Reno offers Danforth independent inquiry post in Waco siege

Wednesday, September 8th 1999, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Attorney General Janet Reno is negotiating
with former Republican Sen. John Danforth to head an independent
inquiry into the fiery end of the FBI's standoff with the Branch
Davidian cult. The Senate's top Republican said today he now has
doubts about who started the fire.

"There are doubts because questions have been raised," Senate
Majority Leader Trent Lott told reporters.

"I am beginning to think she (Reno) should resign," added the
Mississippi senator, a frequent critic of the attorney general.

The exchange came during final talks between the Justice
Department and Danforth over the details of the independent inquiry
and an announcement could come as early as today.

Congressional officials who spoke with the Justice Department
Tuesday said they understood Danforth was willing to take the job.
According to government lawyers and congressional officials, the
Justice Department was considering appointing a second person to
assist Danforth in the investigation and help to manage the
day-to-day operations.

Danforth, 63, would bring solid Republican credentials as well
as a background in law enforcement. Before entering the Senate, he
served as attorney general in Missouri for eight years. He retired
from the Senate in 1995.

Danforth also is an Episcopal priest, and both admirers and
detractors have noted his moral integrity and his stubborn

He did not return a call seeking comment.

Final touches were being put on the scope and nature of the
investigation, said the sources, who include Republicans on Capitol
Hill who had discussions Tuesday with Justice Department officials.

Reno's decision comes as congressional Republicans have
increased pressure on her and on FBI Director Louis Freeh to
explain how evidence about the siege, including videotapes, was
withheld from the public for years.

Some Republican lawmakers want to know whether the FBI lied
about using incendiary tear gas canisters during the final raid on
the compound on April 19, 1993.

The Dallas Morning News reported today that Texas Rangers had
found flares that were apparently fired by federal officials. The
newspaper said the Rangers discovered the expended military
illumination flares amid tons of evidence recovered Friday from a
storage facility near Waco. Evidence logs showed more flares were
recovered in the weeks after the Davidian compound burned following
the FBI siege.

More than 80 sect members died, some of them children, in a fire
that the government contends was set by sect members.

None of the committees looking into the raid has found evidence
that the government was responsible for starting the fire,
according to several aides familiar with the investigations.

Several GOP-led committees in Congress have begun
reinvestigating the Waco matter. Democrats on Capitol Hill have
asked the GOP to let the independent investigation sought by Reno
take place before congressional hearings.

At issue are recent revelations by the FBI that it fired several
potentially flammable tear gas canisters at a storm shelter near
the main Branch Davidian building hours before the main building
went up in flames. The FBI and the Justice Department had
previously denied use of any incendiary devices, and investigations
will focus on whether this misinformation was the result of a
bureaucratic slip-up or a cover-up.

The Justice Department insists there is no change in conclusions
that it was David Koresh and his followers who started the fatal
fire. The department also stresses that military special operations
officers were on the scene only as observers and advisers, and not
in an illegal capacity as participants in the operation.

Republicans have used the revelations to attack the credibility
of Reno and the Justice Department. The White House has stood
behind Reno, but President Clinton has declined to give a similar
vote of confidence to Freeh.

Those who know Danforth say he would bring instant credibility
to the investigation.

"He calls them like he sees them," former Sen. Thomas
Eagleton, a Missouri Democrat who served 10 years with Danforth,
has said. "Members of the Senate or House will have full faith in
his finding."


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