter, can we honestly say at this point we don't know enough? I mean what do we know?

ANN COULTER, COLUMNIST, AUTHOR: We don't know much from the indictment. It's four pages and it is legal for corporations to give to the pack and its legal for the pack to give money to the RNC and it's legal for the RNC to give money back to state races in Texas.


COULTER: So, they got a lot of proving to do.

KING: Well, naturally.

COULTER: In addition to what Michael Isikoff just said because DeLay is -- is just a figurehead of this. But I think we do know something about Ronnie Earle and it's not insignificant.

I mean the indictment of Kay Bailey Hutchison gets sort of brushed off as so, yes, well he indicted her and it went no place. This was a sitting United States Senator.

He indicts her, raids her offices and it comes to nothing? Yes, if a Senator commits a crime, I don't think there should be a different standard but I don't think you should be throwing around political charges like this when you're raiding offices and you have the power to put someone in jail.

KING: Think it's too early Katrina?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, "THE NATION": You know, Larry, I think we're going to see in these next weeks attacks on Ronnie Earle akin to the swift boating of John Kerry. This man, Ronnie Earle, let's not forget has prosecuted more Democrats than Republicans.

The largest story though, Larry, is that eleven years ago, Newt Gingrich, Tom DeLay come to Washington. Remember the Contract with America, promising to clean out special interests, talked about accountability, clean government?

And, what Tom DeLay built in these last years was the most blatant, pay-to-play corporate operation running out of the Republican offices in Washington and you know what it hurts...

COPELIN: We'll have to see that.

VANDEN HEUVEL: You know what it hurts, though? It hurts the people, Larry, because, as Marty Meehan will talk about, we got to get money out of politics.

KING: Well, but you're assuming he didn't and you're assuming he did correct?

VANDEN HEUVEL: I'm assuming the case needs to go on.

COULTER: All she has is charges, corrupt, corrupt, corrupt. OK, let's see what.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But you know, Larry, he rebuked...

KING: But you can't say he didn't do it and you can't say he did.

COULTER: Well...


COULTER: ...when it comes to the Patriot Act certain Americans are very concerned about the presumption of innocence.

VANDEN HEUVEL: But it's not business as usual, Larry, because you know you have a defanged Ethics Committee, a moribund, which has rebuked Tom DeLay three times, one of the times was illegally using the FAA to track down these poor Democrats who were trying to protest redistricting.

KING: Let's hear from our Congresswoman. Congresswoman Ros- Lehtinen, what do you make of it? You're on the Government Reform Committee. Are you worried?

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Oh, no, not at all. You know the old adage is that a grand jury can indict a ham sandwich. Well, this is a ham sandwich indictment with one correction. There's no ham in the sandwich. Where's the beef?

This is baseless allegations. This indictment is not based on law. It's not based on facts. Ronnie Earle has had six grand juries. He's been investigating Tom DeLay for two years and the best that he can come up with is this thin indictment about a conspiracy and he makes it sound as if you could not raise money from corporations in Texas. Now, you cannot do that in my state of Florida but you are allowed to do that in Tom DeLay's state and what he...

KING: But you can't give it to a politician right?

ROS-LEHTINEN: But they didn't. But he's not alleging that they gave it to the politician. He's saying that Tom DeLay was involved in this -- in this conspiracy. Well you've got to prove intent and nowhere in this indictment is he going to be able to prove intent. There was no intent to do so.

KING: Congresswoman you would be saying the same if a Democrat were indicted?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Absolutely.

KING: OK, I just want to stand on record that we stand on innocence until proven guilty (INAUDIBLE). ROS-LEHTINEN: Absolutely and I wish that other folks would understand that this is innocent until proven guilty but they're already, as I said an indictment is almost like you're saying you're guilty.

KING: Is it illegal for the corporation to give to the pack and the pack then to give it to the candidate? Isn't that a way of just getting around it?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well, that's what Ronnie Earle has to prove that Tom DeLay was involved in this conspiracy to make sure that you can trace money X to this -- from this corporation to the party and that the party was specifically told by Tom DeLay...

KING: I mean that's illegal right?

