"This is an abuse of power," Tom DeLay said Wednesday after an Austin jury found him guilty of politically inspired money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.
"It's a miscarriage of justice. I still maintain my innocence. The criminalization of politics undermines our very system."
It's odd that he would put it that way, given that criminalization of politics is exactly what the jury said he did. Perhaps he misspoke -- he was under a great deal of stress at the time, facing huge fines and possible prison time.
The former U.S. House majority leader and power broker from Sugar Land has maintained that the charges against him were politically motivated, and he vowed to continue fighting on appeal. He's entitled to that.
The verdict came more than five years after DeLay was indicted for his actions in helping the campaigns of seven Republicans running for the Texas House in 2002. Six of them were elected, helping the GOP achieve its first majority in that body since Reconstruction.
The Legislature, with DeLay's guidance, then pushed through a redistricting plan that helped Texas Republicans gain more seats in Congress.
Gerrymandering of voting districts for political advantage is wrong. It's distasteful. It's a deliberate distortion of the electoral process. But it is not illegal -- sadly, it's even expected as a way for the party in power to maintain or increase its power.
But the case against DeLay was not about redistricting. It was about money and the way he used money in the political process.
He didn't dispute most of what prosecutors said he did. He and his attorney, Dick DeGuerin of Houston, built their defense on a claim that what he did simply was not wrong -- that it was politics as usual, happens all the time.
So when DeLay decried "the criminalization of politics" after the verdict came in, he was saying that it's wrong to accuse someone of a criminal act for doing something that's accepted in the world of politics.
Doesn't that sort of thinking undermine our legal system? Does the fact that politics is a dirty business really mean that anything goes as long as the people doing it believe that their actions are justified?
Money laundering is a crime. If it were not, crooks of many sorts could find ways to enjoy their ill-gotten gains without a care. Likewise, conspiracy to commit a crime is a crime in itself.
A century-old Texas law prohibits corporations from donating money, directly or indirectly, to political campaigns.
DeLay and his associates (two of them are awaiting trial) were accused of funneling $190,000 in corporate donations to the Republican National Committee and guiding RNC officials to send exactly that same amount from a separate, noncorporate account to the seven Texas House candidates.
There was no crime, DeGuerin argued, because no corporate money went to candidates.
There was a question about whether DeLay knew about the money swap before one of his aides carried it out, but he had told prosecutors in 2005 that he did.
The jury of six men and six women deliberated 19 hours over three days before reaching its unanimous verdict. During those deliberations, the jurors asked several questions of Judge Pat Priest, indicating they were taking their job seriously and examining the evidence carefully.
In his 20 years in the U.S. House, DeLay became known as the Hammer because of his without-restraint political style. After his trial, he expressed concern for the political system as he practiced it.
What has happened to DeLay is an example of this state and nation attempting to hold that political system responsible to the legal system.