AUSTIN, Texas -- Rep. Tom DeLay appeared in court as a criminal defendant for the first time Friday, listening while his lawyer pointedly asked the presiding judge to step aside for making campaign donations to Democrats and their liberal allies.
In a hearing that lasted less than five minutes, Judge Bob Perkins deferred further proceedings until a hearing can be held on the congressman's re-quest for a new judge. DeLay will have a chance to plead innocent inside a courtroom later, and he made his claim vigorously Friday outside the state Capitol.
"I will be exonerated," the Texas Republican said, following with blistering criticism of prosecutor Ronnie Earle. The appearance came one day after DeLay was booked and photographed at a county jail.
The former Republican leader, charged with conspiracy and money laundering in a campaign finance case, smiled occasionally as he sat alongside his wife Christine in the courtroom. He did not speak during the brief session that at times appeared more like a campaign debate than a legal proceeding.
DeLay's favorable rating plummeted to 18 percent in the latest CNN-USA Today-Gallup poll -- down from 27 percent in May.
In court Friday, rather than the corporate donations DeLay is accused of illegally funneling to candidates, defense lawyer Dick DeGuerin made an issue of the $3,400 in political donations the judge has made to Democratic causes, including one to a group critical of DeLay and Republicans.
"I noticed yesterday MoveOn.org, to which you have contributed, was selling T-shirts with Mr. Delay's mugshot on it," DeGuerin said, referring to the liberal interest group and the picture of a smiling DeLay taken Thursday.
Perkins shot back.
"Let me just say I haven't ever seen that T-shirt, number one," the judge said. "Number two, I haven't bought it. Number three, the last time I contributed to MoveOn that I know of was prior to the November election last year, when they were primarily helping Sen. (John) Kerry."