Thursday, May 17, 2001

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh yesterday assumed responsibility for “a serious error” in failing to turn over thousands of documents to Timothy McVeighs attorneys, and told a House subcommittee that even more missing records have been found.
But in his first public comments on the FBIs failure to hand over more than 3,000 documents to the McVeigh defense team as required by a pretrial discovery agreement, Mr. Freeh told the House Appropriations subcommittee that none of the records had any bearing on McVeighs guilt or innocence.
“A review of these materials disclosed no new information relative to the guilt or innocence of Timothy McVeigh. The underlying investigation and his guilt remain unchallenged,” he saida position he steadfastly maintained during more than three hours of sometimes rancorous questioning by subcommittee members.
“Nevertheless and regardless of how extraneous these documents are, if they were covered by the discovery agreement, they should have been located and released during discovery,” he said. “As director, I have taken responsibility. The buck stops with me.”
Mr. Freeh, who announced on May 1 he will be leaving the bureau in June after eight years of a 10-year term, told the subcommittee the FBI had made an error in not assuring that “every piece of information was properly accounted for and, when appropriate, provided to the prosecutors so they could fulfill their discovery obligations.”
He said that because of the “massiveness” of the investigation and the possibility of a death penalty, McVeigh and his attorneys were given “access into government records far beyond what is provided to other defendants, far beyond documents that reflect on guilt or innocence.”
“Once agreed, however, it was our unquestionable obligation to identify every document regardless of where it was generated and regardless of where in our many, many offices it resided,” he said, noting that 46 of the FBIs 56 field offices had failed to turn over all of their McVeigh records.
McVeigh was convicted in June 1997 in the April 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 persons, including 19 children. He later confessed to the bombing, calling the death of the children “collateral damage.”
During the hearing, Rep. David R. Obey chastised Mr. Freeh for what he called a “pitiful performance.” The Wisconsin Democrat said the FBI, under Mr. Freehs leadership, had failed to exercise its powers with discipline.
“The power that your agency has, even in the most competent of hands, is dangerous in a democracy,” he said. “And in the hands of incompetent or careless individuals within the agency, it can be catastrophic. I think that the litany of troubles with the agency are truly astounding and regrettable.”
The discovery last week that FBI documents had not been handed over caused the postponement of McVeighs execution, which had been scheduled for 7 a.m. yesterday. Attorney General John Ashcroft delayed the execution until June 11 to give defense attorneys time to review the documents. McVeigh, who previously rejected any effort at an appeal, is now said to be reconsidering his options.
Mr. Freeh told the subcommittee that 46 FBI field offices either failed to locate the documents, misinterpreted their instructions and produced only those records that would have been disclosed under normal discovery rules, or sent the documents to FBI officials in Oklahoma City, where the investigation centered, only to have them unaccounted for at the other end.
“Any of these cases is unacceptable,” he said.
Mr. Freeh also testified that as of Friday, he had ordered a “complete shakedown” of the FBI, telling agents in charge of the field offices and assistant directors he was holding them “personally responsible” to make sure that any still-missing documents were located.
“The latest scrubbing has produced a number of additional documents, which are currently being reviewed to determine whether they were covered by the discovery agreement and, if so, whether they had been produced,” he said, noting they contained no information relating to McVeighs guilt or innocence.
Mr. Freeh did not elaborate and his spokesman, John Collingwood, declined to comment on how many additional documents had been located.

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