ROS-LEHTINEN: give to individual candidates. Ronnie Earle himself has received money from packs because he's an elected officials. Where do packs get the money? They get it from corporations. But he doesn't want to apply the same contortion of truth and law to his own case.

KING: I want to just understand something before I move to Marty. Is it illegal for a corporation to give to a pack and a pack to take that money and give it to a politician?

ROS-LEHTINEN: No. The pack can decide. The corporations give it to the party. The party can decide...

KING: Then what's the cloud of the law...

ROS-LEHTINEN: ...the party can decide to whom they should give it to. There's no problem there.

KING: So then there's no cloud to the law if a corporation can't give to a candidate if I can give it through another source?

ROS-LEHTINEN: You give it to -- you give it to a source and then that source will decide who to give it to. Now, Democrats in Texas have used this sort of some -- you know, Ronnie Earle calls it a scheme. Democrat -- the Democratic Party has done the same thing yet there's no investigation of Democrats using this organization.

KING: Congressman Meehan what do you make of it?

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well, first of all I think that the case will be decided based on the evidence and based on the facts and based on the law. I'm a former prosecutor and well that's the way you decide these cases.

We're a country of laws and what has happened here apparently is Tom DeLay was involved in a -- in an effort to get corporate money to elected officials in Texas and I doubt the D.A. has indicted or the 12 members of the grand jury has indicted without some evidence that that, in fact, happened. We're going to have to see how that case plays out. I think a broader issue here, I mean this indictment is the tip of the iceberg. The fact of the matter is we have an investigation.

We have the Karl Rove matter at the White House. We have an official over at the Office of Management and Budget, a Bush administration official who was arrested. We have the Abermoff (ph) scandal. We have lobbyists paying for trips.

It's clearly time for ethics reform in Washington and it's clear that the American people, every poll you look at the president's poll numbers are the lowest they've ever been. The Congress poll numbers were the lowest they've ever been. Isn't it time for us to pass real reform of ethics rules and reform the way our system is set up? I think the American public is tired of it all.

KING: Let me get a break and we'll come back. We'll dig right into it with everybody. Don't go away.


TOM DELAY, HOUSE MAJORITY LEADER: This morning in an act of blatant political partisanship a rogue district attorney in Travis County, Texas named Ronnie Earle charged me with one count of criminal conspiracy, a reckless charge wholly unsupported by the facts. This is one of the weakest, most baseless indictments in American history. It's a sham and Mr. Earle knows it.



KING: Laylan Copelin, does it appear to you from the statements made by the attorneys and the like that we're going to have a trial here?

COPELIN: Yes, I think so. I don't think Tom DeLay will back away from a fight and I don't think Ronnie Earle can afford to either. I would point out though to your panel that we've already had a Texas judge rule against the Texans for a Republican Majority, which was the political committee that DeLay created and that is at the heart of this indictment.

KING: What did the judge rule?

COPELIN: It was a civil lawsuit but the facts were basically the same and the judge ruled that Texans for a Republican Majority violated the law and part of that lawsuit included the $190,000 transfer of corporate money to the RNC and $190,000 coming back to Texas.

KING: Violated by going around it?


KING: In other words, if I give to the pack and the pack gives to him that's...

COPELIN: In Texas there's been 100-year-old law that says corporations and labor unions cannot give money in connection with a campaign. Now that's very much in dispute exactly what that means but everyone seems to have understood that in the past it meant that a political action committee could take corporate money and spend it on their overhead but not on political activity.

KING: Ann, is it the way you read it?

COULTER: If I could just say if a civil finding were the same as a criminal conviction, O.J. would be in jail right now.

KING: No what he's saying is that a civil has declared already that it is illegal.

COULTER: He's saying -- yes, and I might add that after every presidential campaign both campaigns are paying lots of money to the (INAUDIBLE) because campaign finance laws are very complicated.

There was just, as you know, there was the famous Hollywood fundraiser for Hillary where there was a single fundraiser who put in $1 million and, by the way, nobody indicted Hillary Clinton for that. There was no indictment of her.

KING: Hypothetically would it be illegal to you if a corporation can't give to a politician but they can give to you and you give it to the politician?

