Former Waco Prosecutor Indicted

Thursday, November 9th 2000, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

ST. LOUIS (AP) — A former government prosecutor has been indicted on federal charges of obstructing the investigation into the 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, that he helped set in motion.

Former assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and three counts of lying to investigators and a federal grand jury.

The indictment was returned Wednesday as Waco special counsel John C. Danforth released his final report absolving the government of wrongdoing in the siege.

Attorney Michael Kennedy, while acknowledging that Johnston made mistakes in his dealings with the special counsel, called the charges baseless and unfair.

``Danforth seeks to destroy the messenger and whitewash the governmental excesses of Waco,'' he said. ``While Bill's mistakes were harmless, the same cannot be said for so many other government employees, who today are merely chastised or ignored completely by Mr. Danforth.''

Johnston helped draft the search warrant that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to execute on Feb. 28, 1993, at the Waco compound. The botched raid turned into a gunfight in which four federal agents and six Davidians were killed.

The shootout sparked the 51-day standoff that ended on April 19, 1993, with a fire that consumed the compound, killing sect leader David Koresh and some 80 followers inside.

Johnston in 1994 helped convict nine Davidians during their criminal trial.

In 1999, federal Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. ordered the government to give him all records and evidence connected with the standoff. Johnston then complained publicly that the Justice Department was covering up evidence showing FBI agents had fired pyrotechnic tear gas at the compound.

Justice Department and FBI officials denied for years that the government had used anything capable of sparking fires when they employed tanks and tear gas to try to end the standoff.

The FBI's subsequent confirmation that some pyrotechnic tear gas was used prompted Attorney General Janet Reno to ask Danforth to investigate.

In July, Danforth in a preliminary report absolved the government of blame in the blaze. A week earlier, an advisory jury hearing a $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit brought by surviving cult members and the victims' families reached the same conclusion.

Johnston left the U.S. attorney's office in February and Danforth's investigators questioned him repeatedly. He admitted in July that he had withheld several pages of notes from 1993 dealing with the FBI's use of pyrotechnic gas.

A congressional report issued last week praised Johnston for helping reveal the use of pyrotechnics but condemned his failure to surrender the notes, which indicated he was told in 1993 that FBI agents fired several incendiary military tear gas grenades.

``I don't perceive him as a whistle-blower,'' Danforth said. ``Because I think the meaning of whistle-blower is somebody who brings into the light things that were hidden. The allegations in this indictment are to the contrary: somebody who hides things.''

Johnston said in a statement Wednesday that he withheld the notes out of fear that hostile colleagues might try to use what he had written to discredit him. He added that he didn't reveal the notes to Danforth because his investigators ``treated me with the same loathing and hostility that I had encountered from the Justice Department.''