Texas Democrats say a Justice Department report released Tuesday proves their claims that House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Texas) improperly tried to involve federal law enforcement officials in the Lone Star State’s redistricting battle, but DeLay maintains the report vindicates him.
“[The report] makes clear that Texas Republicans got the FBI involved in their partisan manhunt, diverted resources from fighting terrorism, and forced the Justice Department to recommend a ‘DeLay rule’ for the FBI to protect it against further political abuse,” Rep. Martin Frost (D-Texas) said in a release.
“It proves what DeLay has said all along and that [federal officials] took the appropriate action,” DeLay spokesman Stuart Roy countered.
The Justice’s Department’s Office of the Inspector General outlined nine instances in which Texas Republicans tried to enlist federal police officers in their search for 51 Democratic lawmakers who fled Austin in May to prevent the state House from passing a redistricting plan that would benefit the GOP.
However, in only one instance did federal officials not decline to help. In fact, one Justice official said the idea of involving the department in the dispute was “wacko.”
But Congressional Democrats argued that it was the Republicans’ attempts to involve federal law officers and state police in tracking down the missing legislators that was inappropriate — not the Justice Department’s response.
“Our federal law enforcement officers wear badges with eagles, not elephants,” said Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Texas). “The DOJ’s conclusion that new rules are required to prevent future abuse is welcome. But the public is entitled to the underlying documents that Justice relied on, not just its conclusions.”
The Democrats’ next move will be to press for even more information, according to Tom Eisenhauer, Frost’s spokesman.
So far, the Transportation Department and the Department of Homeland Security have issued reports into charges that Republicans improperly involved the Federal Aviation Administration and the Homeland Security Department in the Texas redistricting battle.
The Transportation Department report concluded that DeLay’s office contacted the FAA while the Homeland Security report determined that one of its agencies spent about 40 minutes trying to track down a plane owned by one of the missing Democrats.
The Homeland Security report was “heavily redacted,” Eisenhauer said, and Democrats want to see the entire report as well as the supporting documentation for the Justice report.
Roy said that none of the three reports contradicts what DeLay has said about his role in the on-going situation.
“For the third time, this report shows Democrats made purposely hyperbolic charges and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to suspend judgment on the credibility of the Democrats’ claims,” Roy said.
The saga began when 51 Democrats bolted across state lines to Oklahoma, to rob the Texas state House of a quorum, thus preventing the GOP redistricting plan from passing.
A three-judge federal panel redrew the state’s Congressional districts in advance of the 2002 elections when the Legislature failed to draw a map. Usually, redistricting is done once a decade following the decennial census, but DeLay urged Texas Republicans, who now control the entire state government, to pass a new map that proponents say more accurately represents recent voting trends.
Democrats contend it would gerrymander districts to the GOP’s advantage despite Democrats’ winning a majority of the delegation’s U.S. House seats in 2002.
GOP Gov. Rick Perry called a special session of the House and the plan subsequently passed. Now, 11 Democratic state Senators are holed up in New Mexico hoping to wait out a second special session called solely to dispense with the redistricting matter.
The remaining GOP Senators, denied a quorum, voted Tuesday to force the Democrats out of their exile by levying fines of up to $57,000 per lawmaker if they do not return by Thursday.
They have also threatened to bar the Democrats from voting in the Senate unless they pay the fines.
The Democrats have said they will not return, nor will they pay the fines, and likened the penalties to the segregated South’s poll taxes when minorities had to pay to vote.
All but two of the missing Democrats are black or Latino.
The Democrats have implored President Bush to intervene, harking back to his days as governor when he worked well with the Democratic-controlled House.
So far, the White House has declined, saying it’s a state matter.
Frost said the Justice report should compel Bush to action.
“And it simply makes more disingenuous the White House claim that this is just a ‘state’ matter,” Frost said. “Between [political adviser] Karl Rove’s work to keep re-redistricting alive in the Legislature and the help that the Justice Department, Homeland Security Department and FAA gave to Texas Republicans, the Bush Administration is already involved in Texas re-redistricting,” Frost said.