The leader of the Republican majority in the U.S. House of Representatives, Tom DeLay, is stepping down from his leadership position after being indicted on a criminal conspiracy charge by a grand jury in the state of Texas. House Republicans will now have to temporarily appoint a new leader, as Mr. DeLay vows to fight what he calls a politically inspired vendetta.

Mr.DeLay calls his indictment part of a campaign of political vengeance by a Texas district attorney with the help of other Democrats.

"This act is the product of a coordinated, pre-meditated campaign of political retribution, the all too predictable result of a vengeful investigation led by a partisan fanatic," he said.

Mr. DeLay has been mired in controversy amid an ongoing investigation in Texas involving political campaign financing.

He is charged with one count of conspiracy involving the use of corporate money by a political action committee he formed with two associates.

Republican rules require anyone under indictment to temporarily step down from their leadership position in the congress.

At the White House, spokesman Scott McClellan said President Bush still considers Mr. DeLay a good ally and a friend, saying the legal process should be allowed to run its course.

Democrats quickly jumped on the indictment as what they call the latest example of unethical behavior by Republicans.