- Associated Press - Friday, May 8, 2015

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) - The Texas Department of Public Safety has quietly begun interviewing state lawmakers, asking about a conservative group that sent shockwaves through the Legislature when it said it had secretly videotaped elected officials to try to capture them in embarrassing situations.

Texas Rangers could be seen late Friday questioning representatives individually outside the House chamber; it was unclear how many had to answer questions. Several lawmakers said they were aware that the officers were around to take statements but declined to provide details about what was asked.

Eastland Republican Rep. Jim Keffer confirmed that he had been questioned about people videotaping. He said he told investigators that he hadn’t been approached and secretly taped, as far as he knew. Other lawmakers, including Denton Republican Rep. Myra Crownover, also confirmed that they had been interviewed.

Like Keffer, Crownover said she wasn’t sure if hidden cameras had targeted her.

“I guess I’ll wait and see the movie,” she said.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Tom Vinger said the agency doesn’t discuss security-related matters and declined further comment. Whether investigators were seeking information about possible wrongdoing associated with the secret videos was not clear.

The questioning comes three days after a conservative group called the American Phoenix Foundation said it hired 16 activists to use hidden cameras to film Texas lawmakers for months. The group claims to have recorded more than 800 hours of video that exposes lawmaker “hypocrisy,” such as relationships that some might see as too friendly with lobbyists. None of that material has been released.

American Phoenix has ties to conservative activists who have previously been arrested for compiling covert video to embarrass politicians.

Word of the hidden videos was first reported Tuesday by the Houston Chronicle, which said that activists hoped to use what they compiled next year to target Republican lawmakers they see as too moderate during GOP primaries.

Some conservatives see the Texas House run by San Antonio Republican Joe Straus as unwilling to champion grassroots causes - and have applauded unsuccessful, tea party lawmaker-led attempts to oust him from the post.

In a statement earlier in the week, Straus said the secret documentarians were counterproductive. He added that the “unpleasant confrontations have a negative impact on our ability to conduct the people’s business.”

Several Democrats said they believed they, too, were secretly recorded, including Houston Reps. Armando Walle and Harold Dutton. But both said Friday evening that they had not yet spoken to DPS.

Dutton said someone approached him outside of a hearing recently and asked why he supported Straus, who some tea party groups say is too moderate.

“I told them that when they got elected they could vote for whoever they wanted,” Dutton said.

San Antonio Republican Rep. Lyle Larson said he had yet to give a statement to DPS, but was planning to tell officials that he’d been approached by the group on three separate occasions. He grew suspicious, he said, when a man identified himself as a Larson constituent but couldn’t answer the lawmaker’s questions about which route he took home.

“It’s a political thing,” Larson said. “They’re targeting Straus supporters.”


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