After a 10-month independent investigation, a former U.S. senator has concluded that the blame for the catastrophe at Waco that killed 80 people rests solely with Branch Davidian cult leader David Koresh.
"There are no doubts in my mind," Special Counsel John Danforth said Friday. "This is not a close call."
Danforth concluded with "100 per cent certainty" that U.S. agents did not start the fire or shoot at cult members during the 1993 inferno. The government also did not improperly use the military and did not engage in a major cover-up, Danforth said.
While the 152-page preliminary report marked the second time in a week that federal agents were exonerated, Danforth said he was still investigating the decision of an unnamed FBI agent and lawyers to deny for six years that three pyrotechnic tear gas canisters were used on the final day of the 51-day standoff.
The longtime senator from Missouri was appointed by Attorney General Janet Reno last September to investigate the siege after the government acknowledged, following years of denials, that it used pyrotechnic tear gas canisters during the final assault.
"Although the government did nothing evil on April 19, 1993, its failure to fully and openly disclose to the American public all that it did has fueled speculation that it actually committed bad acts on that day," Danforth said in his report.
He concluded that the pyrotechnic devices were fired four hours before the fire and had nothing to do with the destruction of the Branch Davidian complex in Texas.
"The blame rests squarely on the shoulders of David Koresh," Danforth said.
Also unresolved is what happened to the shells and pyrotechnic projectiles that are missing from evidence. Danforth said he would continue to investigate those questions and did not rule out the possibility of criminal charges after his final report is issued, in about 3 1/2 months. Danforth cleared Reno and other top government officials of any responsibility for the tragedy.
In Washington, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder said: "Today's independent review sheds further light on the truth and discredits many of the unsubstantiated allegations that have skewed the public's perception of the events of April 19, 1993." Similarly, FBI Director Louis Freeh was heartened by the findings.
"The simple truth, as the FBI has maintained since April 19, 1993, has been unmistakingly confirmed again today - the FBI fired no shots on that day and the Davidians started the fire that ultimately engulfed the compound," he said.
Most of the Danforth investigation was done by 17 private lawyers and 38 postal investigators to make sure it was independent of the Justice Department. About 900 witnesses were interviewed, and 2.3 million pages of documents were examined.
On July 14, a five-member jury in a civil trial in Waco decided that the government was not responsible. The ruling came in a dlrs 675 million wrongful-death suit brought by surviving cult members and the victims' families.
Ramsey Clark, who represented several survivors and relatives at the trial, said the Danforth report "failed to address the obvious." "If their conduct was so right," Clark asked, "how did it end so very wrong, with so many deaths?" Danforth did not address whether government agents used poor judgment. "This was an investigation into bad acts, not bad judgment," he said.
The siege began Feb. 28, 1993, when Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to arrest Koresh. A gunfight broke out, leaving four ATF agents and six Davidians dead, and the standoff began.
It ended April 19, 1993, when tanks driven by FBI agents pumped tear gas into the compound. A fire broke out and nearly all of the Davidians, including Koresh, died, some from the fire, some from gunshots.
The government has long contended the Davidians set the fire and caused their own deaths.
The Danforth report singles out for criticism "sensational films (that) construct dark theories out of little evidence."
A documentary filmmaker who claimed the federal government killed people at Waco, Texas, said Friday he was insulted by the findings in John Danforth's report that exonerated federal agents of wrongdoing.
Mike McNulty, the lead researcher on two documentaries about Waco, said he had spent seven years of his life investigating what happened to the Branch Davidians while Danforth had spent 10 months.
McNulty said he was standing by the contents of his films, which claim government agents fired at the Davidian complex and contributed to the fire that destroyed it.
Another of McNulty's claims is that a military-type explosive charge blew a hole in the roof of a building where more than 30 women and children had sought shelter from a tear gas assault by the FBI.
Danforth's report said overwhelming evidence showed the claims were untrue.
A line in Danforth's report pointed at McNulty: "Sensational films construct dark theories out of little evidence and gain ready audiences for their message."
McNulty said: "That just ticks me off. I'm not saying we are 100 percent right because you can't be.
"I don't believe we've received information that would be defined as truth from Mr. Danforth. He is doing his best to put the face of political correctness on this situation."
Also disappointed by Danforth's findings was Mike Caddell, the lead lawyer for the Davidians' recent wrongful death suit against the government. A jury that heard Caddell's claims exonerated the government of wrongdoing after 2 1/2 hours of deliberations.
