After five-year wait, DeLay finally gets his day in court

The former Republican congressional leader Tom DeLay, one of the most polarising politicians during the George W Bush administration, is getting his day in court, five years after being charged with illegally funnelling corporate money to help elect Republicans to the Texas legislature.

Mr DeLay was once one of the most powerful Republicans in Congress. As Majority Leader in the House of Representatives he earned the nickname "the Hammer" for his heavy-handed style in bringing recalcitrant Republicans into line for votes.

But the criminal charges in Texas, as well as a separate federal investigation of his ties to disgraced former lobbyist Jack Abramoff, forced Mr DeLay to step down as leader and eventually to resign, after representing suburban Houston for 22 years.

Jury selection began yesterday in Austin, and testimony is set to start next week. Mr DeLay has been pressing for a trial for years, but appeals of pre-trial rulings have slowed the case.

Defence attorney Dick DeGuerin said the "harshly drawn lines in politics today" could hamper the efforts to try Mr DeLay. "This is a highly charged political case, and my concern is Tom DeLay will be on trial for his politics and not whether he committed a crime," said Mr DeGuerin.

Mr DeLay is charged with money laundering and conspiracy to commit money laundering.

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