COULTER: No, of course it's the same money.

KING: Isn't that getting around it? That's conspiracy.

COULTER: But the point is...

KING: What?

COULTER: ...each one of the entities is allowed to give money to the other entity. He has to prove...

KING: Yes, but if I go around it by going through you of course.

COULTER: Of course -- of course you can't use a front organization, yes, of course that's true.

KING: Right.

COULTER: There is no suggestion that that happened.

KING: Then why is he indicted?

COULTER: Why did he indict Kay Bailey Hutchison?

KING: You know everybody has bad indictments.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well, he indicted more Democrats than Republicans.

COULTER: Oh, no, that is preposterous.

VANDEN HEUVEL: He also -- he also...

COULTER: He got convictions on them. That's a big difference. It doesn't mean you can commit a crime if you're a Democrat in Texas.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Larry, could we step back from this for a moment? I think what's at stake here is democracy. I'm serious about this because we are now looking at some accountability in a system.

Tom DeLay has done everything he can to defang Ethics Committee, to undermine integrity of a political system. That's why there's such lethal cynicism about our political process in this country.

The GOP establishment today has another shockwave running through it. Michael Isikoff referred to this. You understand that we're now looking at the scrutiny of three individuals.

I think political action committees, (INAUDIBLE), not far removed from Tom DeLay. I think this is a really interesting moment in terms of a turning point looking at what I could call crony corruption politics in Washington.

KING: Michael, is this sort of like it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, it's beginning to be a duck?

ISIKOFF: Well, I'm not sure what the duck is there but I -- the point -- there is a point that there is a lot of things coming together right now. Whether they end up in the same place is unclear.

But the Abramoff investigation, which is not an investigation being conducted by a partisan prosecutor in Texas. It's the United States Justice Department. And last week the United States Justice Department, the Gonzales Justice Department, arrested a senior White House official as part of that investigation for lying to the FBI about a golf trip that he took paid for by Jack Abramoff, a close associate of Tom DeLay.

KING: But doesn't that say a lot then for -- but doesn't that say a lot for the Bush administration that their own Justice Department indicted this guy?

ISIKOFF: Absolutely but, of course, you know, the question is how far is it going to go? But, yes, that was -- that's why that was such a stunning development to have a White House official arrested by the FBI.

Now, as I said, the Abramoff investigation centers around these allegations. He's a very powerful lobbyist who was very close to Tom DeLay. He was known as Tom -- the lobbyist who can get access to Tom DeLay. He took DeLay on golf trips and he took other members of Congress on golf trips.

At the same time he was pushing legislation and there are -- there are at least some e-mail evidence suggesting that some of the legislation that he was pushing was very closely coordinated with the favors he was bestowing on members of Congress. That has a great deal of potential to blow up and can, you know, can result in criminal charges against others beyond Abramoff.

KING: We'll take a break, come right back with lots more.

We'll also include some of your phone calls. Don't go away.


EARLE: The indictment charges DeLay with conspiring with Ellis and Colyandro to violate the Texas election code by contributing corporate money to candidates for the Texas Legislature.

DELAY: This act is the product of a coordinated, premeditated campaign of political retribution, the all too predictable result of a vengeful investigation led by a partisan fanatic.



KING: Congresswoman Lehtinen, party politics aside, aren't you concerned about ethics at any level?

REP. ILEANA ROS-LEHTINEN (R), FLORIDA: Sure we are. Everyone is concerned about ethics. Ethics is not a partisan matter that the Democrats think that they own. And when you talk about ethics, let's talk about the ethics of Ronnie Earle. Here you have a person who is involved in the investigation of many political officials. He makes an appearance at a Texas Democrat Party fundraiser and what does he talk about in his speech, the possible indictment of Tom DeLay. What is the ethics in that involvement...

KING: No, my question to you was...


KING: Do you question the Abramoff and the indictment of...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Of course...

KING: ... the arrest of a White House...


ROS-LEHTINEN: And if the Democrats would participate in the process of our Ethics Committee, we could finally have these matters resolved starting with the first matter that has been held over, which is of a Democrat congressman who has been accused of illegally taping a phone conversation. That's the first matter to be...

