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US House of Representatives Name Temporary Leader Following DeLay Indictment

Republicans in the House of Representatives have appointed new leadership after their majority leader, Congressman Tom DeLay, stepped down after being indicted by a grand jury in his home state of Texas. Mr. DeLay is vowing to fight the indictment.

Tom DeLay, a close political ally of President Bush, is the second most powerful member of the House of Representatives, and known as a tough political fighter for President Bush and the Republican agenda in Congress.

But he has been mired in controversy amid an ongoing investigation in Texas involving political campaign financing.

The indictment by a grand jury in Texas charges Mr. DeLay with one count of conspiracy involving use of corporate money by a political action committee he helped form with two associates.

A defiant Mr. DeLay went before reporters packed into his office to condemn what he calls an abusive and politically inspired investigation by Ronnie Earle, a district attorney who is a Democrat. Mr. DeLay says he has not done anything wrong.

"Now, let me be very, very clear. I have done nothing wrong," said Mr. Delay. "I have violated no law, no regulation, no rule of the House. I have done nothing unlawful, unethical or I might add, unprecedented, even in the political campaigns of Mr. Earle himself. My defense in this case will not be technical or legalistic. It will be categorical and absolute. I am innocent. Mr. Earle and his staff know it. And I will prove it.

The indictment, culminating months of speculation about what the Texas grand jury might do, has broader implications for Republicans who have faced continuous criticism from opposition Democrats who accuse the majority of running Congress unethically.

Mr. DeLay, along with House Republican Speaker Dennis Hastert, are key players in moving President Bush's agenda through the House.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush believes the legal process should be allowed to run its course and had this statement.

"Congressman DeLay is a good ally, a leader, who we have worked closely with to get things done for the American people," said Mr. McClellan.

Democrats immediately jumped on the DeLay indictment as proof of what one lawmaker called "another chink in the Republican armor of corruption."

Mr. DeLay told reporters he intends to concentrate on the president's agenda, while battling the latest in what he calls a string of false and frivolous allegations against him.

"My job right now is to serve my constituents and our nation in support of this ambitious and needed agenda," he added. "As for the charges, I have the facts, the law and the truth on my side."

House Republicans rallied around Mr. DeLay, predicting he will be cleared, and return as Majority Leader.

Congressman Roy Blunt, who was elected late Wednesday as Mr. DeLay's temporary replacement, expressed full confidence in him.

"I think largely because of his effectiveness as a leader he became a target [of Democrats]," he said. "We all believe he will return once this indictment is out of the way, to be the leader again."

Mr. DeLay will retain his seat in Congress representing his Texas district, as the legal process plays out.

Conviction on the felony charge of conspiracy carries as much as two years in jail.