FBI Director William H. Webster defended yesterday the agency's decision not to lead the investigation of the abortion clinic bombings, saying there is no evidence that the bombings have violated civil rights or are the work of terrorists.
Webster told the House civil and constitutional rights subcommittee that the FBI is assigned primary investigative reponsibility for only a narrow range of investigations. Webster said that the Justice Department has told the FBI it believes there have been no civil rights violations connected with the bombings and no activity it can characterize officially as terrorism.
Stephen E. Higgins, director of the Treasury Department's Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, the lead agency in the investigation, said that the matter clearly falls under his agency's jursidiction, because of its authority to investigate such bombings. He added that the FBI and his bureau have worked closely, and have found no evidence of a nationwide conspiracy linking the abortion clinic incidents. Twenty-two of 32 cases have been solved since 1982, he said.
Subcommittee chairman Rep. Don Edwards (D-Calif.) praised the investigation by Higgins' bureau. But he questioned the Justice Department opinion that no civil rights had been violated.
Rep. Patricia Schroeder (D-Colo.) also criticized the Justice Department decision, saying, "It appears to me that some heavy civil rights violations are going on all over the country" where women are denied access to abortion clinics.
Webster responded, "Our obligation is to carry out the law as it is interpreted to us." But he added that he believes the bombings do have "a chilling affect on the exercise of the right" of women to have abortions, and he said that Congress may want to consider legislative changes.