KING: All right.

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... discussed but the Democrats don't want to participate in the Ethics Committee because they want to keep this as a political machine. They don't want the issues resolved.


ROS-LEHTINEN: And when Tom DeLay's case is resolved, he will be exonerated.

KING: And if he isn't, you will attack him.

ROS-LEHTINEN: I don't attack anyone. I will say...

KING: No, I mean if he's found guilty...


KING: ... you will join in the...

ROS-LEHTINEN: If he's found guilty, that's the American judicial system...


ROS-LEHTINEN: ... at work and thank goodness we live in a country where the rule of law is king and...

KING: OK, Congressman...

ROS-LEHTINEN: ... no one is above that.

KING: Congressman Meehan, she's saying the Democrats don't care about ethics.

REP. MARTY MEEHAN (D), MASSACHUSETTS: Well she can sign on to my lobbyist Reform and Ethics Bill and that would certainly be a step in the right direction. But Larry look, the Republicans control the White House in Washington, the Senate and the House of Representatives. And unfortunately there is a culture of arrogance and corruption that has been developed here.

They were elected to change Washington 11 years ago, and it appears that Washington has changed them. Too often they are taking care of their own self-interests and the interest of their cronies over the interest of the people. And we've seen it time and time again and that's why the American people are demanding a change.

You look at Iraq and the inability to deal with Iraq. You look at what happened in Louisiana. You look at a prescription drug bill that was written by the pharmaceutical industry. And by the way, Tom DeLay got the votes for that in a open vote from 2:15 in the morning until 5:30 in the morning, so we can do better and it's time that we put the interest of the public...

KING: All right.

MEEHAN: ... above private special interests.

KING: Doesn't all of it concern you, Ann, Democratic or Republican, liberal or conservative, isn't ethics a high concern to you as an individual? If any -- if Tom DeLay...


KING: ... did what they said he did, are you angry?

COULTER: I don't know what it is they're saying he did...

KING: If he took money...

COULTER: This is my point...


COULTER: I'm giving an answer to you...


COULTER: ... which is Democrats...

KING: Can a Republican do something wrong is what I'm asking...

COULTER: Look, everyone on this panel and one person has been indicted, Tom DeLay, I haven't heard what he's done wrong. What I keep hearing is his name in the same sentence with the word corruption.

KING: If a right wing did something wrong...

COULTER: I've actually told you things...

KING: ... would you be angry? Ann...

COULTER: ... that Earle has done.

KING: ... would you be angry?

COULTER: No, of course, that goes without saying. I'm trying to make a different point. I've said, look the worst thing Tom DeLay can do is take money and give a benefit to somebody. What Earle can do is put someone in prison. That is very powerful...

KING: No, the jury puts him in prison.

COULTER: Well OK, infuse the power of a prosecutor to indict someone, that is a serious matter, Larry...

KING: But Republican prosecutors have indicted Democrats...

COULTER: And to snort, to talk about...

KING: Rudy Giuliani indicted Democrats in New York. Were you angry then?

COULTER: But tonight we're talking about Ronnie Earle and...

KING: OK, but then -- were you angry then at Giuliani?

COULTER: In fact I was, but tonight we're talking about Ronnie Earle and he did indict Kay Bailey Hutchison and had a big political show and a raid at the office and there was nothing there...


COULTER: ... and he settled with the corporations involved in this case...

KING: On the other side...

COULTER: ... offering to drop charges against them if they would donate $1 million to his pet causes. That is outrageous...

KING: And aren't you Katrina...

COULTER: ... power of a prosecutor for that.

KING: ... wrong in not presuming innocence?

KATRINA VANDEN HEUVEL, EDITOR, "THE NATION": This is a nation of laws...

KING: Do you presume Tom DeLay's innocence?

VANDEN HEUVEL: I abide by the rule of law...

KING: Do you presume his innocence?

