A Moral Indictment, by Ronnie EarleNY Times Op-Ed, November 23, 2004
Austin, Tex. — It is a rare day when members of the United States Congress try to read the minds of the members of a grand jury in Travis County, Tex. Apparently Tom DeLay's colleagues expect him to be indicted.
Last week Congressional Republicans voted to change their rule that required an indicted leader to relinquish his post. They were responding to an investigation by the Travis County grand jury into political contributions by corporations that has already resulted in the indictments of three associates of Mr. DeLay, the House majority leader.
Yet no member of Congress has been indicted in the investigation, and none is a target unless he or she has committed a crime. The grand jury will continue its work, abiding by the rule of law. That law requires a grand jury of citizens, not the prosecutor, to determine whether probable cause exists to hold an accused person to answer for the accusation against him or her.
Politicians in Congress are responsible for the leaders they choose. Their choices reflect their moral values.
Every law enforcement officer depends on the moral values and integrity of society for backup; they are like body armor. The cynical destruction of moral values at the top makes it hard for law enforcement to do its job.
In terms of moral values, this is where the rubber meets the road. The rules you apply to yourself are the true test of your moral values.
The thinly veiled personal attacks on me by Mr. DeLay's supporters in this case are no different from those in the cases of any of the 15 elected officials this office has prosecuted in my 27-year tenure. Most of these officials - 12 Democrats and three Republicans - have accused me of having political motives. What else are they going to say?
For most of my tenure the Democrats held the power in state government. Now Republicans do. Most crimes by elected officials involve the abuse of power; you have to have power before you can abuse it.
There is no limit to what you can do if you have the power to change the rules. Congress may make its own rules, but the public makes the rule of law, and depends for its peace on the enforcement of the law. Hypocrisy at the highest levels of government is toxic to the moral fiber that holds our communities together.
The open contempt for moral values by our elected officials has a corrosive effect. It is a sad day for law enforcement when Congress offers such poor leadership on moral values and ethical behavior. We are a moral people, and the first lesson of democracy is not to hold the public in contempt.
Ronnie Earle is the district attorney for Travis County, Tex.