- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 17, 2003


Investigators found no wrongdoing by a Department of Homeland Security agency that helped Texas police track down the private plane of a state legislator who fled the state with other Democrats to paralyze the Texas Legislature.

The department’s inspector general concluded in a report released yesterday that a dispatcher at the California-based Air and Marine Interdiction Coordination Center made eight phone calls that took no more than 40 minutes to track down a Piper Cheyenne belonging to state Rep. Pete Laney, a Democrat.

Mr. Laney flew to Ardmore, Okla., last month to prevent a vote on a congressional redistricting bill in the Texas House. Fifty other Democrats also fled the state, most spending several days at a Holiday Inn in Ardmore.

The investigators said that help given to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) had “no reducible effect” on the center’s mission.

“This is a nominal use of [Department of Homeland Security] resources,” the investigators said.

Democrats have been urging Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge to release transcripts of the conversations between the center and the department. They have accused U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay and other Republicans of using the agency for political purposes. Mr. DeLay has said he did not contact the agency.

“What do the Democrats say now about their lies?” said DeLay spokesman Jonathan Grella.

In Austin, Bob Richter, a spokesman for House Speaker Tom Craddick, said the findings were “what we expected all along.”

The investigators’ findings are “yet another authority, concluding that there were no inappropriate actions taken” in the attempt to round up the Democrats, said Kathy Walt, spokeswoman for Gov. Rick Perry.

Center staffers say the Texas DPS called on May 12 requesting for help in finding an aircraft “believed to be overdue.” The center told investigators they average 30 to 40 calls a day requesting assistance from individuals, localities and states.

“We had a plane that was supposedly to be going from Ardmore, Okla., to Georgetown, Texas. It had state representatives in it and we cannot find this plane,” the DPS told the center, according to the redacted transcript.

The agency said it blacked out names of employees and other information for privacy reasons, but Lt. Will Crais of DPS is identified as a caller to the center in a transcript released by the department.

The center’s operations manual says it will help federal, state and local law-enforcement agencies for humanitarian efforts if it has the resources, the report said.

Revelations that the antiterrorism agency had assisted in the search prompted a string of letters from Democrats in Congress.

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