VANDEN HEUVEL: I presume his innocence, but I would point the American people to the fact that he has been rebuked, which is unprecedented by this House Ethics Committee for blackmailing a Republican legislator to pass the Medicare boon doggle (ph), that he traded campaign contradictions for legislation and all of this, Larry is basically sacrificing the interests of American people for special interests. And I think that is a political crime. And I think that's what we need to pay attention to. And Marty represented me and speaks eloquently to the fact that we've got to get money out of our political system and we have to pay attention to a kind of ruthless one-party system that is thriving on a culture of corruption that is undermining the rule of law that is the basis of a great democracy.

KING: Are you concerned about that?

COULTER: A rebuke is like getting a frowny face on your paper and I notice that the Republicans do take ethics more seriously. For example, it is a Republican rule that you cannot be in leadership once you have been indicted. The Democrats never had that rule...


VANDEN HEUVEL: DeLay tried to overturn that rule...

COULTER: Yes, for obvious reasons...


COULTER: ... the victim of a political prosecution.


KING: ... he tried to overturn it?

COULTER: It was well because Earle was obviously engaging this political prosecution...


COULTER: He can have -- this prosecutor can remove the leadership -- Republican leadership by a phony political indictment, so yes they considered it, but they did not. The important point is the Democrats never even had that rule.

VANDEN HEUVEL: You know Larry, Republicans who care about their party, Newt Gingrich said the problem Tom DeLay has is not with Democrats, it's with this country...

COULTER: Why didn't the Democrats have that rule...

VANDEN HEUVEL: And he needs to come clean. He needs to come clean...

COULTER: Why didn't the Democrats have a rule that if you're indicted you have to leave leadership?

VANDEN HEUVEL: They did have that rule...

COULTER: No, they did not.

VANDEN HEUVEL: It was then overturned...


COULTER: Democrats absolutely did not have that rule...

KING: I'm going to get a break. We have other people on the panel, ladies.

COULTER: That is a lie.


COULTER: The Democrats did not have that rule.

KING: We'll take a break and we'll be back with your phone calls as well.


KING: Don't go away.


REP. TOM DELAY (R), TEXAS: Once exposed to the light of objective scrutiny, every one of their frivolous accusations against me has been dismissed and so will Mr. Earle's.

RONNIE EARLE, TRAVIS COUNTY DISTRICT ATTORNEY: Our job is to prosecute abuses of power and we -- our job is to bring those abuses to the attention of the public through juries and that's what we do when we find a violation of the law.



KING: Let's take a call. Tyler Springs, Georgia, hello.



UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: I have a couple questions for the panel.

KING: Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: One of my questions is if DeLay gets convicted, what can happen to him? Will there be jail time if he gets convicted?

KING: Laylan, what -- is he -- he can do jail or fine, right...


KING: ... or probation.

COPELIN: ... obviously he could get probation if he was convicted, but it's -- or six months up to two years in jail and a maximum of a $10,000 fine.

KING: Second question, ma'am?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Also it was stated earlier that Ronnie Earle had gone after some Democrats in the state of Texas and I was just wondering were those Democrats conservative Democrats or liberal Democrats?

KING: Do you know, Katrina?

COULTER: I think I do.

VANDEN HEUVEL: Well I -- what I do know, as I said earlier, that DeLay was rebuked for illegally ordering the FAA...

KING: ... you said he went after Democrats.

VANDEN HEUVEL: He went after Democrats. KING: The question was whether they were conservative Democrats...

VANDEN HEUVEL: They were Democrats who believed that the ramming through of a redistricting project...

COULTER: No, no, no...

VANDEN HEUVEL: ... which was at the heart of DeLay's...

COULTER: ... were prosecuted by Earle, is what the question is...


COULTER: ... and yes they were Zell Miller Democrats, point one...


COULTER: Most of them were...


COULTER: But the main point is they were convicted. They had actually committed crimes...


COULTER: ... unlike Kay Bailey Hutchison, unlike anything alleged against Tom DeLay...

KING: And if DeLay is convicted you will join the critics?



COULTER: ... but he's not going to be convicted.

KING: How do you know...

COPELIN: Actually not all them were convicted...

COULTER: There's no charge...


KING: What were you saying...


KING: Hold it. Hold it. Laylan, what?

