Texas Agents Destroy Rebellion Records
By Kelley Shannon
The Associated Press
AUSTIN, Texas - A commander with the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered the destruction of all documents and photographs gathered in the search for the Democratic state legislators who fled to Oklahoma to block a congressional redistricting bill.
The order was issued via e-mail on May 14, a day before the Democrats ended their boycott and returned to Texas, DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said.
Meanwhile, congressional Democrats on the House floor in Washington pushed for more information Wednesday from the Homeland Security Department on its role in the search.
The DPS issued a statement Wednesday saying it destroyed the records because federal regulations prohibit it from keeping intelligence information that is not part of a criminal case.
"This was not a criminal matter, so we could not legally maintain that information," the department said, adding that retaining the information could have subjected the DPS to a $10,000 fine.
But state Rep. Kevin Bailey, the Democratic chairman of the House General Investigating Committee, said it appears that is true only for a federal investigation or an investigation funded by federal money.
"This investigation to find us ... should not have fallen under that criteria," Bailey said. He said the destruction "keeps people wondering: Is there something to hide?"
In Washington, some Democrats accused Republicans of using tax-supported, anti-terrorism agencies for political purposes.
"Misuse of federal law enforcement agencies for domestic political purposes. Sounds like Watergate in 1974 and Richard Nixon, doesn't it?" asked Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas. "The silence of Republican leadership and Majority Leader Tom DeLay on these abuses is deafening."
DeLay said on Wednesday he would not comment on "false accusations."
Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge said Tuesday he would review a decision to withhold information about his agency's involvement.
The Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, part of the Homeland Security Department, has said it responded to a request to help track the plane of state Rep. Pete Laney when he and other Democrats did not show up for the Texas House session May 12. The customs agency said a DPS official made it seem as if the plane might have crashed.
More than 50 Democratic legislators left the state before the scheduled May 12 redistricting debate and stayed at a Holiday Inn in Ardmore, Okla. They did not return to Texas until after the May 15 deadline for passage of House bills.
Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick ordered state troopers to find the lawmakers and bring them back to Austin so a quorum could be achieved in the House and the GOP-backed redistricting bill could be debated.
On Wednesday, Craddick said he had no knowledge of the DPS document destruction.
"I don't know what their procedures are or what, you know, what their rules are over there," Craddick said. "I think it's not appropriate for me to comment on what the DPS did or didn't do."
The DPS order was first reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which obtained the e-mail Tuesday under the Texas Public Information Act.
The e-mail, sent to captains in the agency's Special Crimes Service, stated: "Any notes, correspondence, photos, etc. that were obtained pursuant to the absconded House of Representative members shall be destroyed immediately. No copies are to be kept." L.C. Marshall, commander of the DPS Special Crimes Service, signed the order.
No one in state government outside the DPS ordered or suggested that the search documents be destroyed, Vinger said.
Texas law generally requires that records be kept for a period of time, but it was unclear how those guidelines applied in this case. A spokeswoman for GOP Attorney General Greg Abbott said it would be a crime to destroy records that had been requested under the Texas Open Records Act.
Three Democratic state representatives filed a request Monday for all documents about DPS involvement in the search. However, it was not clear if any requests were made before the records were destroyed.