Texas House Democrats Cry Foul

Texas House Democrats wave to supporters gathered on the south steps of the Capitol in Austin, Texas Friday, May 16, 2003. The Democrats, who have been in Oklahoma since Monday in order to prevent quorum in the House and stop a controversial redistricting bill, were welcomed home after their arrival early Friday morning. AP

Rebel Texas House Democrats are back from their self-imposed exile in Oklahoma that killed a GOP redistricting bill.

But a mystery deepens over whether Republican House Speaker Tom Craddick and the Texas Department of Public Safety called the Customs control center in California into searching for the plane belonging to the leader of the boycotting Democrats -- a request that left the impression the plane was in trouble.

"I don't know the procedures of the DPS," Craddick told CBS' Bob McNamara. "I don't know what they can do, can't do, should do, shouldn't do."

But what the Texas Department of Public Safety did do was order all its records in the search for the Democrats destroyed.

An e-mail addressed to "Captains" says "any notes, correspondence, photo's etc that were obtained pursuant to the absconded House of Representative members shall be destroyed immediately. No copies are to be kept."

"Why are they in such a hurry to get rid of this evidence? What is there that someone wants to hide? I think we need to find out," said Democrat state Rep. Kevin Bailey.

In response a Department of Public Safety statement said the records were destroyed because, "We are prohibited under the code of federal regulations from keeping intelligence information that is not related to criminal conduct or activity."

"I think anytime it looks like law enforcement is being manipulated, it's more than just a small problem," said former U.S. Attorney Tom Melsheimer.

Texas Congressional Democrats say it's more than a problem -- it's a coverup.

"More and more this situation is echoing the mistakes of Watergate," said Rep. Chet Edwards, D-Texas.

One Texan even suggested a possible coverup could go as high as U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay.

"Never known as "Timid Tom" it is time for Mr. DeLay to join us in getting immediate disclosure and end the stonewalling," said U.S Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas.

Though Majority Leader DeLay was an architect of the mortally wounded Texas redistricting plan., his office denied any role in helping find the missing Texas House democrats.

In the meantime, back in the Texas House, many of the promises of bi-partisanship after the runaway Democrats came back are all but forgotten.
  • Bootie Cosgrove-Mather

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