COPELIN: Actually not all those Democrats were convicted. Usually what happened in those days... (CROSSTALK)

COPELIN: ... was there would be a plea bargain...

COULTER: Right or a plea...

COPELIN: ... and some of them left office.

KING: Pikeville, Kentucky, hello. Pikeville, are you there?

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Yes, good evening.

KING: Go ahead.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Yes, my question is for Ann.

KING: Yes.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: I'd like to know why it is every time a liberal is blamed with something or accused of something, they're automatically guilty, we don't need an investigation, just go ahead and hang them, but when a conservative is accused of something he's always innocent. There's no need for a trial, no need for investigation...

KING: Is that true, Ann?

COULTER: No, I wouldn't take that position...


KING: ... saying liberal Democrat, strong liberal congressman...

COULTER: Right...

KING: If Ted Kennedy indicted tonight, you would defend him to the hilt until proven...

COULTER: If he were -- if it were...


COULTER: If it were the exact same charges as today...

KING: Yes, correct...

COULTER: ... yes, I would. But I have to say what the caller says wouldn't be a bad rule of thumb because it never happens the other way.

KING: But you would be just as strong...

COULTER: In fact, I think it ought to happen the other way...

KING: Ann, you would be just as...

COULTER: ... because it's not...

KING: ... strong...

COULTER: Yes, of course...

KING: ... in defense of Kennedy?

COULTER: Yes, of course.

KING: Michael Isikoff has to leave us at the end of this segment, so I want to get in another question to him. Michael, is this going to have long legs?

MICHAEL ISIKOFF, "NEWSWEEK" INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Well look, clearly if he's -- if DeLay is convicted it's going to have long legs. But the investigations are going to play out over time. First of all, I think Dick Deguerin said he wanted to have a speedy trial...

KING: Yes.

ISIKOFF: ... by December. I don't see anyway that can happen. And maybe Laylan can speak better to this than I, but my understanding is the co-conspirators in this case who have also been indicted, Colyandro and Ellis, are challenging the constitutionality of the Texas election law to begin with and they've taken that to an appellate court.

Now, if the trial -- it's hard for me to see how DeLay can go to trial on his own while that appeal is still pending. For one thing, Colyandro and Ellis wouldn't be able to be in the courtroom, they wouldn't be available to testify. They couldn't be witnesses, so I'd be very curious to see how this is going to play out. But it seems to me it's going to play over a much longer period of time, well into next year and as I said before, the Abramoff investigation and whatever indictments flow from that are certainly going to play...


ISIKOFF: ... out into next year. So, the larger issue of ethics and the corruption allegations here aren't going to get resolved quickly.

KING: Does this defuse the political effectiveness of Tom DeLay?

ISIKOFF: Oh, absolutely. I mean he's resigned as majority leader for now. Somebody else is going to serve that post, so he clearly is not going to have the political power in the Congress, at least for the time being that he's had until now.

KING: Laylan, what about the rulings on the constitutionality?

COPELIN: Well he's right that there's an appeal by Jim Ellis and John Colyandro, but I would point out both of those gentlemen at one time or another, I think Ellis still at this point worked for DeLay. So one defense attorney told me today chances are if DeLay wanted a trial by the end of the year, they are going to go along with it. However, nothing in this case has moved quickly and I would be shocked if Dick Deguerin got his way and had a trial by the end of the year.

KING: But Michael, isn't he entitled to a trial if he asked for a speedy trial? Any criminal defendant can ask for it.

ISIKOFF: Well I don't know what sort of speedy trial law they have in Texas, but the legal process is inevitably slow. There is discovery. There is, you know motions back and forth. And you know yes, the two DeLay associates may want to accommodate DeLay, but they, you know I don't know whether they want to do that at the risk of exposing themselves to conviction. That's a pretty big bullet to take for a -- for Tom DeLay or anybody else.


KING: Yes, Laylan, you want to add something?

COPELIN: Yes, Larry, there's two tacts that the defense is looking at. Ellis and Colyandro were trying to challenge the overall election law as unconstitutional.

KING: Right.

