Democratic Party Chairman Howard Dean extended the American tradition of presumption of innocence to terror kingpin Osama bin Laden, but reiterated today that Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay – who has neither been indicted nor convicted – is “guilty.”

On Saturday, in an address to the Massachusetts Democratic Convention, Dean said DeLay ”ought to go back to Houston where he can serve his jail sentence,” referring to allegations of unethical conduct against the GOP leader.

Today, the Democratic chief reiterated his comments – which were condemned by Rep. Barney Frank, D-Mass. – telling the Arizona Republic: “There’s corruption at the highest level of the Republican Party, and they’re going to have to face up to that one of these days, because the law is closing in on Tom DeLay.

“I think he’s guilty … of taking trips paid for by lobbyists, and of campaign-finance violations during his manipulation of the Texas election process.”

Though Dean has already convicted DeLay and figuratively sent him to jail, during last year’s presidential campaign, the former Vermont governor made it a point to give bin Laden, the most wanted terrorist on the planet, the benefit of the doubt.

“I’ve resisted pronouncing a sentence before guilt is found,” Dean said during the 2004 Democratic primary campaign. “I still have this old-fashioned notion that even with people like Osama, who is very likely to be found guilty, we should do our best not to, in positions of executive power, not to prejudge jury trials.”

Frank said of Dean’s DeLay comment: “I think it was inappropriate. I’m a great critic of Tom DeLay’s … but to say that he’s a criminal, at this point there’s no basis for that.”

DeLay could be criminally charged in Texas in relation to the use of campaign funds for shaping the state’s congressional districts to favor Republicans. Three of his associates have been indicted in that case. Another shadow over DeLay involves lobbyist Jack Abramoff allegedly paying the cost of overseas trips he arranged for the Republican leader and others.

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