FORMER SENATOR John Danforth is to conduct the outside investigation of the FBI's handling of the Waco siege and whether the use of incendiary tear gas canisters was covered up. This offers a reasonable possibility of finally getting some answers in the seemingly endless Waco saga. Mr. Danforth must address the newly reopened questions about Waco, and he must do it decisively so that no further questions can remain about the FBI's conduct in the minds of reasonable people across the political spectrum. He must complete a thorough investigation as quickly as possible and disclose as much evidence as he can.
This is a tall order, and to facilitate his accomplishing it, congressional investigators should yield to his probe when conflicts arise between them. Better still, though apparently not in the cards, would be for Congress to stay its hand and not conduct investigations at all that would compete with or impede Mr. Danforth's. The congressional oversight interest surely will be better served by a single comprehensive report than by having a set of conflicting investigations, each encumbered by the actions of the others.
It would also be worthwhile to wait until after the probe to draw any definitive conclusions about the conduct of either the bureau or the attorney general. The calls for Janet Reno to resign, most notably by Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, are imbalanced; nobody seems to be calling on Louis Freeh to step down. If the theory is that Ms. Reno bears overall responsibility for failures in her department, surely Mr. Freeh's responsibility for representations made by his agency -- where the misconduct is alleged predominantly to have taken place -- is more direct than hers.
At this point, the possibility exists that the foul-up or malfeasance was low down in the hierarchy. It is hard to know how much personal culpability should be borne by the higher-ups either at the bureau or at the Justice Department. Serious discussion of who should take what manner of responsibility should wait until we -- at long last -- know what happened.