Lawyers for a Texas state representative this week subpoenaed House Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) to testify in a civil suit over GOP efforts to use state and federal resources in May 2003 to hunt down state Democratic lawmakers during a struggle over the redrawing of Texas congressional districts.
The subpoena reflects the bitter partisan feelings that persist after the Republican-led Texas House, acting on a plan developed by DeLay, last year redrew the state's districts with an eye toward ensuring a continued GOP majority in the U.S. House.
The most controversial moment in the redistricting effort, which finally succeeded last October, occurred when DeLay intervened to help state Republicans locate Democrats who were seeking to boycott a key vote. For the vote to be held, the GOP needed a quorum of legislators present.
DeLay has acknowledged ordering his staff to get help from the Federal Aviation Administration and to determine if the Justice Department could intervene against the state Democrats, actions that two weeks ago led the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct to write a letter of admonishment to DeLay that cited him for potentially violating House rules.
Last year, state Rep. Lon Burnam (D) sued in a Texas court in an effort to block the destruction of documents related to the hunt for Democrats on orders from senior state officials. He later expanded the suit to seek a judicial determination that Texas police acted illegally.
Burnam said in a statement yesterday that "I brought this lawsuit because no government official should be able to use government resources for partisan political purposes." He said that DeLay, who was in contact with Texas officials on the day of the hunt, "should be required to testify about his role in this matter."
Besides demanding DeLay's deposition next week, the subpoena requests the surrender of any documents related to his communications about the matter on that day. But a spokesman for DeLay, Stuart Roy, denounced the subpoena as "a cheap publicity stunt on something that has no connection to Tom DeLay."
"It's a frivolous matter that's already been rendered moot and everyone should consider the source," he said.
Asked if DeLay would seek to quash the subpoena, Roy said, "We'll review and respond appropriately."
DeLay previously told the House committee that he asked his policy director, Juliane Sullivan, to contact the FAA and determine the location of an airplane thought to be carrying some of the Democratic lawmakers who were boycotting the vote in Austin.
Sullivan telephoned FAA Assistant Administrator David Balloff, who said later he never asked why DeLay's office was looking for the aircraft. Balloff in turn called the agency's Washington Operations Center, which informed him that the plane would shortly land in Oklahoma, and Balloff relayed the information to Sullivan.
Sullivan passed the news to DeLay, who asked her to find out more about the plane's travels. Balloff again called the operations center, which in turn contacted three FAA regional offices; one of those offices subsequently told Balloff where the plane had been on May 11, and he relayed that information to Sullivan.
Sullivan passed the word back to DeLay, who passed it to officials in Texas.
DeLay also directed his counsel, Carl Thorsen, to ask the Justice Department whether it could intervene, according to the committee report, but the department declined to take any action.