Did Republicans Abuse Power By Calling in FAA, HSD?
The Texas Department of Public Safety has destroyed all the
records, but the feds have copies. And they have tapes. Lots of
tapes. Together, the records and tapes could become the basis of a
federal investigation into whether the speaker of the Texas House
and the Majority Leader of the US House of Representatives
illegally pulled strings in Washington to track down a single Piper
Cheyenne for political - not national security - purposes.
The controversy, which
began earlier this month (ANN: May 19,2003 -
Texas GOP Calls HSD To Find 'Missing' Democrat's
Plane), began when Congressman Tom DeLay (R-TX,
right), the House Majority Leader, sent a congressional
redistricting map to Austin. Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick, a
Republican, dutifully set aside other matters on the state house
agenda and made DeLay's plan a priority. Democrats, although few in
number, were incensed. Knowing they didn't have the votes to
prevent the second redistricting plan in as many legislative
sessions, they bolted.
State Representative Pete Laney (D-Hale Center, TX) was one of
the 53 Democrats to bolt from Austin. While most left in two buses
headed for Ardmore (OK), Laney flew some state representatives and
staff members from Georgetown (TX), near the state capitol, to
Ardmore (OK), where they hid out in a Holiday Inn Hotel. In doing
so, they prevented the House from reaching a quorum and, in effect,
scuttled DeLay's redistricting plan. But it's what Texas House
Speaker Craddick did to track down Laney that has him - and DeLay -
engine-out on short final.
The Search For Killer D's: Abuse Of Power?
When the rebel Democrats - dubbed the Killer D's by the Austin
media - didn't show up for work May 12th, Craddick locked those who
did in the House chambers and began a desperate manhunt for the
renegades. The DPS set up a command post next to Craddick's
statehouse office. Not long after that, they got a tip that Laney's
Cheyenne was being used to ferry Killer D's out of Austin. But they
didn't know where the flights were headed. As soon as they found
out, Craddick hoped to send Texas Rangers and DPS troopers to scoop
them up and bring them back to the state capitol by force.
right) sent highway patrol cars screaming over to the airport in
Georgetown - where they found nothing. That's when he apparently
called DeLay in Washington and DeLay went to work as well.
Last week, for the first time, DeLay admitted he called both the
Department of Justice and the FAA, hoping to track down Laney's
aircraft. But DeLay, one of the most powerful Republicans in
Washington, insists his office did nothing wrong in trying to help
Craddick achieve a quorum.
"I think Craddick was telling me he had spoken to the US
Attorney and that the US Attorney was going to check" on whether
Justice resources, including the FBI and the US Marshals, could be
brought to bear in the Killer D hunt, said DeLay. "Could I check
with the Department of Justice so he (Craddick) would know what to
say to the US attorney when he called him back? I checked. There's
nothing they can do. What role could the FBI, what role could the
US Marshals play, role role could Justice play? I was quickly
informed there was no role."
But DeLay wasn't finished yet. "I asked a staffer to contact the
FAA for publicly available information that any member of Congress
gets from the FAA, or you can get it off the internet," he told
reporters from Texas on Capitol Hill Thursday. Specifically, DeLay
said he instructed the staffer to locate "a certain plane with a
certain tail number." In other words, where was Laney's Cheyenne in
real-time? The answer: Not in the air. DeLay passed the information
on to one of Craddick's aides back in Austin.
Destruction of Documents
DeLay said the information was relayed
back to Craddick's office in Washington. But that apparently didn't
stop Craddick from attempting to use federal resources to track
down Laney and the Killer D's. Apparently, at his instruction, the
DPS had, in the meantime, instructed one unnamed trooper to contact
the Air and Marine Interdiction Center in Riverside (CA), a
division of the new Homeland Security Department, initiating a
nationwide hunt for Laney's Piper. "From all indications, this
request . . . was an urgent plea for assistance from a law
enforcement agency trying to locate a missing, lost or possibly
crashed aircraft," said the Bureau of Immigration and Customs
Enforcement, which runs the Interdiction Center, in a written
statement to the Austin Statesman-American.
