WASHINGTON – Justice Department officials properly ignored requests by House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (search), R-Texas, and others to help track down Texas Democratic legislators who left the state in protest of a GOP redistricting plan, an investigation concluded Tuesday.
Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine (search) found there were nine "requests for information or assistance" of department officials related to the May walkout of about 50 House Democrats protesting a proposed congressional map they said benefited Republicans.
The legislators went secretly to Ardmore, Okla., to prevent passage of the map, but their whereabouts quickly became known. The redistricting fight continued Tuesday, with 11 Democratic state senators blocking Senate business by staying in self-imposed exile in New Mexico for three weeks.
The report on the May walkout concluded that in eight of the cases no action was taken. In one instance, an FBI agent contacted one of the missing legislators, who was a personal friend, but did not violate any agency policies.
"We found that, in response to these requests, department employees, with one exception, recognized that this was a state matter and did not provide any assistance to the search for Texas legislators," the report said.
The investigation found that on May 13 an unidentified counsel to DeLay contacted William Moschella, assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, and asked if Justice "had any legal authority" to intervene in the case. Moschella, who previously worked on the House Judiciary Committee, said he would check but that the answer probably was no.
Moschella e-mailed the DeLay staffer's query to senior Justice officials, including Alice Fisher, then the top deputy in the criminal division. She called back Moschella, the report said, and told him "this is not something the department should get involved with."
Another Justice official, acting assistant attorney general Edward Whelan, told investigators the idea of federal involvement was "wacko." Paul Murphy, the Justice official who handled Marshals Service issues, added in an e-mail that "from a practical standpoint, this is a hornet's nest."
The report documents numerous other calls to Justice Department officials in Texas from the state attorney general's office, the Texas Rangers, a Republican Party member and a state legislator.
Only an unidentified FBI agent in Corpus Christi took any action. The report said the agent twice called state Rep. Juan Escobar while he was with the other protesting Democrats in Ardmore, Okla.
The agent had worked in law enforcement for years with Escobar, who was a Border Patrol agent before entering politics. The agent reported his contacts to Texas law enforcement officials and told them another legislator being sought was in Ardmore.
The report finds that the FBI agent was acting in his official capacity, despite his personal relationship with Escobar. But investigators concluded that he did not violate any FBI policies through his actions.