St. Louis - A pretrial hearing has been postponed again for a former prosecutor accused of obstructing the investigation into the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.
The hearing for ex-prosecutor Bill Johnston originally was scheduled for Jan. 16, then postponed until Wednesday. Now, it has been rescheduled for 1:30 p.m. CST Feb. 6 before U.S. District Judge Charles Shaw in St. Louis.
The case is being heard here because Waco Special Counsel John Danforth conducted the investigation from an office in St. Louis.
The Waco Tribune-Herald on Tuesday, citing sources, reported that the hearing was postponed as the parties tried to negotiate a plea agreement. Jan Diltz, a spokeswoman for the Office of Special Counsel, would say only that lawyers continued to discuss legal matters.
Johnston was indicted by a grand jury in St. Louis on Nov. 8, just before Danforth released his final report absolving the government of wrongdoing in the siege. Johnston pleaded innocent to two counts of obstructing justice and three counts of lying to federal investigators and a grand jury. His trial is scheduled for April 2.
Johnston admitted he had withheld several pages of notes that dealt with the FBI's use of pyrotechnic gas on April 19, 1993, the final day of a 51-day standoff that ended with the death of Davidian leader David Koresh and about 80 followers.
But Johnston said in a prepared statement after the November indictment that he was being prosecuted because he was a "whistle-blower."
"My actions were foolish, regrettable and wrong, but they were not criminal," Johnston said in the statement. "I can't confess to concealing the pyrotechnics when I was the government employee most responsible for disclosing them. And I can't take full blame when there is so much blame to be spread around."
WASHINGTON - Attorney General Janet Reno, holding her final weekly Thursday press conference, said she plans to head home to Florida this weekend "and do nothing for a week."
Reno, who has served since the first months of the Clinton administration in 1993, said she also plans to kayak 120 miles through the Everglades before embarking on a cross-country ramble in her new red pickup truck.
Four kayaks she stored in Washington are already en route to Florida, Reno said.
"I hope to wind my way home this weekend, pick up my truck on the way, sit on my front porch and do nothing for a week, except what I want to do, when I want to do it," Reno said.
Her deputy, Eric Holder, will serve as interim attorney general until President-elect Bush's choice is confirmed, Reno said. She said she has had no recent contact with Bush's nominee, former Sen. John Ashcroft, R-Mo.
Ashcroft said this week he would work to uphold laws he personally opposes, and Reno said she has had to do the same thing in recommending the death penalty for federal criminals.
"That is something that I grapple with regularly," she said. "If I were in the legislature, I would vote against the death penalty. But I have asked for it probably more than any other person in America."
Reno said if she could reconsider any decision it would be the deadly raid on the Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas.
Apart from that, she offered little introspection at what her staff counts as her 293rd weekly press session.
"I've stayed away from the legacy thing," she said.
ST. LOUIS -- A pretrial hearing for a former federal attorney facing felony charges has been postponed until Jan. 31.
The hearing for former assistant U.S. attorney Bill Johnston was originally scheduled to be Tuesday.
Johnston has admitted withholding notes about the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian in Waco, Texas. He is scheduled to go to trial April 2 on two counts of obstructing justice and three counts of lying to federal investigators and a grand jury.
Johnston was indicted by a grand jury in St. Louis on Nov. 8, just before Waco Special Counsel John C. Danforth released his final report absolving the government of wrongdoing in the siege. Johnston pleaded innocent to the charges in November.
In July, Johnston admitted he had withheld several pages of notes that dealt with the FBI's use of pyrotechnic gas on April 19, 1993, the final day of a 51-day standoff that ended with the death of Davidian leader David Koresh and about 80 followers.
Former federal prosecutor Bill Johnston of Waco was caught lying to a special grand jury and to attorneys for the Office of Special Counsel and should be held accountable for his actions, according to a special prosecutor's motion filed Friday.
In a 40-page response to pretrial motions filed by Johnston's attorney, Deputy Special Counsel Edward L. Dowd Jr. rejects contentions that the decision to indict Johnston on five felony counts amounts to vindictive, selective prosecution.
Johnston's attorneys charged in motions that Special Counsel John C. Danforth unfairly is holding Johnston to a higher standard of conduct than other government officials involved in the Branch Davidian case and that he has no jurisdiction to indict Johnston in St. Louis.
Johnston has asked that all or part of the indictment against him be thrown out based on various legal arguments, including the fact that he recanted the false statements he made to the grand jury about his knowledge of the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas devices on the final day of the Branch Davidian siege near Waco.
Johnston, who helped prosecute 11 Branch Davidians on federal murder charges in 1994, was indicted in St. Louis in November on two counts of obstructing Danforth's investigation into the 51-day siege at Mount Carmel. He also is charged with lying to Danforth's investigators and attorneys and to the grand jury that indicted him.
