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Craddick: 'No conspiracy here'

By J. Lyn Carl,

Austin, TX – "There's no conspiracy here," says House Speaker Tom Craddick of the ongoing brouhaha over Texas law enforcement officials seeking assistance from federal authorities to help locate the 50-odd "Killer Ds" last week and then destroying paperwork relative to their investigation.

The "Killer Ds," more than 50 Democratic members of the House, broke ranks last Monday and fled the state to effectively bust the House quorum and kill a controversial congressional redistricting bill.

That fiasco is over, but the fallout from alleged actions by officers of the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) and allegations that Craddick might have been driving the train have kept the issue alive.

Just today, DPS officials released a statement acknowledging they had destroyed documents relative to the investigation into the whereabouts of the "Killer Ds."

That brought an outcry from Public Citizen, a national pro-consumer organization with an office in Texas, for an investigation into DPS officials' destruction of those documents. The DPS statement today noted that the agency is prohibited from keeping "intelligence information that is not related to criminal conduct or activity" and that is why the documents were destroyed.

Tom "Smitty" Smith, director of Public Citizen's Texas office, called on the Texas Attorney General's Office to conduct an inquiry.

"It's profoundly disturbing that the Department of Public Safety would misuse a federal agency and then destroy records about it," said Smith. The reference to use of a federal agency is Texas law enforcement enlisting the Air and Marine Interdiction Coordinator Center (AMICC), part of the federal government's Department of Homeland Security, to track a plane owned by former House Speaker Pete Laney, one of the Killer Ds. "The revelation about the swift destruction of key records in what the department itself admits may be a violation of criminal law requires an immediate and thorough public investigation," said Smith.

Smith says Craddick ordered the DPS to capture the boycotting lawmakers and return them to Austin.

Craddick admits that when he issued a call on the House last Monday when the Democrats failed to show up for quorum call, he asked the House sergeant-at-arms to notify DPS to find the absentee legislators and return them to Austin. "We cooperated fully with the DPS," said she Speaker, even offering space in a conference room adjacent to his office for a DPS emergency command center. "I did not direct the DPS search, nor did I interfere with it. I did not suggest strategy, but we did pass along rumors and tips as they were given to us. I did go into the command center on several occasions, but I was not involved in the activities and strategies therein."

Craddick vehemently denies any larger role in DPS activities. "This issue, in my humble opinion, has been blown way out of proportion. There is no conspiracy here." The House Speaker defended the DPS as a "highly respected police agency" with officers who are "smart and well trained." He said he had qualms in turning the investigation of the "Killer Ds" over to them, and "felt confident that if any of the missing members were still in the state of Texas, the DPS would find them and bring them back."

Unfortunately, the "Killer Ds" were out of state, and the authority of the Texas law enforcement agency ended at the border.

Craddick said when it was revealed that enough of the runaway Democrats to block a quorum were in Oklahoma and had no intention of coming back to Austin, he ended the call on the House, and the DPS detail assigned to the House disbanded and "went back to their usual business."

Public Citizen's Smith is not so sure "usual business" includes the speedy destruction of records and adds that "the fact that officials ordered them destroyed raises a host of questions."

"I'm afraid that those who are pursuing a conspiracy are drilling a dry well," says Craddick.