The Tomstown Tom-Toms

The DA snaps back at "harassment" by GOP attack dogs

The war of words between the Travis Co. district attorney and the subjects of the Tomstown investigations escalated last week, as DA Ronnie Earle used the occasion of his release of records requested by Texas Association of Business attorney Andy Taylor for a press conference broadside against what he called "just another stalling tactic." Earle said that Taylor's open-records requests, like that of state GOP Chair Tina Benkiser before it, were "not good faith requests" and that the documents released in response to them did not demonstrate that the DA's office has engaged either in leaks to the media or collaboration with partisan sources.

"This means that the two accusations that Taylor and Benkiser have leveled at my office are false," said Earle, asking for retractions. Earle declined to release certain documents that he said would compromise grand jury secrecy or would identify subjects of the investigations and has asked Attorney General Greg Abbott for an opinion on whether those documents can be withheld.

Taylor would not comment on the documents, saying he had not yet seen them, and he blasted Earle in turn for giving them first to the media. Taylor has consistently argued that the TAB ad campaign in the 2002 elections – credited with helping the GOP takeover of the Texas House – was protected by the First Amendment, and he told the Houston Chronicle that Earle's "persecution of the Texas Association of Business makes the Salem witch trials look fair by comparison." Earle described the open-records request as "harassment," allowing "Taylor and his corporate clients to hypocritically complain that this investigation is taking too long. We fully expect more of this abusive behavior."

Meanwhile, on the civil lawsuit front, as expected Tom DeLay aide Jim Ellis, one-time top hand for Texans for a Republican Majority PAC, filed a brief fighting his compelled return to Texas as a defendant in litigation filed by a group of defeated 2002 Democratic House candidates. Ellis – who was also DeLay's Austin liaison throughout last year's prolonged re-redistricting fight – says his time in Texas for TRMPAC was not sufficiently extensive to make him liable for claims of violation of the state's campaign finance laws.

For his part, DeLay is now insisting that he does not expect to be indicted in the grand jury investigation, following published reports last week that he might have to step down from his post as majority leader and that he recently met with Houston-area supporters and discussed the potential need for a legal defense fund. DeLay denied an earlier Houston Chronicle report quoting a campaign donor – "even though he gives me money, [he] does not exactly support me" – and denounced Earle's investigation as a "partisan witch hunt" in retribution for redistricting.

"I'm trying to think what interest I have in redistricting," Earle told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram. "That's the silliest thing I've ever heard."

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Ronnie Earle, Tomstown, Texas Association of Business, TRMPAC, Jim Ellis, Tom DeLay, Andy Taylor

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