He is set for trial on April 2 in St. Louis. A pretrial hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, at which Johnston's attorney, Michael Kennedy of New York, will try to convince U.S. Magistrate Mary Ann Medler that the charges against Johnston should be dismissed.
Kennedy declined comment on Friday through a spokeswoman in his office.
"Contrary to defendant's claim, the matters the Office of Special Counsel were looking at were not exclusively in Waco, Texas, since the issue of a cover up could have occurred in several locations," Dowd writes about the jurisdictional question.
Dowd said that Danforth's investigation took him and his staff to several states, calling his appointment "first and foremost a fact-finding mission."
"After five months of interviews, there were indications that individuals were not telling the Office of Special Counsel a full and truthful story," Dowd wrote. "As a result, on March, 8, 2000, a grand jury was called. The jurisdiction of the grand jury was possible obstruction of the Office of Special Counsel or false statements made to the Office of Special Counsel. Since the vast majority of the witnesses at that point had been interviewed in St. Louis, it was the appropriate venue for the grand jury."
Dowd said that the OSC is unclear what Johnston means when he asserts that he is being held to a "higher standard."
"The Office of Special Counsel does not know what that means. Nowhere in his motion does defendant attempt to explain what he means. In fact, defense counsel's affidavit makes no attempt to explain what being 'held to a higher standard' means."
Johnston clearly understood before he testified before the grand jury on May 10 and again on July 25 his rights as a witness and voluntarily waived those rights, Dowd says.
"Furthermore, given defendant's status as a practicing attorney and a federal prosecutor of 13 years, it would be incredible to assume that defendant was not aware of his" rights against self-incrimination when he testified before the grand jury, Dowd writes.
Dowd also rejects Johnston's arguments that he is the victim of selective prosecution.
"Consequently, for Johnston to establish selective prosecution, he must first show that there are other individuals who lied to and misled a federal grand jury, and gave false statements to investigators and attorneys assigned to the Office of Special Counsel, and engaged in obstruction of justice by concealing an important document from the United States District Court in Waco, Texas, the United States Congress, and the Office of Special Counsel, and against whom the government has evidence that is as strong as the evidence against Johnston."
Dowd also disputes Johnston's contention that Assistant Special Counsel James Martin made an "implicit promise" not to indict Johnston in exchange for his truthful testimony before the grand jury.
Johnston alleges that during a recess in his grand jury testimony, Martin reportedly told Johnston that an FBI attorney had lied to the government four times and would not be indicted. He then urged Johnston to tell the truth, effectively pledging that Johnston's recantations would not be used against him, Johnston's motion asserts.
Dowd responds that Johnston agreed to take a polygraph test on July 26, the day after his second grand jury appearance, and signed an agreement in which he said he was doing so "without threat or promise or reward or immunity."
"Certainly a veteran federal prosecutor would not have signed such a form if he believed he had been promised immunity just the day before," Dowd writes.
Johnston has acknowledged that he "temporarily misled" the grand jury about his knowledge of the FBI's use of tear-gas cannisters and whether he withheld his notes that indicate that he attended a meeting at which the devices were discussed.
WACO -- The trial of a former assistant U.S. attorney facing five felony charges is fair and should proceed as scheduled, attorneys for Waco Special Counsel John C. Danforth said.
In a pretrial motion filed Friday, Deputy Special Counsel Edward L. Dowd Jr. rejected the contention of attorneys for Bill Johnston, who earlier this week claimed that the charges against Johnston should be dismissed because he was being held to a higher standard than other officials involved in the 1993 Branch Davidian standoff.
Johnston, who admitted he withheld notes about the 1993 siege of the Davidian compound, is scheduled to go to trial April 2 on two counts of obstructing justice and three counts of lying to federal investigators and a grand jury.
In a motion filed earlier this week, Johnston's attorney, Michael Kennedy, said his client was being held to a higher standard of conduct than other government officials involved in the siege.
A pretrial hearing on the matter is scheduled for Tuesday in St. Louis.
Johnston was indicted by a grand jury in St. Louis on Nov. 8, just before Danforth released his final report absolving the government of wrongdoing in the siege. He pleaded innocent to the charges in November.
In July, Johnston admitted he had withheld several pages of notes written in 1993 that dealt with the FBI's use of pyrotechnic gas on April 19, 1993, the final day of a 51-day standoff that ended with the death of Davidian leader David Koresh and about 80 followers.
In order to supplement the above news, we recomment the book by David Thibodeau "A Place Called Waco: A Survivor's Story" (see related article). Thibodeau, one of only nine Branch Davidian survivors of the attack, tells the story of the Branch Davidians and their dealings with federal agents. In light of subsequent government admissions, including a partial recantation in 1999 of previous denials that the tea gas used in the assault could have been incendiary, Thibodeau's detailed account of the storming of the compound and the fire that followed is still more important.
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