Justice Department officials and FBI agents said they were happy with the report, and they hoped its findings were a step toward restoring public faith in government.
"We are pleased that Senator Danforth has determined that the responsibility for the tragedy at Waco rests with the Branch Davidians, not the government," said Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder.
Danforth's report is about 95 percent complete. He is still investigating whether some Justice Department officials misled their superiors about whether fire-causing tear gas rounds had been used.
The report also criticizes the Justice Department for resisting Danforth's efforts to obtain records and trying to exert control over the investigation.
WASHINGTON Congress wants to hear from the Waco special counsel who has emphatically cleared the government of wrongdoing during the 1993 Branch Davidian siege.
Hours after he issued a report exonerating federal law enforcement, special counsel John Danforth was asked Friday to appear next week before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee reinvestigating the government's conduct at Waco.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, want Mr. Danforth to explain how he conducted his sweeping, $12 million investigation and answer questions about the 51-day standoff that ended with the deaths of about 80 Branch Davidians.
"We need to know obviously more than his conclusions, but the details of the evidence and what he has done," Mr. Specter said. "... There is a responsibility on congressional oversight to make an independent determination. The starting point is to get the details as to what Danforth has done."
Congressional aides said the invitation to appear on Capitol Hill next Wednesday, extended after Mr. Danforth issued his report in St. Louis, has yet to be accepted.
Last fall, Attorney General Janet Reno appointed Mr. Danforth to answer what he called the "dark questions" swirling around the Waco tragedy chief among them whether federal agents had a hand in starting the fire that consumed the Davidans' retreat on April 19, 1993, or whether they fired on sect members during the standoff's waning moments.
In his 152-page interim report, Mr. Danforth said he had concluded with "100 percent certainty" that federal agents neither fired their weapons nor played a role in touching off the inferno. He also cleared the government of engaging in a massive cover-up or improperly using military personnel at Waco.
"The responsibility for the tragedy at Waco rests with certain of the Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh," Mr. Danforth told reporters. Those Davidians "shot and killed four [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms] agents, wounded 20 others, shot at FBI agents trying to insert tear gas into the complex, burned down the complex, and shot at least 20 of their own people, including five children," he added.
Those conclusions, coming after a 10-month investigation and a review of more than 2 million documents, were warmly welcomed at the highest levels of federal law enforcement.
"The simple truth, as the FBI has maintained since April 19, 1993, has been unmistakingly confirmed again today the FBI fired no shots on that day and the Davidians started the fires that ultimately engulfed the compound," the bureau's director, Louis Freeh, said in a statement.
Mr. Freeh noted that the findings came just a week after a federal jury in Waco, that was set up to hear the Branch Davidians' $675 million wrongful-death suit against the government, concluded that federal agents committed no wrongdoing. Their ruling is advisory only. U.S. District Judge Walter Smith is expected to issue his verdict next month.
"Seven years of absorbing unproven allegations and unfounded criticisms has levied a heavy burden on the agents who were at Waco and their families as well," Mr. Freeh said, adding that both the jury finding and the Danforth report bring "great solace" to them.
Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder also said he was satisfied with the report's conclusions.
"Today's independent review sheds further light on the truth, and further discredits many of the unsubstantiated allegations that have skewed the public's perception of the events of April 19, 1993," he said.
Ms. Reno appointed Mr. Danforth last September after the Justice Department was forced to recant years of denials that pyrotechnic tear-gas devices were used on the siege's final day. She declined to comment on Waco because of her role in approving the FBI's tear gas plan. She designated her deputy, Mr. Holder, to deal with Mr. Danforth.
"We join Senator Danforth in wishing that this report begins the process of restoring the faith of the people in their government," Mr. Holder said.
But in some circles, the report did little to quell the tenaciously held belief that the government committed wrongful acts and then covered them up.
"We had received indications from Danforths' office that they intended to tow the government line on every issue," said Michael Caddell, the lead plaintiff's attorney in the civil suit. He said he was troubled by the fact that the inquiry accepted the explanations of FBI commanders and other agents with little criticism, even though "they've admitted that they lied for seven years," about the pyrotechnic tear-gas grenades issues.
"But you're willing to believe them on everything else? These people are never challenged on their credibility," he said.
Mr. Caddell agreed with some of the report's conclusions, specifically those clearing the military of an active role in Waco. But he was disappointed in much of its findings, especially Mr. Danforth's assertion that the FBI's commanders in Waco did not violate Washington-approved operation plans by sending tanks in to dismantle the building on the last day of the siege. Mr. Caddell says a 1993 document initialed by the two on-scene commanders describes their mission as a demolition.
