Wednesday :: May 21, 2003

Texas DPS Destroys Records Surrounding Hunt for Texas Democrats

by Steve

Don’t look now, but Tom DeLay and Tom Ridge may have just handed Joe Lieberman a “Watergate”-type story that will help him gain screen time during his campaign for the presidency.

It was revealed earlier today that the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) issued orders for its staff to destroy any notes, correspondence, or photos used in the search for the Texas Democratic House delegation. The order, sent by email from the commander of the DPS Special Crimes Service to his captains, was dated May 14th, the same day as the story of a federal Department of Homeland Security (DHS) involvement in the search broke in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

A commander with the Texas Department of Public Safety ordered the destruction of all documents and photographs gathered in the search for the Democratic state legislators who fled to Oklahoma to block a congressional redistricting bill.

The order was issued via e-mail on May 14, a day before the Democrats ended their boycott and returned to Texas, DPS spokesman Tom Vinger said.

The DPS order was first reported by the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, which obtained the e-mail Tuesday under the Texas Public Information Act.

The e-mail, sent to captains in the agency's Special Crimes Service, stated: "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." L.C. Marshall, commander of the DPS Special Crimes Service, signed the order.

No one in state government outside the DPS ordered or suggested that the search documents be destroyed, Vinger said.

You can tell from the stories that both Tom DeLay and Speaker Craddick are clamming up about this matter already.

Commander Marshall, for some reason, saw a need on the same day the story of DHS involvement broke, to instruct his staff to destroy possible evidence. This of course would include any emails between the Texas DPS and federal DHS officials in requesting their assistance, the reasons for the request, and more importantly, the responses from DHS to those requests.

Note than when the story broke on May 14th in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram (FWST), Joe Lieberman immediately fired off a letter the very next day to Tom Ridge demanding a full accounting of why DHS got involved in the matter (disregard the incorrect date of May 15, 2002 in the press release). What isn’t clear, and may be extremely important, is whether or not Lieberman or his staff had any contact by phone with Ridge’s office or DHS on the 14th on this issue after the story broke in the FWST. Why?

I think it is bad enough that Marshall’s May 14th email to his staff to destroy potentially damaging evidence came as a result of the FWST story. But what if the email order came after a May 14th contact from Lieberman’s office to Ridge’s DHS? If Lieberman’s office did contact the DHS about this first on the 14th after the story broke in the FWST, and then followed up in writing on the 15th demanding answers, then it raises questions about whether the Lieberman inquiry and the DPS email are cause-and-effect related.

Once the Texas DPS destroys evidence of not only their investigation, but of their contacts and responses from DHS as well, it covers the DHS’s tracks. You may argue that DHS activities and communications with DPS on this matter should be available from DHS for Lieberman to gain access to. But it is just as plausible that Ridge, Ashcroft, and the White House would argue that any DHS communications would be subject to national security screening restrictions and requirements, making it hard for Lieberman to get his hands on this for weeks, if not months.

Of course Ridge could defuse this right now by releasing to Lieberman the emails, phone logs, and communications between DPS and DHS on this. The DHS has already said that they feel DPS misled them about the true nature of their request, which would throw the heat back at Governor Perry and the DPS for destroying records a tad prematurely.

But will they? Or will they assume they can kill this story like Rove has killed all other bad stories, while underestimating Lieberman’s ability to spin this possible molehill into another mountain? Lieberman would be dying for the chance to run with this, as he has seized on an ethics line of attack against Bush lately by challenging the Halliburton contract. Giving Holy Joe one more issue to play with might be a big mistake.

Steve :: 5:34 PM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!