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Amendment prohibits document destruction

Thursday, July 24, 2003

UPDATES 8th graf with amendment effect on lawsuit; PICKUP 9th graf pvs "A Transportation..."

By SUZANNE GAMBOA Associated Press Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) - Federal agencies would be prohibited from destroying any records related to their involvement in the search for Texas Democratic lawmakers in May under an amendment approved by the U.S. House.

The amendment sponsored by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Houston, was included in the $37.9 billion bill providing money for the Commerce, Justice and State departments. The spending bill passed 400-21 Wednesday night.

The measure, agreed to on a voice vote, prohibits agencies from using any government money to "destroy or conceal physical or electronic records and documents related to any use of federal agency resources in any task or action involving or related to members of the Texas Legislature" between May 11 and May 16.

Democratic members of the Texas House fled during that period to Oklahoma and Mexico to kill a redistricting bill by breaking a quorum.

Jackson Lee called the amendment a victory because other legislative attempts to get documents and other materials from federal agencies about the search have failed. "At least we now know these documents will have to be on file in September, October, December," Jackson Lee said.

The Senate has not yet passed its version of the spending bill. Jackson said she would "bird dog" the amendment to ensure it makes it into law.

The amendment was largely aimed at the Justice Department, which has an ongoing inquiry into any involvement by FBI agents, U.S. Marshals, the U.S. Attorney's office and other Justice employees.

The FBI has said a Corpus Christi-based agent called a lawmaker to help Texas law officers and the Ardmore FBI office also said it was contacted during the search.

Democrats in Ardmore, Okla., said they encountered a man and woman in dark suits who appeared to be doing surveillance at the hotel where they stayed four days. Democrats want to know whether they were FBI agents.

The Justice Department has been reluctant to turn over documents and other materials to members of Congress, including Texas congressional Democrats. Rep. Charlie Gonzalez, D-San Antonio, has sued the agency under federal open government laws to force release of the information. Jackson Lee said the amendment, if finally approved, would strengthen his lawsuit.

A Transportation Department investigation found that the Federal Aviation Administration helped locate the plane belonging to one of the lawmakers at the request the office of House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, R-Sugar Land.

A division of the Department of Homeland Security also helped track the plane, but that agency determined the work took only 40 minutes and did not affect the anti-terrorism agency's mission. The department has refused to release recordings and other documents related to the search.

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On the Net: Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee: http://www.jacksonlee.house.gov/

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