| Reno Will Name Outside Investigator for Waco By Michelle Mittelstadt |
Associated Press Writer
Friday, September 3, 1999; 11:34 a.m. EDT WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Janet Reno today denied that recent revelations about the FBI's use of tear gas during the 1993 Branch Davidian siege had strained her relations with FBI Director Louis Freeh. This is no time to ``play one off against the other,'' she said.
At her weekly news conference, Reno said she will find a person who is free of ``conflicts of interest and will be well-received'' to head an independent investigation into why it took the FBI six years to acknowledge its use of the pyrotechnic tear-gas canisters.
``What I hope will happen is that we will be able to agree on a mandate that gives them full authority to pursue any unanswered question,'' the attorney general said, declining to identify the candidate she is seeking to head the probe.
Reno and Freeh themselves have been under siege since the FBI's disclosure last week that a ``very limited number'' of incendiary tear-gas rounds were fired at a concrete outpost adjacent to the Davidians' compound on the final day of the 51-day standoff. That admission, and the FBI's production this week of previously undisclosed videotape evidence, came after six years of denials.
The assault on the complex near Waco, Texas, ended with cult leader David Koresh and some 80 followers dead -- some by fire, others by gunshot. Reno accepted full responsibility for the assault and federal officials have insisted that the fire was started by Koresh and his followers.
While confirming that she had ordered agents not to use incendiary devices during the tear-gas operation, Reno said all the evidence she has seen supports the view that federal agents did not start the fire.
``If the truth shows what I believe to be the case -- that we tried to set up something that would bring the people out and give them a chance to come out in a safe and orderly way -- and that it was their determination and their judgment and their actions that brought that fire upon them, then I would use the experience we have here and figure out what we can do for the future,'' she said.
Asked whether she would resign: ``If the truth shows I've done something wrong, then I will accept the consequences.''
Reno said she hoped to identify the lead investigator as soon as possible, but didn't say when that would be.
``It has taken some time because I want to do it the right way,'' she said.
Reno also told reporters she is proceeding carefully because she wants to assure that the investigation ``has the confidence and faith of the American people.''
Reno said she and Freeh often confer on difficult issues and sometimes disagree.
``Yeah, sometimes I call him and say, `Why did you do this?' or he will call and say, `If I were you, I'd do that.' That's the type of relationship we have,'' she said.
President Clinton is among those calling for an independent investigation of the Waco case. Clinton ``is deeply concerned that the attorney general appears to have been misled and may have been lied to'' about what went on at Waco, White House spokesman Jake Siewert said Thursday.
The FBI's admission last week that combustible tear gas was used provoked a furor on and off Capitol Hill.
In addition to the Reno-ordered probe, congressional hearings will be convened this fall and the House Judiciary Committee chairman, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill, is pushing for a congressional commission in hopes that would avoid the bitter partisanship exhibited during earlier Waco hearings on Capitol Hill.
The infrared videotape made public Thursday, recorded from an FBI plane, runs from just before 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. on the final morning of the 51-day siege -- covering the period during which the FBI assault began.
That footage, which FBI officials said was recently discovered at the FBI Hostage Rescue Team's offices in Quantico, Va., was taken into custody Wednesday by federal marshals at Justice's instruction. The Hostage Rescue Team was in charge of operations during the siege.
Reno denied today that Justice's use of marshals to confiscate the evidence marked a public rebuke to the FBI -- a contention her own aides had made. ``I think it was everyone trying to figure out what the best way to do it was, and some people making some assumptions that weren't correct,'' she said.
A second videotape, which runs from 8 a.m. to 10:42 a.m., surfaced Thursday; and FBI officials were taking steps to release it publicly as well.
Bureau officials had previously insisted in sworn affidavits that they didn't have any infrared video footage before 10:42 a.m. -- hours after the tear-gas assault began at 5:55 a.m. FBI spokesman Tron Brekke said the apparent discrepancy is ``a legitimate point for inquiry.''
The early morning tape captured a radio transmission in which an FBI field commander granted permission for an agent to lob military incendiary tear-gas rounds at a concrete bunker 40 yards from the Davidians' compound.
``He can try it?'' asked the rescue team's supervisory special agent, Stephen P. McGavin, after saying that an agent could ``with relative safety'' use a vehicle as cover and fire military tear gas canisters into the bunker.
``Yeah, that's affirmative,'' answered Richard M. Rogers, the rescue team's assistant special agent in charge.
Brekke said bureau officials decided to release the video and a transcript because the action ``clearly demonstrates that we are interested in the facts concerning Waco to come out.''
``It's in our interest,'' he added. ``Our credibility's been hurt.''
The FBI said the conversation took place at 7:49 a.m. -- nearly two hours after the tear-gas assault began but hours before flames began racing through the Davidians' wooden home at 12:07 p.m.