Under pressure from Democrats to detail his role in the hunt for Texas
lawmakers, U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay said Thursday that his
staff had asked the FAA to find former House Speaker Pete Laney's plane.
Meanwhile, a state judge ordered the Texas Department of Public Safety
not to destroy any more records about the search.
Mr. DeLay, a Republican from Sugar Land, previously had acknowledged
only asking the Department of Justice to clarify what role, if any,
federal law enforcement might appropriately play in forcing Democratic
state legislators back to Austin. He has said the request was made on
behalf of Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, who had ordered state police
to find and retrieve the Democratic House members who had fled Austin to
block Mr. DeLay's plan to redraw congressional lines.
Mr. DeLay said Thursday that his May 12 request for the whereabouts of
Mr. Laney's Piper Cheyenne went through ordinary Federal Aviation
Administration channels, and FAA officials later confirmed that anyone
armed with a tail number could have obtained the same information.
Mr. DeLay said that when an aide told him the plane was en route from
Ardmore, Okla., to an airport north of Austin, he passed the information
to Mr. Craddick.
"There's been no contact by me or anyone on my staff with the DPS or
anyone else involved in the investigation of trying to track down these
Moses Roses," he said, comparing the AWOL Democrat state lawmakers to
the only Texian to flee the Alamo.
Democrats assert that Mr. DeLay had directed – or at least inspired –
what they called a Watergate-like misuse of state and federal law
enforcement resources to settle a partisan feud, which he has denied.
They have also criticized the DPS for destroying all records of its
manhunt, questioning whether Mr. DeLay, Mr. Craddick or Gov. Rick Perry
had ordered or urged that agency to cover up an inappropriate use of law
Mr. DeLay dismissed the suggestion, saying he had nothing to do with it.
"Sounds like a bureaucratic screw-up to me," he said.
And he shrugged off the comparison to Watergate as partisan name-calling.
"It's typical," he said. "Doesn't bother me."
Mr. Craddick and Mr. Perry also have rejected the Democrats' assertions.
Late Thursday, a state judge in Austin issued a temporary order barring
the destruction of any more DPS records in the case, at the request of
state Rep. Lon Burnham, D-Fort Worth. Travis County District Attorney
Ronnie Earle said he had begun an inquiry into the destruction of
"The questions include what records were destroyed, under what authority
and why the records were destroyed so quickly. DPS is cooperating with
the inquiry," Mr. Earle said in a statement.
For more than a week, Democrats have demanded a full accounting of Mr.
DeLay's role in the hunt, alleging that as the mastermind of
redistricting, he also may have been urging state authorities to tap
federal homeland security resources to track the Democratic quorum-busters.
In the early hours of the search, a DPS lieutenant called a federal
Homeland Security Department agency that tracks terrorists and
smugglers, seeking the whereabouts of Mr. Laney's plane.
Late last week, Homeland Security officials released a partial
transcript of that call and said the DPS officer had misled them into
believing the plane had crashed.
Mr. DeLay distanced himself from that call and all other steps state
police took, though he praised the DPS for doing a "great job," saying,
"I wasn't involved in anything that was going on down there [in Austin]."
Democrats have demanded a full transcript of the DPS call, saying that
would illuminate whether federal authorities were misused or acted in
Thursday morning, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge, testifying
before the House Homeland Security Committee, again declined to release
that transcript, citing an internal investigation by the department's
"This is now potentially a criminal investigation. The tapes are part of
the evidentiary chain. We are involved in a criminal investigation
involving information and pieces of evidence that are not necessarily
available for public review right now," he said.
Ten Democratic members of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee have
written Mr. Ridge alleging that the document destruction amounted to an
obstruction of the Homeland Security Department's internal investigation
into the possible misuse of the nation's anti-terrorism assets.
Move called routine
In Austin and Washington, the political buzz continued over the DPS'
decision to destroy all records related to the hunt, a move the public
safety department said was required by federal privacy regulations.
Democratic Party officials handed out clippings of news stories about
the destruction, speaking in front of a large placard reading, "TEXANS
DESERVE THE TRUTH: WHAT DID THEY DO? WHEN DID THEY DO IT?"
The "they" referred to the state's entire Republican leadership, whom
Democratic Party Chairwoman Molly Beth Malcolm charged with "coming
clean" to another "they," the public.
"They deserve the tapes. They deserve the documents. Most of all, they
deserve a thorough, independent investigation of this scandal," she said.
A DPS spokesman said the document destruction was routine, ordered by
DPS brass without any consultation or input from politicians or anyone
else outside the agency.
The Texas Senate on Thursday voted down a measure to require the DPS to
retain investigative documents for 60 days, offered as an amendment to a
government reorganization bill.
In related matter, a DPS spokeswoman said a Travis County prosecutor has
told the DPS that there was insufficient evidence to press charges in
the reported theft of a GOP redistricting map. A Craddick aide said that
an aide to U.S. Rep. Martin Frost, D-Arlington, took draft redistricting
maps from his briefcase, which he had left unattended in a Capitol
A surveillance camera showed that Frost aide leaving the room with
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