The special counsel investigating the possibility of an official cover-up after the 1993 Branch Davidian siege has asked a federal judge to delay lawyers' fact-finding in the civil lawsuit filed against the government by Davidian survivors and relatives of the dead.

Former senator John C. Danforth (R-Mo.) asked the district court judge in Waco, Tex., to issue an order delaying for 30 days any discovery and witness interviews by government and plaintiffs' lawyers. He also requested permission to interview all witnesses first.

"It is my firm belief that our inquiry will benefit by interviewing witnesses prior to their preparation for testimony in a civil trial," Danforth wrote Thursday to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith. "Because a civil trial inherently involves advocacy, testimony tends to be very well-rehearsed and coordinated with the testimony of other witnesses."

Surviving Davidians and the relatives of the dead are challenging the government's conclusion that the fire that swept through the Davidians' compound on April 19, 1993, was set by cult members. Leader David Koresh and about 74 other people died during the inferno, some from the fire, others from gunshot wounds.

Danforth is investigating whether the government covered up its use of potentially incendiary tear gas grenades that day and whether federal agents fired any shots in the final hours, among other issues.

Smith did not rule Friday on Danforth's request. Jim Brannon, an attorney for some of the plaintiffs, said he would forge ahead unless told otherwise. Brannon said he intends to be in Washington on Monday to interview "dozens and dozens" of federal officials who were on the scene during the 51-day siege.

Smith last week vacated the Oct. 18 trial date, saying the government needs more time to produce the voluminous amount of documents and evidence that he recently demanded be turned over to his court. An attorney for plaintiffs said he believes the trial will begin in January or later.