COPELIN: If they can win that point, then they never have to go to trial, but that takes a long time. DeLay for his own political reasons wants a quick trial. So I -- and this indictment today not only named DeLay, it re-indicted Colyandro and Ellis and I think if you have a conspiracy trial, you're probably going to have all three of them in the same courtroom and I think that has to get worked out and the lawyers are poring over that right now.

KING: Michael, thanks very much for giving us the time. We'll be calling on you again. Always good to see you.

ISIKOFF: Thank you, Larry.

KING: Michael Isikoff leaving us. The panel remains. More calls after this.


DELAY: In accordance with the rules of the House Republican Conference, I will temporarily step aside as floor leader in order to win exoneration from these baseless charges. Now let me be very, very clear. I have done nothing wrong. I have violated no law, no regulation, no rule of the House.



KING: We're back. Congressman Lehtinen, Tom DeLay said in an interview that the United House Republic -- this indictment will unite House Republicans as never before. Why?

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well I think that we all saw this in the Republican Conference as a political witch-hunt. In several Republican conferences that we held just today, every time Tom DeLay spoke he got a standing ovation and that's because we know of the political motivations behind this indictment.

And one of your callers had asked about some of the Democrat indictments of Ronnie Earle and let me just quickly go through two of them right now if I could, Larry. Ronnie Earle's charges in the 1980's against former Attorney General Jim Maddox, a Democrat who was a political foe of Earle fell apart at the trial. Another one, Ronnie Earle's charges against former House Speaker Gib Lewis, a conservative Democrat, was also criticized and fell apart. He went after conservative Democrat Bob Bullock, all these folks, sure...


ROS-LEHTINEN: ... they're Democrat, but they're conservative Democrats. I think we see a real political agenda...


ROS-LEHTINEN: ... the Republicans...


ROS-LEHTINEN: It fell apart in the trial, fell apart...


KING: I'll ask you again, if a Democrat were indicted today, would your conference committee call for support of him or her until resolved?

ROS-LEHTINEN: I think everyone, Democrat and Republican would have or should have the same sort of response. We are innocent until proven guilty...


ROS-LEHTINEN: ... and what we have seen -- you know my good friend Marty has talked about all of these great ethics bills that he's filing, it makes it look like the Republicans are the anti- ethical folks. Well let me talk to you about just two folks. How about -- do you remember former Speaker of the House, Jim Wright. Do you remember former Congressman Dan Rostenkowski? There was -- sure, they were innocent until proven guilty but they were proven guilty.

KING: Now Jim Wright was -- resigned under ethics. He wasn't charged with a crime.

ROS-LEHTINEN: Well but he was Democrat and...

KING: But he wasn't proven guilty of anything. OK, Marty Meehan...

ROS-LEHTINEN: Too bad Ronnie Earle wasn't there at the time...

KING: Do you think -- Marty Meehan, do you think that this brings Republicans together?

MEEHAN: Well until the poll numbers continue to go down. The fact of the matter is that the Republican leadership is very unpopular in America and Republicans are very lucky that the election isn't this November. I think if the election were this November, Republicans would have a different attitude about this. Look, if you examine the fact that gasoline is over $3 a gallon, if you look at the fact that people across the country are tired of cronyism, they're tired of corruption, they want change.

They want to get Washington headed into a new direction and if this Republican leadership doesn't change the course that they're on, then I think you're going to see Republicans, particularly the independent Republicans get very concerned and try to get in a new direction. This whole idea that they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) into a fight with the prosecutor, this is a case in the end that will come down to the evidence, the facts and the law.


MEEHAN: Let the judicial system do it.


VANDEN HEUVEL: Congressman Meehan is right. I mean it's a sad moment in American history when a party rallies around someone who is facing ethics charges and is indicted. I think that the congresswoman suggests a modus operandi, which is unfortunate. Instead of playing by the rules, shoot the referee. And let's not forget on the eve of 2006...


VANDEN HEUVEL: ... the GOP establishment -- Larry, we were talking about this earlier -- faces not just DeLay, but a number of criminal and ethics investigations. Let's not forget Senate Majority Leader Frist who is facing an investigation for possible insider trading.


VANDEN HEUVEL: I think this is serious.