He said the report also failed to address criticisms that were raised in depositions of infrared experts hired by Mr. Danforth and the federal court that is hearing the civil case.
"There are a number of us, us being Waco critics, who are dumfounded by his results," said Colorado filmmaker Michael McNulty, whose two Waco documentaries popularized the theory that agents fired on the Davidians, trapping them inside their burning retreat. "I'm afraid Danforth has not answered all of the dark questions."
Branch Davidian Clive Doyle said the findings in Mr. Danforth's report came as no surprise, especially after the jury's verdict last week.
"It takes somebody with a lot more courage, than probably most politicians have got, to stick their neck out and buck the system," said Mr. Doyle, who survived the fire that consumed the compound at the end of the siege and who is a plaintiff in the suit. "His job is make Janet Reno look good, make the government look good, because ... he is trying to get people to trust the government again, so he's got to exonerate them. Otherwise, you still got the problem."
Taken with the jury's findings, Mr. Danforth's report could blunt the move toward in-depth congressional hearings.
"Does that form how the process will go from here? Hell yeah," said one Senate aide. "It would just be ludicrous to not take that into account."
Said Mr. Grassley, the Iowa senator: "Based on the developments in the court case and by this report, it appears that this dark chapter in our history is coming to a close."
Four Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents died in a gunbattle that also took the lives of six Branch Davidians on Feb. 28, 1993, when the agents tried to search the compound and serve sect leader David Koresh with an arrest warrant on weapons charges.
Early on April 19, FBI agents began ramming the compound building and inserting tear gas to force the Branch Davidians to surrender. Instead, three fires erupted at the compound about six hours later. About 80 Branch Davidians died during the blaze. After years of denials, the Justice Department admitted last year that pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds, which could ignite a tear-gas filled building, were used on the last day of the siege.
After a 10-month independent inquiry involving about 74 personnel, former Missouri Sen. John Danforth issued a 152-page report clearing the government of wrongdoing during the siege.
Some of the report's specific conclusions:
Attorney General Janet Reno: There was "overwhelming" evidence that Ms. Reno "did not knowingly cover up the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds by the FBI. ...Any misstatement that she made was inadvertent and occurred after diligent efforts on her part to learn the truth." The special counsel also found "baseless" the allegations that the FBI misled Ms. Reno "about the conditions in the complex and the status of negotiations in order to convince her to approve the tear-gas plan."
FBI statements in 1993: Former FBI Director William Sessions "did not knowingly mislead Congress regarding the FBI's use of pyrotechnics in Waco ....He simply did not know" that they were used. Nor did FBI spokesmen.
The 1993 Justice Department review: The review indicated that all tear gas used was "non-incendiary," but investigators did not investigate the issue of pyrotechnics. "The failure ... to discover and report that the FBI used pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds was the result of initiating the investigation with the assumption that the FBI had done nothing wrong ... and was clearly negligent."
The FBI hostage rescue team: Members of the team "candidly admitted" to Mr. Danforth (during the investigation over the last year) that they used military tear-gas rounds. "There was clearly no attempt on their part to conceal the use of military tear-gas rounds."
Rescue team commander Richard Rogers: Former commander Rogers did "sit silently behind Attorney General Reno when she testified to Congress in April 1993 that she had sought and received assurances that the gas and its means of delivery would be non-pyrotechnic." Mr. Rogers who authorized the use of pyrotechnic tear gas "claims he was not paying attention and did not even hear her when she made this statement." Additionally, Mr. Rogers did not correct "misimpressions" left by Mr. Sessions' "statement that the FBI had chosen CS gas because it could be delivered without pyrotechnics ... Rogers' failure to correct the misleading implications of the testimony of Attorney General Reno and Director Sessions ... contributed to the public perception of a cover-up and that permitted a false impression to persist for several years." The special counsel "will not pursue any further investigation of Rogers or any member" of the hostage rescue team. The office determined that his conduct did not "constitute a prosecutable offense."
Infrared tape: The counsel also found that the FBI did not alter an infrared tape recorded by an FBI aircraft on the last day of the siege, disputing allegations by attorneys for the Branch Davidians and their families "that the FBI removed the audio in the weeks following the fire in order to hide radio communications among FBI commanders."
