Who You Gonna Call? Dem-Busters!

A U.S. Dept. of Justice report chronicles the 'wacko' attempts to trace and trap the Killer Ds.

On Aug. 12, the U.S. Dept. of Justice issued its report on the extent of the agency's involvement in the search for the missing Texas House Democrats -- the "Killer D's" -- during their May flight to Ardmore, Okla. Issued by the DOJ's Office of the Inspector General, the report concludes that only one DOJ staffer -- an FBI agent based in Corpus Christi -- responded to various state requests that the FBI, the U.S. Marshals, or the U.S. attorney get involved in the hunt for the Dems. This intervention was confined to a few cell-phone calls to Rep. Juan Manuel Escobar, D-Kingsville -- a former U.S. Border Patrol agent and colleague of the FBI agent -- to confirm for the Texas Dept. of Public Safety that both Escobar and neighboring Rep. Gabi Canales, D-Alice, were indeed in Oklahoma. The inspector general does conclude that it would have been "better discretion" on the part of the agent to decline the DPS request as inappropriate; the report suggests that the FBI update its written guidelines to better advise agents about the proper limits of federal-state agency cooperation.

On the whole, the DOJ report is professionally akin to the U.S. Dept. of Transportation's report on the Federal Aviation Administration's involvement in the hunt -- and a damn sight better than the redacted and virtually useless self-exoneration hacked out by the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security in response to congressional inquiries. U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett welcomed the report, but noted once again that the agencies are improperly stonewalling congressional requests for the actual documents and transcripts underlying the reports. Still, like its cousins, the DOJ report provides several interesting tidbits worth pondering.

As expected, the office of U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay was heavily involved in the requests to DOJ personnel, although DeLay staffers sometimes claimed they were acting on behalf of Texas House Speaker Tom Craddick. The assistant attorney general in the DOJ's Office of Legislative Affairs, William Moschella, and the acting assistant attorney general in the Office of Legal Counsel, Edward Whelan, quickly agreed that "the idea of the DOJ getting involved in this matter [was] 'wacko,'" and the U.S. Marshal's Office attorney, Paul Murphy, concurred on the legal question and added, "From a practical standpoint, this is a hornet's nest."

It's also worth noting that Speaker Craddick -- who repeatedly assured the press and public that his active role in the matter ended when he assigned the House sergeant-at-arms to find the fugitives -- in fact told Texas Deputy Attorney General Jay Kimbrough that he knew an Oklahoma game warden(!) who claimed the FBI could return the legislators for fleeing across state lines, and Craddick gave Kimbrough the number of what turned out to be the Ardmore FBI office -- which told Kimbrough there was nothing they could do. (The pursuers were hoping for a felony warrant.) Meanwhile Barry McBee, former chief of staff to Gov. Bush and currently an aide to Texas AG Greg Abbott, was attempting (with the help of DeLay's office) to persuade U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton that he might have jurisdiction, but Sutton also declined to get involved. Even state Rep. Jack Stick, R-Austin, a former assistant U.S. attorney in San Antonio, took a flier at asking Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Pitman but got the same negative response.

In all there were nine outside contacts (including a couple from unidentified parties) to DOJ personnel requesting intervention -- among them a Texas Ranger inquiry about a possible "trap and trace" of legislators' phone calls -- and more direct involvement that was previously acknowledged by not only Craddick but by Kimbrough (who said at the time he was only offering legal advice) and DeLay staffers. According to an FBI agent, Kimbrough told him the legislators had committed "contempt of Congress." Maybe what he meant was "contempt of Tom DeLay."

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