Report: Agency destroyed search records

May 21, 2003 at 1:12 PM
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FORT WORTH, Texas, May 21 (UPI) -- Texas' top law enforcement agency destroyed records of its search for 51 maverick Democrats a day before the rebels ended a 4-day boycott that killed a Republican-backed redistricting bill, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Wednesday.

The search for the rebel House Democrats is the focus of state and federal investigations because of allegations by Democrats that home security and law enforcement resources might have been abused. The Democrats holed up in an Ardmore, Okla., motel until the redistricting bill died.

A May 14 message obtained by the Star-Telegram through the Texas Open Records Act stated: "Any notes, correspondence, photos, etc. that were obtained pursuant to the absconded House of Representatives members shall be destroyed immediately. No copies are to be kept."

Tom Vinger, a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, told the newspaper the search was complete and there was no reason to retain the records because it was not a criminal investigation. Asked if they were destroyed, he said, "To the best of my knowledge, yeah."

House Speaker Tom Craddick, R-Midland, ordered the DPS to find the absent Democrats and return them to the house so there would be a quorum, which was allowed under house rules. The Democrats were in Oklahoma by then, however, out of the jurisdiction of the Texas troopers.

Texas Democrats in Congress asked for an investigation because they said a federal home security agency was used for partisan state political purposes. The DPS contacted the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordinator Center for help in tracking the plane of state Rep. Pete Laney, D-Hale Center, one of the maverick Democrats and a former house speaker.

The Riverside, Calif.-based center, a division of the Homeland Security Department, said last week that it became involved when it received a call from the DPS indicating that Laney's plane might have gone down. The agency could not find the plane, which was later located at the Ardmore airport.

In Washington on Tuesday, Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge was pressed by Rep. Jim Turner, D-Texas, to release a full transcript of the DPS call to the federal interdiction center. His request came at a meeting of the House Select Committee on Homeland Security.

Ridge said the tape could not be released because it was part of an independent investigation within the department.

"The Congress of the United States said under circumstances like this, we think it's best you use the inspector general," he said. "And that's precisely what we did."

Topics: Tom Ridge
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