1995 congressional hearings: The special counsel concluded that a missing 49th page of a lab report referring to the pyrotechnic rounds in 1995 is "attributable to an innocent photocopying error, and the Office of Special Counsel will not pursue the matter further." The missing page was part of a report from the Justice Department to be reviewed by Congress.
Tank assault: The special counsel found that "FBI commanders did not mislead Congress" about reasons for using combat engineering vehicles to breach the compound's gymnasium area "in order to facilitate the introduction of tear gas." The counsel said current evidence shows that FBI commanders "wanted the Davidians to exit the complex peacefully and they testified truthfully as to their intent in ordering ... [the vehicles] to breach the gymnasium."
Evidence discovery during the civil trial: FBI attorney Jacqueline Brown made "inconsistent, self-serving, misleading, and false statements" to the special counsel in regards to the use of pyrotechnic military rounds "and their potential for causing fires" after she learned from an FBI agent in February 1996 about their use. The special counsel found that "while this is reprehensible, it is not the principal focus of this investigation." The report says the special counsel will not pursue "a criminal prosecution, but will forward the matter to the appropriate State Bar Association and to the FBI Office of Professional Responsibility for appropriate action."
From Danforth's inquiry: Mr. Danforth said Friday that his final report coming later this year will seek to answer these questions:
Did the FBI or Justice Department intentionally make "misstatements" in internal documents generated in connection with the 1995 congressional hearings that detail use of gas grenades in Waco and that say none of the gas was pyrotechnic?
What happened to the pyrotechnic tear-gas grenade shells?
Why did the FBI not reveal until 1999 the existence of infrared tapes from the last day of the siege that contain audio tracks showing an FBI commander authorizing use of the pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds?
Did Justice Department attorneys "intentionally" conceal the use of pyrotechnic tear-gas rounds when they failed to inform defense attorneys about them during the 1994 criminal trial in which eight Branch Davidians were convicted on weapons and other charges relating to the siege? The report says they "instead told the defense lawyers the FBI only shot 'nonlethal ferret rounds.' "
>From the civil trial: U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith is expected to make final rulings within a few weeks in the civil lawsuit by surviving Branch Davidians and their relatives. An advisory jury on July 14 found federal agents not guilty of using excess force at the beginning of the siege and not guilty of starting the fire at the end of the siege or being negligent for not having firefighting equipment nearby. The judge will also rule on whether FBI agents shot into the burning compound, thereby preventing sect members from escaping.
>From Congress: Mr. Danforth is expected to be asked to appear as soon as next week before a Senate Judiciary subcommittee to discuss his findings and how he conducted his investigation. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., is leading the investigation for the subcommittee.
The House Government Reform Committee, which also has been examining issues arising from the siege, has yet to determine whether it will hold hearings.
Danforth: Branch Davidians, not FBI, caused the deaths at Waco
Special counsel John C. Danforth announced Friday that "overwhelming" evidence showed that federal agents did not shoot Branch Davidians or start the fire that engulfed their complex near Waco, Texas, in 1993.
Danforth also said there was no evidence that the military acted illegally or that there was a massive cover-up by government officials after the tragedy that took about 80 lives. Danforth's conclusions were contained in a 150-page report that broke 10 months of silence on his investigation.
"I can say that the conclusion that I have reached in this report was reached to my satisfaction with 100 percent certainty," Danforth said. "There is no doubt in my mind."
Danforth said he hoped his finding would help restore confidence in government. He pointed out that when he took the case last fall, 61 percent of the people polled believed the government started the fire at Waco. He said lessons that could be drawn from America's experience with Waco would be that the public should be skeptical of charges based on flimsy evidence; and that the government should be more forthcoming with information.
Some charges are possible
While his findings are preliminary, Danforth said they accounted for about 95percent of the investigation. He said there is still a possibility that criminal charges could be filed based on some actions by federal officials who may have misled their superiors or failed to disclose information about the use of military tear gas rounds. Danforth would not discuss that aspect of the investigation.
Danforth, a former U.S. senator from Missouri, staked his reputation on the report, which he called "the most important work I have ever done."
"We spoke to everybody we could," Danforth said. Noting that the investigation may continue for three to four months, he said, "We still will speak to anybody."
Attorney General Janet Reno, absolved by the report Friday, appointed Danforth in September to investigate the government's handling of the Davidian siege and the aftermath. He was brought in because of disclosures that FBI agents had fired military tear gas rounds in violation of Reno's orders. For years, Reno had said those rounds had not been used.