Homeland Security spread the net, calling FAA offices around the
region and perhaps doing more. But they came up empty handed. An
Interdiction Center staff member called the Texas trooper back and
suggested that he initiate lost-aircraft procedures by contacting
the FAA. There is no indication at this point the trooper made such
a call. Three days after the Killer D's skipped the state, as
Democrats across the country demand an investigation into what they
say was a blatant abuse of federal authority by Texas Republicans,
the DPS began destroying evidence gathered in its hunt for the
An internal Department of Public Safety E-mail distributed to
top DPS investigators told them: "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. Any questions please contact me." L.C. "Tony"
Marshall, commander of the DPS Special Crimes Service, signed the
Let The Investigations Begin
That set off an ongoing grand
jury probe by the Travis County (TX) district attorney's office
into whether the destruction of evidence was legal - especially
given its controversial nature. District Attorney Ronnie Earle says
his office is "examining the circumstances surrounding the
destruction of (DPS) records. The questions (being asked) include
what records were destroyed, under what authority and why the
records were destroyed so quickly."
The DPS issued a statement Wednesday saying the records were
ordered destroyed because federal regulations prohibit troopers
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 DPS statement said, adding
that retaining the information could have subjected the agency to a
Is that really the case?
The firestorm over whether Craddick and the DPS misused federal
resources in the hunt for Laney's Cheyenne is now red-hot in both
Austin and Washington. State Rep. Kevin Bailey (D-Houston, right)
said the law cited in the DPS statement was blatently misapplied.
"This investigation to find us ... should not have fallen under
that criteria. So it raises questions again as to why that evidence
was destroyed when there is no state law that I'm aware of that
mandates the destruction of that information and keeps us
wondering, keeps people wondering: Is there something to hide?" he
To that, DPS Administrator Caskey replied, "In compliance with
the rules and regulations we do this every day."
Another Texas Democrat, Waco Rep. Jim Dunnam, head of the House
Democratic Caucus and one of the leaders who organized the walkout,
said, "We need to find out what happened and why. It may well be
that they have a simple explanation, but to this point, what they
have apparently done, and not answering questions about it, makes
the whole thing very disturbing."
"Misuse of federal law enforcement agencies for domestic
political purposes. Sounds like Watergate in 1974 and Richard
Nixon, doesn't it?," said Rep. Chet Edwards (D-Waco).
A Texas court has now ordered the DPS to preserve all records
pertaining to the involvement of state and federal resources in the
hunt of the Killer D's. All records left after the destruction
order was given to troopers, that is.
Ridge: Criminal Investigation Could Be On The Way
In Washington, Transportation
Secretary Norman Mineta has now ordered the FAA to investigate
whether its resources were misapplied in the hunt for the renegade
Texas Democrats. It's the second federal investigation ordered by a
top Bush Administration official. HSD Secretary Tom Ridge (right)
refused reporters' requests Thursday for transcripts and audio
tapes of operations initiated after the Texas DPS asked for help in
locating Laney's aircraft.
"This is now potentially a criminal investigation," Ridge
DeLay and Craddick continue to insist there was no misuse of
federal resources and no wrongdoing in the hunt for the Killer D's.
“In their desperation, liberal Democrats invented and peddled
a story that I debunked,” DeLay said in a statement
Caskey chose to not to talk with reporters as he left the Travis
County Grand Jury Thursday afternoon. "It is illegal for me to talk
to you." When asked if that was on advice of his attorney, he
replied: "No, orders from the grand jury. I can't tell you
Craddick, serving his first term as Texas House Speaker, said
Friday that, even though the DPS command post was set up next to
his statehouse office - even though he admits to coordinating the
search for Killer D's with DPS troopers, "I don't know what their
procedures are or what, you know, what their rules are over there.
I think it's not appropriate for me to comment on what the DPS did
or didn't do. There is no conspiracy here."
Calling the DPS "a highly respected police agency," Craddick
said, "I'm afraid that those who are pursuing a conspiracy are
drilling a dry well."