- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 27, 2000

Special counsel John C. Danforth yesterday said it was "puzzling" that FBI officials withheld information from the Justice Department concerning its use of pyrotechnics during the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound in Texas since none of the information showed any criminal misconduct.
But the former three-term Republican senator from Missouri told a Senate Judiciary subcommittee his investigation would continue to determine why the information was not turned over, saying the failure to do so was "disastrous" and had "shaken" the public's confidence in its government.
He said that lack of confidence had resulted in his appointment and in an investigation that cost taxpayers so far $12 million.
"It's puzzling why there wasn't just a total disclosure of everything relating to pyrotechnics because the use of pyrotechnics didn't do any harm," he testified. "But there is a distinction between bad judgment and bad acts, and the alleged bad acts in this case did not occur."
Mr. Danforth told the subcommittee, only three of whose members showed for the hearing, that his 10-month investigation concluded that government agents did not start the Waco fire, did not shoot at the Davidians, did not improperly use the U.S. military and did not engage in a conspiracy or cover-up.
"And it's not a close question. This isn't, 'Well, they're probably not true' or 'More likely than not they're not true'; they are clearly not true," he said. "The evidence is absolutely overwhelming. The government did not start a fire. The government did not direct gunfire at the Branch Davidians. The government did not improperly use the military. And there wasn't any broad cover-up.
"The Branch Davidians started the fire, spread fuel throughout this complex. The Branch Davidians then began shooting their own people, including children. People say, 'Was this suicide?' Well, maybe if people kill themselves, it's suicide. If they kill children, it is not … That's not suicide; it's murder," he said.
Mr. Danforth also said there was no evidence Attorney General Janet Reno, former FBI Director William S. Sessions or current FBI Director Louis J. Freeh "in anyway misled anybody intentionally." He said, "There is plenty of evidence that they got bad information along the way."
But, he said, the inquiry would continue in order to determine why the FBI including a lawyer and a member of the bureau's hostage rescue team did not disclose for six years that three rounds of pyrotechnic tear gas had been fired into the Davidian compound before the raid, even though the rounds did not start the fire that consumed the site.
"The fact that any pyrotechnics were used was not disclosed, and the opposite was told to various people, including members of the Congress," he said. "And so the issue is, why were they not told? Why was this something that was withheld?"
Mr. Danforth said investigators believe that while the use of the pyrotechnics itself was "not a big thing," the fact that midlevel FBI officials did not divulge the information had turned it into "a bigger thing."
Last week, Mr. Danforth cleared the government of any wrongdoing in the April 19, 1993, raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in which 84 persons, including 24 children, died when a fire ravaged their ramshackle, wooden compound.
He said Davidian leader David Koresh and his followers were responsible for the blaze and the deaths.
The Davidians died in the fire that erupted after the FBI inserted CS gas into the compound to end a 51-day siege by federal agents. The standoff had begun Feb. 28, 1993, when ATF agents sought to serve Koresh a warrant. A gunfight erupted, killing four of the agents and six sect members.
Miss Reno named the former senator as special counsel in September 1999 after the FBI acknowledged for the first time its agents "may have used a very limited number of military-type CS gas canisters" in the raid to penetrate the roof of an underground shelter about 40 yards from the main buildings.
The admission reversed a six-year position in which the FBI denied using pyrotechnics. The underground shelter, covered by plywood and tar paper, was used by the Davidians for storage.
Two forward-looking infrared (FLIR) videotapes discovered by the FBI confirmed that agents received permission to use military-type incendiary devices the day of the raid.
The Senate Judiciary subcommittee on administration oversight and the courts, headed by Sen. Arlen Specter, Pennsylvania Republican, is now probing the Justice Department's handling of three high-profile investigations: the Branch Davidian siege, the suspected theft of nuclear secrets from U.S. weapons laboratories, and campaign finance abuses.

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