U.S. House Majority Leader Tom DeLay admitted Thursday he provided Texas Speaker Tom Craddick with the same information that state police used to enlist a homeland security agency in the search for runaway Democratic legislators.
DeLay said his staff used public information at the Federal Aviation Administration to track former Texas Speaker Pete Laney's airplane.
Laney was among 55 Democrats who broke a House quorum on May 12 to kill a congressional redistricting bill sought by DeLay, R-Sugar Land. Craddick and DeLay wanted the errant legislators arrested and returned to the House to force a vote on the bill.
"I was told at the time that that plane was in the air coming from Ardmore, Oklahoma, back to Georgetown, Texas," DeLay said of the FAA's information, which he said was also available on the agency's Web site. "I relayed that information to Tom Craddick."
Texas Department of Public Safety officers working in Craddick's office had the same information when it contacted a federal air interdiction agency to seek its help in finding Laney's airplane. The federal agency has since said it was misled into believing Laney's airplane was missing and possibly had crashed.
Homeland Defense Secretary Tom Ridge, meanwhile, said Thursday his agency is investigating "potentially criminal" misuse of the federal air interdiction service by the DPS.
DeLay said he played no part in the DPS' decision to contact the federal air interdiction service. And Craddick denies knowing anything about how the DPS came to call the agency.
DeLay's admission is the latest revelation that state and federal Republican officials were directly involved in the widespread manhunt.
DeLay has said his office contacted justice officials May 12 "about the appropriate role of the federal government in finding Texas legislators who have warrants for their arrest and have crossed state lines."
Craddick had signed an order requiring any Texas "peace officer" to arrest the missing members. But Craddick's command was not a "warrant," which is an arrest order issued by a court for an accused criminal.
DeLay, in an impromptu interview with Texas reporters, said his office tracked Laney's airplane by contacting the FAA in Washington.
FAA officials told DeLay's staff that public information showed the airplane was en route from Ardmore to Georgetown, north of Austin.
State Rep. Mike Krusee, R-Round Rock, was in the DPS command center outside of Craddick's office May 12. He has said there was a belief that Laney was ferrying lawmakers from Georgetown to Ardmore and the DPS thought some legislators might be caught when the plane landed.
When the plane did not arrive, Krusee said people worried that it had crashed. He said he did not know if that is what prompted DPS to call the homeland security agency, which could not locate the plane.
At 9:39 a.m. on May 14, the DPS ordered all records of the search to be destroyed. DPS claims the records were destroyed because the investigation was over, but the House did not drop the order to arrest the wayward members until 11:25 a.m.
Ridge told the House Select Committee on Homeland Security he cannot release tapes of the May 12 DPS telephone call because of the ongoing investigation.
"This is now a potentially criminal investigation," Ridge said.
The assistant inspector general conducting the investigation is looking for evidence of "fraud, waste, and abuse." As if there could be any doubt — they are three of the chief characteristics of Republican power. Add hatred, mendacity, and divisiveness, and there you have the state of Texas-bred conservatism in a nutshell.