Generally speaking, when a political scandal has serious legs, every day brings more damning details, with the momentum and seriousness of the new revelations increasing day by day. You also find out that seemingly voluntary disclosures from subjects of scrutiny were prompted by the knowledge that the information was about to come out through other, often more awkward, means.
That's precisely what's happening in the Tom DeLay/DPS/DHS story.
I got word earlier today that Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta had started an internal review to see if anything untoward had happened when Tom DeLay contacted the FAA and received information about the whereabouts of former Texas House Speaker Pete Laney. (Note to Source -- you know who you are -- you win big points from me on this one, buddy. I'll never doubt you again!) I was traveling this afternoon and didn't have time to follow up. But tomorrow's papers confirm that this has indeed happened. According to a Transportation Department spokesperson, Mineta found out about DeLay's contacts with the FAA on Wednesday, a day before DeLay 'volunteered' the information.
There are a number of articles giving the basic run-down of these details. But the best I've seen is that in the Houston Chronicle.
You begin to understand why Mineta might be concerned when you look down into the story and see how a significant part of the story DeLay told on Thursday now seems to be, as Nixon Press Secretary Ron Ziegler used to say, 'inoperative.'
When DeLay spoke to reporters on Thursday he said that the information he'd gotten from the FAA about one of the Texas Democrats' private airplanes was information that was available to any member of the public. This revelation rightly raised eyebrows since this was the information DeLay relayed to his political allies in Texas. And it was also the information used to rope in the Department of Homeland Security. In itself though it didn't appear to be a problem since this was supposedly information the FAA makes available to everyone.
Well, it turns out that's not true.
Here's the key run-down in the Houston Chronicle story ...
DeLay told reporters Thursday that one of his staff members contacted the FAA for "publicly available flight information that any member of Congress gets from FAA, or you can get it off the Internet."
He said he relayed to Craddick the information that the plane was in the air heading from Ardmore to Georgetown, but doesn't know whether that information led to the discovery of the Democrats in Oklahoma.
DeLay's office clarified Friday that the majority leader did not mean to imply that the FAA flight data was publicly available, but rather that the public could gain access to the information via commercial Web sites.
Bill Shumann, FAA spokesman, said the public does not have access to flight tracking data through his agency. But the information, generated by air traffic control centers throughout the country, is bundled and used by commercial companies, some of which make the data available online.
This, frankly, is a pretty big deal since it is really not that different from what the state trooper in Texas did with Homeland Security. Though some of this information is, according to the FAA spokesman, available through commercial services, DeLay clearly used his status as House Majority Leader to get the information directly from the FAA and presumably to do so more expeditiously than members of the public would be able to do. That's called abusing your office.
Why is the Majority Leader of the House of Representatives using the powers of his office to help his political allies in Texas arrest members of the state legislature so they can be forced to make a quorum call and allow the passage of the DeLay-authored redistricting plan?
(Earth to David Broder, Chris Matthews, Tim Russert and the rest of DC's wizards of high dudgeon: when will you start talking about this?)
There's also another significance to DeLay's use of his office to obtain information from FAA. His willingness to bend the rules in that instance makes it a lot easier to imagine he played some role in getting the Texas state troopers to call in Homeland Security.
That all focuses a lot more scrutiny on whatever contact took place between DeLay and Craddick on Monday, May 12th, the day all of this went down.
Here again is a clip from the Chronicle ...
In disclosing the Transportation Department's inquiry, spokesman Alcivar would not say exactly which office of the FAA provided the information for DeLay. Nor would he say whether DeLay used normal channels available to congressional offices for obtaining information not otherwise available to the public.
The details are significant because they could answer questions about how Craddick was able to discover that most of the so-called "Killer Ds" were in Ardmore -- out of reach of Texas law enforcement officers who had been deployed to bring the legislators back to work.
Craddick spokesman Bob Richter said Friday that Craddick and DeLay spoke about the matter May 12, but that Craddick does not remember who initiated the call.
"He doesn't remember any details at all about that day," Richter said. Acting on a vote of House members present May 12, Craddick ordered the missing representatives arrested and returned to the Capitol, as allowed under House rules.
The fact that Craddick "doesn't remember any details at all about" the day which was probably the most consequential of his career in public life doesn't exactly inspire a lot of confidence.
Here, though, are the questions I think we need to have answered ...
I've looked and I don't think the press reports note the precise time of DeLay's contacts with FAA, DeLay's calls to Craddick, or the call Lieutenant Will Crais (who, remember, was working out of a command center in the conference room adjoining Craddick's office) placed to the Department of Homeland Security bringing them into the manhunt.
I think if we knew that timeline we'd be a big step closer to knowing whether DeLay's fingerprints are on the call to Homeland Security.
More tomorrow on why the press and the Dems are frightened of taking on Tom DeLay, why the press's relative inattention to this story is due to a blindness similar to that which made them slow to catch on to the Trent Lott story. Also, more on Sid Blumenthal's new book and the sound and fury directed against it.