DeLay Details Role in DPS' Hunt for Democrats
By Todd J. Gillman and Pete Slover
The Dallas Morning News
Friday 23 May 2003
He says his staff asked FAA officials to find Laney's plane
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 enforcement resources.
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 records.
"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 good faith.
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 inspector general.
"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 committee room.
A surveillance camera showed that Frost aide leaving the room with documents.