Danforth promises narrow, GOP broad probes of Waco
Monday, September 13th 1999, 12:00 am
News On 6
WASHINGTON (AP) -- A dozen spent rifle cartridges of a type often
used by snipers were recovered from a house used by the FBI during
the 1993 standoff with the Branch Davidians, the Texas Rangers
reported today. The report raised questions about federal agents'
insistence that they fired no shots.
Twelve .308-caliber casings and two dozen Israeli-manufactured
.223-caliber casings were recovered from a house used by the FBI's
Hostage Rescue Team during the 51-day siege, the Rangers said in a
report provided to Congress.
In an account the FBI has since said was wrong, an FBI agent
initially reported hearing shots fired from that house on the
siege's final day.
The FBI, which has insisted for six years that its agents didn't
fire a single shot during the standoff, refused comment today.
Agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, who
provoked the siege with a botched raid to serve weapons warrants on
the Davidians, used the house as a sniper post during a fierce gun
battle on Feb. 28 -- raising the possibility the spent shells were
theirs, rather than the FBI's.
The independent inquiry led by former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo.,
will examine that question and others stemming from the escalating
controversy over the government's conduct outside Waco, Texas, said
FBI spokesman Steven Berry.
In June, the Rangers began re-examining selected items from the
24,000 pounds of evidence in their custody from the Davidians'
charred compound amid questions about whether incendiary tear-gas
rounds were fired by the FBI despite years of statements to the
The report, subpoenaed by the House Government Reform Committee,
confirmed that a 40mm shell casing re-examined by the Rangers was a
type of military tear gas round that "burns at 500 to 700 degrees
Fahrenheit, and is capable of igniting flammable items."
The Dallas Morning News first disclosed contents of the report
The FBI, in an about-face last month, acknowledged that a "very
limited number" of incendiary devices were used April 19, 1993.
But FBI and Justice Department officials said no evidence exists
that those canisters, fired early in the morning, played any role
in the fire that broke out shortly after noon.
Questions about the fire's start and the possibility that agents
did fire shots are among those that Danforth has said he will
examine in a narrowly focused inquiry.
"It's not going to be sort of a general sweeping investigation
into whether or not good or bad judgment was used," he said
Sunday. Danforth, appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno last
week to head the independent probe into the events at Waco appeared
on all five Sunday news programs.
Asked what he had learned from Independent Counsel Kenneth
Starr's investigations of President Clinton, he said, "This cannot
be absolutely open-ended where one issue sort of morphs into
The House Government Reform Committee chairman, Rep. Dan Burton,
R-Ind., meanwhile, promised a broader investigation. "We need to
find out who's responsible. It may not be an illegal activity, but
if it was incompetence, we don't want people in charge of things
like Waco if they're not doing their job properly," he said on
"Fox News Sunday."
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said it would be better to wait until
after Danforth finishes his inquiry before launching congressional
investigations which "become very partisan, very noisy." But he
acknowledged on ABC's "This Week" that "that's not going to
Burton made public a letter he sent to Reno about documents on
Waco the Justice Department submitted to Congress several years ago
that omitted one page mentioning the use of military-style tear gas
He said the missing last page of the 49-page FBI lab report
"raises more questions about whether this committee was
intentionally misled during the original Waco investigation."
He said he wanted to interview this week three Justice
Department staffers who were involved in the discovery that some
copies of the lab report didn't contain the final page.
The Justice Department and the FBI for years denied the use of
such incendiary rounds, and it was the recent disclosure that
several such canisters were fired at a storm bunker in the Branch
Davidian compound that sparked the new look at the 1993 tragedy.
A Justice spokesman said the missing page was included in
documents turned over to lawyers in criminal and civil cases
involving Waco survivors, and the special counsel will have to look
into why it never reached Congress.
The administration also continues to stress that there is no
evidence to contradict past findings that followers of Davidian
leader David Koresh set the fire that destroyed the compound. Some
80 cult members perished in the fire or, the government says, were
shot by other members.
Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., who has called for
Reno to resign over her handling of Waco and other matters, said on
CBS' "Face the Nation" that it was "very hard to believe" that
the misplacing of the critical one page was just an accident.
He urged the president to consult with Reno about her departure.
"I don't heap all the blame on the attorney general," he said.
"It is a combination, a pattern of things that show incompetence
and probative questions."
The administration continued to stand behind Reno, with White
House Chief of Staff John Podesta expressing confidence in the job
she is doing. "She's a tough-minded person, she is going to get to
the bottom of this," he said on CBS.