Specifically, Danforth was asked to determine whether agents fired guns at the complex; whether the FBI contributed to the start of the fire; whether the military was used illegally; and whether there had been a cover-up. Danforth's report answered all in the negative.
"This is not a close call," he said.
While there was no "massive cover-up," Danforth concluded that an FBI lawyer, Jacqueline Brown, failed to tell lawyers in the U.S. Justice Department that the military rounds - which could start fires - had been used away from the complex. Danforth said it would be "overkill" to prosecute Brown.
But the investigation continues into whether two Justice Department prosecutors who led the criminal case against the Davidians violated the law by not disclosing the use of the pyrotechnic tear gas. They are LeRoy Jahn and her husband, Ray Jahn, of San Antonio.
Ray Jahn submitted a written statement to Congress in 1995 saying the FBI had used only "nonlethal ferret rounds." He admitted to Danforth's investigators that he knew pyrotechnic rounds had been used, but claimed his misstatement to Congress was only "negligent." Danforth said he "is still investigating whether the criminal trial team intentionally concealed ... the use of pyrotechnic tear gas rounds from counsel for the Davidians and from Congress."
Danforth also said that Richard Rogers, the head of the FBI's hostage rescue team at Waco, had sat silently behind Reno and FBI Director Williams Sessions when they testified to Congress in 1993 that no pyrotechnics were used. Danforth said Rogers didn't violate any law but should have spoken up.
In addition, Danforth said he was investigating what happened to the missing pyrotechnic tear gas rounds.
Danforth said his investigators scrutinized more than 2 million documents and interviewed 849 people over 10 months. The investigation, which is expected to cost $12 million, used 74 investigators, lawyers and support personnel. The investigators were loaned by the U.S. Postal Inspector's office. Many of the lawyers took leave from the U.S. attorney's office in St. Louis and elsewhere. Private lawyers were also used. Danforth's second in command for the investigation was former the U.S. attorney in St. Louis, Edward L. Dowd Jr. His chief of staff, Tom Schweich, came from Danforth's St. Louis law firm, Bryan Cave.
The investigation was conducted with two core values, Danforth said. Investigators were sworn to secrecy so there would be no leaks. And everyone was required to keep an open mind as the investigation progressed.
Report did not examine judgment
While the report absolves the government of deliberate bad acts, it did not probe judgment calls made by the federal agents that dealt with the Davidians. Danforth did not deal with the initial raid by agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms that started the standoff. The ATF went ahead with the raid even though its commanders knew they had lost the element of surprise.
Later, the commanders lied about knowing that surprise had been lost. In the initial raid, four agents were killed and 20 were wounded. Also, six Davidians were killed.
The report also did not question the FBI's decisions to use converted tanks and tear gas to roust the Davidians. Some FBI negotiators objected to the plan, saying it would lead to a violent end to the confrontation. Danforth said it was the job of Congress or the agencies themselves to examine the judgment calls, and he would not comment on whether they should do so.
Danforth said the responsibility for what happened rested with the sect's leader, David Koresh, and the Davidians who followed him. He said surveillance recordings that picked up the conversations from inside the complex showed that people were talking about setting a fire. He said that as the fire consumed the complex, some Davidians killed their own children with gunshots to the head.
Danforth said there were several pieces of evidence that discounted allegations that FBI agents fired guns at the complex:
All witnesses interviewed said the FBI did not fire.
Pathologists reported that the Davidians who died from gunshots had wounds that were not consistent with high velocity rounds that would have come from government assault and sniper rifles.
Two experts in infrared technology reported that flashes on a surveillance tape were not gunfire. One company, Vector Data System Ltd., reported in May that a simulation test showed the flashes were not gunfire. Danforth's report contained findings from a second expert, Lena Klasen, who determined from the infrared tape and photographs that there had been no people near the flashes.
The timing of the report surprised many connected with the case who had not expected it until the fall. Danforth said he had been considering releasing an interim report for months, but that he did not want it coming before an advisory jury rendered a verdict in a wrongful death case in Waco. Last Friday, the jury found no wrongdoing on the part of the government. The judge considering the case still must render a final decision.
For Reno, Danforth's report was perhaps the best present she could get Friday, her 62nd birthday. Danforth noted that Reno was a very controversial figure and said he did not think it would be right to wait until November or the end of the year to exonerate her.
An independent investigation of the 1993 government raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Tex., has exonerated federal agents there and officials in Washington in the events that killed 75 cult members, some of them children, former senator John C. Danforth announced yesterday.
