WASHINGTON (AP) -- Former Republican Sen. John Danforth today
took the reins of an independent inquiry into the fiery end of the
1993 Branch Davidian siege, pledging to answer the "dark
questions" of whether there was a cover-up and "did the
government kill people?"
"Our country can survive bad judgment. But the thing that
really undermines the integrity of government is whether there were
bad acts -- whether the government killed people," the ex-Missouri
lawmaker said in a news conference convened by Attorney General
Reno has been under attack since the revelations that the FBI,
contradicting a position it took for six years, had used some
incendiary devices on the last day of the 51-day standoff, which
ended in a fire and the deaths of cult leader David Koresh and some
80 followers. Both Reno and the FBI maintain that the devices did
not cause the deadly fire, which they insist was set by the cult
Danforth will hold the title special counsel and is empowered to
use a federal grand jury for his investigation.
Danforth said he will not focus on poor judgment by federal
officials "even if those judgments led to the ultimate result. But
whether there were good judgments or bad judgments is a different
question than the dark question, and I think my job is to answer
the dark questions: Was there a cover-up? That's a dark question.
Did the government kill people? How did the fire start? Were there
Reno said Danforth also will investigate whether there "was any
illegal use of the armed forces" in the final assault.
Danforth said he has authority to question both Reno and FBI
Director Louis Freeh. He did not say whether he will.
A Justice Department press release quoted Freeh as saying, "I
welcome the attorney general's selection of Senator Danforth."
"Jack Danforth is a man of impeccable credentials, a record of
integrity and a determination to get to the truth," Reno said in
the news release. "Questions have been raised, and he is the
perfect person to find the answers."
"Getting the facts. That's order No. 1," Danforth said. "It
is clear to me that the quality of the product that we hope to
produce is going to depend upon the quality of the people we get to
"I see at stake the beginning of the Declaration of
Independence, the point of which was to protect the life and
liberty and pursuit of happiness of the American people," Danforth
said. "And if government doesn't do that, if government cover
things up and the government kills people, if that is what happened
-- and I don't prejudge that -- then that is what Jefferson talked
about as being the first foundation of government."
He said U.S. Attorney Edward Dowd of St. Louis will be his
deputy, describing Dowd as "a person who is very highly regarded
in our community, a very respected prosecutor."
A defiant Reno said she had no plans to resign, despite calls
from some Republicans to do so. "I don't run from controversy,"
Danforth said he had accepted the job with some misgivings but
is eager to get the work under way. He said he will try not to rely
on FBI agents to do the legwork of the inquiry. "My basic thought
is the FBI should not be investigating the FBI," said Danforth,
who will remain in his home state of Missouri but will open an
Danforth was asked about the clamor on Capitol Hill for a series
of committee inquiries. "I am not going to try to tell Congress
what to do or what not to do," he said. "I'm not going to tell
them how to do their business."
Reno's selection of Danforth came as the top Republican in the
Senate said he now has doubts about who started the fire that ended
the siege 61/2 years ago near Waco, Texas, and believes it is time
for Reno to step down.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Wednesday that
new revelations that the government withheld evidence about its use
of force in the April 19, 1993, assault add to a "pattern" of
refusing to cooperate with congressional requests, such as repeated
GOP requests that she seek an investigation of Democratic
fund-raising in the 1996 election.
"There are doubts because questions have been raised," Lott
told reporters. "All of that leads me to conclude that the
attorney general should resign."
Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., also called for Reno
to step down, his spokesman said.
At the same time, the attorney general received a strong
endorsement from Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South
Dakota, who said Reno "deserves commendation rather than
criticism," and that "under no circumstances" should she resign.
President Clinton has expressed continuing confidence in Reno,
but has not done the same for Freeh.
Lott's comment added fuel to a GOP campaign against Reno since
the belated revelation that the FBI fired two potentially
incendiary devices near the Branch Davidian compound hours before
fire swept through the wooden building and that the agency failed
to produce, until last week, videotapes showing agents' raid on the
Danforth left the Senate in 1995 and is respected by members of
both parties for his stubborn independence and reputation for
Danforth, 63, is an Episcopal priest with solid Republican
credentials. He successfully shepherded the troubled nomination of
Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas through a tough confirmation
process. He also has a background in law enforcement. Before
entering the Senate, he served as attorney general in Missouri for