By David Hill - 10/05/05 12:00 AM EDT
Democrats grilling John Roberts in recent weeks seemed to think everything in his past record mattered, even actions and statements decades old. They’ll doubtless probe Harriett Miers’s distant past with the same intensity.
It will be interesting to see whether they take the same stance when it comes to evaluating the past record and integrity of Ronnie Earle, the Democratic Texas prosecutor trying to railroad former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas).
Earle may be a reformed man these days. I don’t know. But what I do know about him from the 1980s doesn’t engender confidence.
Democrats and Republicans alike seem most inclined to debate whether Earle is a partisan when enforcing Texas’s public-integrity laws. Democrats like to point out Earle has prosecuted more Democrats than Republicans. Republicans like to point to several trumped-up and failed cases against Republicans.
But, from what I know about Earle, partisanship is a lesser sin. Simple honesty and integrity seem to have been the greater challenge in his life.
Some Democrats have deduced that Earle’s true past may soon come to light and have started moving from claims about his nonpartisanship to attestations of his character. A Dec. 3, 2004, article in The Christian Science Monitor described Earle as a “Boy Scout” who “has always exhibited a strong moral streak.” That characterization may be true lately, but the past record doesn’t vouch for those conclusions.
I learned about Earle while consulting for a Republican candidate, Shane Phelps, who dared run against him in 1996. Because Austin and surrounding Travis County was then, and still is, a liberal Democratic kingdom, Phelps’s campaign was unsuccessful. But we built an opposition-research file on Earle that was disturbing. In fact, Earle’s file suggested to me that he was the most corrupt and immoral individual I had ever scrutinized in the course of politics.
The most damning evidence was in a file documenting the 1984 dismissal of a criminal investigator in Earle’s office. The key document is a transcript of a July 16, 1984, interview that Texas Ranger Ron Stewart conducted with Earle employee Joe Dale Morris.
According to a Feb. 1, 1985, article in the Dallas Morning News, Morris was forced to resign after that interview for purportedly aiding state and federal agents who were probing Earle’s operation. I can see how Earle would not have cared for the interview.
Morris’s testimony is shocking. Describing the probe of a deaf-school administrator, he quotes one source, former County Attorney Margaret Moore, as telling him, “I can’t get any cooperation out [of] Ronnie Earle or Steve McCleery. McCleery is an idiot, and Earle’s up on dope all the time.”
Morris also confesses to exploding in anger and rage in Earle’s office when he learned that public-corruption cases involving two law-enforcement officers had been dismissed. He also describes how Earle failed to prosecute other cases, even when Morris had extracted confessions. Says Morris, “I have to control my temper, but those jackasses down there are so damn crooked.”
At one point, the ranger asks Morris: “Is there anything that you know whereby that some things were actually covered up and were not given to either an investigative grand jury, the facts were not related or someone said we’re just not, we’re gonna hold this back, we’re not going to permit this information to be aired? And I’m talking about obstruction of justice is what I’m talking about.”
Morris responds simply: “The answer to your question is yes. And I have in my possession the information that was caused to be destroyed.” Morris then goes on with the details.
Later in the interview, Morris titillates with tales of Earle’s alleged use of drugs, illicit sex and misuse of official automobiles and expense accounts.
Even if one-tenth of his charges are true, we shouldn’t trust Earle to prosecute anyone.
Hill is director of Hill Research Consultants, a Texas-based firm that has polled for GOP candidates and causes since 1988.