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Texas Senator Indicted on Official Misconduct Charges

By Karen Tumulty and Lianne Hart
Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON

Less than four months after her record-breaking election victory, Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, was indicted Monday on felony charges of official misconduct and ordering Texas state employees to destroy evidence.

Hutchison was accused of using state employees and state facilities to conduct her personal and political business in 1991 and 1992, while she was state treasurer, then ordering that computer records of the alleged misconduct be destroyed after an investigation began.

Also indicted in Austin, Texas, were two of her former aides, Michael Barron, who was deputy state treasurer, and David Criss, who was her planning director.

Hutchison, 50, denied that she had engaged in any improper activity and said that the indictment is "merely another chapter in the sleazy campaign tactics employed by Democrats during the U.S. Senate campaign this year."

Hutchison was elected in June to fill the Senate seat that had been held for more than two decades by Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen, a Democrat.

Combining feminism with conservatism, she trounced Democrat Bob Krueger, who had been appointed to fill the vacancy six months earlier, by a better than two-to-one margin -- the largest any Senate challenger had ever racked up against an incumbent.

The indictment throws into question whether Hutchison and the Republicans will be able to hold the seat next year, when she will be at the top of the state ticket in her bid to be elected to her first full term.

It is far from clear how strong her opposition will be.

Some Democrats are hoping that Hutchison's possible vulnerability might induce a political superstar, such as Gov. Ann Richards or Housing Secretary Henry Cisneros, into the race.

The indictment did not describe Hutchison's alleged offenses in detail. However, state records examined by the Houston Chronicle indicated that Hutchison used state employees for nongovernmental activities that ranged from coordinating her political schedule to planning her Christmas vacation in Colorado to writing thank-you notes.

Speaking with reporters, the senator said that she did not ask state employees to do anything that was illegal or "out of the ordinary."

"I did not go to a pay phone down the hall to return personal phone calls," she insisted, but added: "I really did everything I could do to separate the state and nonstate business."

John M. Dowd, her Washington lawyer, called the charges "vague and mushy" and said that he plans to meet next week with a Texas judge to have a trial scheduled as soon as possible.

"We're very anxious to get to trial and take it on," he said.

The indictment culminates months of feuding between the senator and Travis County District Attorney Ronnie Earle, a prominent Democrat.

Earle denied Hutchison's contention that the indictment was politically motivated. "This is a somber occasion for all of us but our duty and that of the grand jury is clear," he said in a statement issued by his office.

The Travis County grand jury charged Hutchison with three counts of official misconduct, two of which are second-degree felonies and one of which is a Class A misdemeanor. The most serious of the charges carries a possible penalty of as many as 20 years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.