Justice IG absolves employees of wrongdoing in Texas flap

The Justice Department's inspector general has concluded that federal employees who were contacted for help in locating missing Texas lawmakers did not misuse government resources or violate any laws.

In May, more than 50 Democrats in the Texas House of Representatives fled the state to prevent a vote on a controversial redistricting measure. Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate have accused Republican officials of attempting to get federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration and the Justice and Homeland Security departments, involved in the effort to track down the state legislators who retreated to Ardmore, Okla., in protest of the Texas measure.

The Justice IG conducted an investigation and concluded that Justice employees, including employees of the FBI, U.S. Attorney's Office in Texas and the Marshals Service, received a total of nine requests for information or assistance related to the missing state lawmakers. In eight of nine instances, those federal employees contacted "promptly and appropriately declined to become involved in this state matter," the IG report said.

In one instance, an FBI special agent in Corpus Christi called one of the missing Texas legislators, Rep. Juan Escobar, confirmed he was in Oklahoma, and relayed that information to the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). The special agent, who knew Escobar personally and professionally from the lawmaker's days as a Border Patrol agent, said he looked into the matter to help his colleagues at DPS, according to the report.

Though the report noted that the agent "should have declined the request as a better exercise of his discretion," the IG concluded that he did not violate any FBI policy when he called Escobar and divulged his whereabouts to DPS officials.

The FBI agent made the phone calls in an "official capacity" and did not misuse government resources to obtain the information about Escobar, the report concluded. The Justice IG also determined that the FBI's Manual of Investigative Operations and Guidelines authorizes agents to simply locate or pass on various records to local agencies to facilitate cooperation between federal and local law enforcement. "The actions of the special agent appear to fall squarely within above policy," the report noted.

The report suggested that the FBI examine its written guidance to agents on handling requests for assistance from local law enforcement to encourage cooperation, when appropriate. "The expansion of the Joint Terrorism Task Forces to all 56 FBI divisions has brought FBI agents into even closer contact with their local law enforcement counterparts during a time of increasing demands on law enforcement resources nationwide," the report said.

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