KING: I've got to take a break. When I come back, is why can't we all just wait? We can't do that. It's television. We'll be right back.


KING: One more call. Santa Fe, Texas. Hello.

UNIDENTIFIED CALLER: Hello. I have a question. I would like to know who is paying for the legal fees on both sides of this because I feel like we should be putting our heads together, Republicans and Democrats, worrying about the survivors of this country.

KING: Well the state of Texas pays for any prosecution and I guess, what Laylan, Tom DeLay pays for his own, right?

COPELIN: Well not out of his own pocket. He raises money from lobbyists. I don't know if lobbyists, but definitely other members of Congress and other people who want to give money to him.

KING: Oh, he will have to raise money. He's not wealthy enough to afford his own criminal trial.

COPELIN: He doesn't need to. He's already got, I don't know how much, a million or so socked back, so he doesn't need to. There are plenty of people that will try to help Tom DeLay.

VANDEN HEUVEL: There are plenty of people who will try to help Tom DeLay. That's been the hallmark of his career. Pay to play, give me some. I'll pass legislation. Your caller asked a good question. One reason ordinary people in this country aren't making out as they should is crony capitalism, is legislation for special interest, not ordinary Americans...

KING: Do you think there's a mood in the country, Ann, against all of this, all cronyism, all -- lobbyist is a bad word?


COULTER: I think there's a mood against these sinister charges.


COULTER: And Katrina talking in this sinister way about Tom. I still haven't heard anything Tom DeLay has done wrong.

KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) there's no mood against corruption...

COULTER: I keep hearing...

KING: ... just against charges of corruption...

COULTER: ... Democrats assert that they're very popular and they keep losing elections...

KING: There's no mood against...

COULTER: And I keep hearing assertions of corruption, but I never see the conviction.

KING: Is there a mood against corruption?

COULTER: Against what corruption...

KING: Any corruption...


COULTER: Americans are not fond of corruption.

(CROSSTALK) VANDEN HEUVEL: I challenge you...

COULTER: ... we got to see it...

VANDEN HEUVEL: I challenge you...

COULTER: It can't just be Katrina...


VANDEN HEUVEL: I challenge you...

COULTER: ... saying corrupt, corrupt, corrupt...

VANDEN HEUVEL: I challenge you to...


VANDEN HEUVEL: I challenge you...

KING: One at a time.

VANDEN HEUVEL: I challenge you to support Representative Meehan's curbing of lobbyists, special interests and also the recent legislation...


COULTER: ... belongs to the party that didn't even have a rule...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: ... in a leadership if you were indicted...


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Why is that Congressman...

KING: If you like the bill, wouldn't you...

COULTER: I don't know what the bill is, but I'm suspicious of a party that didn't...


COULTER: ... didn't even have a rule...

MEEHAN: I'll send it. I'll send it...

COULTER: ... that its leadership could be indicted...

KING: OK. Congressman...

(CROSSTALK) KING: Send the bill to Ann, because what she is, is she said tonight, if she likes it, she will support it even if Hillary proposed it.

COULTER: Even if Hillary proposed it.

MEEHAN: Larry, I think the American people deserve better than leaders who are under the cloud of suspicion...

KING: Just a cloud?

MEEHAN: A cloud of suspicion...


MEEHAN: We need to...


MEEHAN: We need to get headed in a different direction.

KING: All right...

MEEHAN: ... and it starts with real lobbying reform and ethic reform...

ROS-LEHTINEN: And Larry, let me just tell you that our Republican Party is more than just Tom DeLay. I support Tom DeLay. I believe that anyone is innocent until proven guilty...


ROS-LEHTINEN: ... but we've got a great leadership team and we've got far more...

COULTER: It's not much without Tom DeLay, which is why they're after him...


KING: We're out of time. Thanks girls.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: That's right. That's right.

KING: We will do this some more, I think.

Thank you all very much for a sprightly discussion on a topic that ain't going away.

Speaking of ain't going away, Anderson Cooper and Aaron Brown are the dynamic duo forjon (ph). Here they are again at the top of the hour. Aaron in New York and Anderson somewhere -- Aaron.