Danforth, the special counsel named by Attorney General Janet Reno to review the government's assault, found that federal agents did not fire a single shot at members of the heavily armed religious cult or start the deadly fire that engulfed their compound.
Nor was there any "massive cover-up" by the government, Danforth said, but several federal lawyers and an FBI agent did fail to reveal that four hours before the compound caught fire, potentially incendiary tear gas rounds were fired, landing harmlessly 75 feet from the living quarters.
"It was important to answer these dark questions for the American people," Danforth said at a St. Louis news conference where he released his report. "I give you these conclusions with 100 percent certainty."
"The responsibility for the tragedy rests with certain of the Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh," Danforth said, adding: "This is not a close call."
Danforth's report comes on the heels of last week's jury verdict clearing federal officials in a $675 million civil lawsuit brought by Branch Davidian survivors and relatives. That verdict and the conclusions by Danforth--whose appointment last September was welcomed by both critics and defenders of the government's handling of the tumultuous siege--may begin to put to rest public suspicions and years of congressional inquiries.
The findings are a decisive victory for Reno, who has been dogged by criticism throughout her term as attorney general for the department's aggressive handling of the standoff with the Branch Davidians. Danforth, a Republican who spent 14 years in Congress, specifically cleared Reno and FBI Director Louis J. Freeh of wrongdoing.
The Justice Department and the FBI expressed great relief at the findings.
"Today's independent review sheds further light on the truth, and discredits many of the unsubstantiated allegations that have skewed the public's perception of the events of April 19, 1993," said a statement released by Deputy Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Freeh issued a statement saying the FBI was gratified at the finding that there were no "ill motives" on the part of agents on the scene. Years of unproven allegations have taken a heavy toll on those who were present at Waco, he said.
"Like the jury findings, this report brings great solace to them in that its findings reaffirm that which we have always believed--they did their best and for all the right reasons."
In Texas, however, lawyers for the Branch Davidian plaintiffs, already discouraged by last week's jury verdict, were critical of the Danforth report. "The unanswered questions concerning the use of pyrotechnic devices are very troubling," said Michael A. Caddell, who represented families of those who died at the compound. He said the government's failure to prosecute its own agents or lawyers for misconduct in the investigation reflects a "double standard."
The siege began Feb. 28, 1993, when Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents attempted to serve a search and arrest warrant on Koresh. A gunfight erupted, leaving four ATF agents and six Branch Davidians dead.
A 51-day standoff ensued, coming to an end only when the attorney general gave the go-ahead for tanks driven by FBI agents to pump tear gas into the compound. A fire broke out, consuming the rambling compound. Koresh and 74 followers died, some from fire and some from gunshot wounds the Branch Davidians inflicted on one another, Danforth's report shows.
The inquiry did not exonerate everyone. Danforth said he is continuing to investigate the government officials who failed to disclose the use of the tear gas canisters. But he stressed that his investigation determined that the canisters were not fired at the compound and did not cause the blaze.
"Government personnel, especially government lawyers, owe the American people an openness and candor that was lacking in response to the tragedy at Waco," Danforth said. "Although the government did nothing evil on April 19, 1993, the failure of some of its employees to fully and openly disclose to the American people the use of pyrotechnic devices undermined public confidence in government and caused real damage to our country."
The belated discovery last year that the canisters had been fired--after years of official denials--prompted Reno to appoint Danforth and launch the 10-month investigation.
Danforth said FBI and Justice Department lawyers failed to tell Congress about the canisters during a 1995 investigation of law enforcement actions at Waco, nor did they share the information with defense lawyers during the prosecution of 12 Branch Davidians for the deaths of the four ATF agents.
In addition, an FBI hostage rescue team filed a report to the FBI general counsel's office mentioning an agent had fired the canisters, but an attorney there failed to provide the information to plaintiffs in the Branch Davidians' civil suit or other lawyers at the Justice Department.
Danforth also sharply criticized an internal Justice Department inquiry commissioned by Reno in 1993, calling the failure to pursue the question of whether pyrotechnic devices were used "clearly negligent."
Danforth did not rule out the possibility of criminal charges when his final report is issued in about 3 1/2 months. And still in question is what became of the projectiles, which are missing from evidence.
Justice Department officials said those failings should not obscure the larger findings.
"While I am concerned by his initial findings regarding the government's delay in acknowledging it used three pyrotechnic rounds on April 19," Holder said, "I am heartened by his conclusion that the rounds fired that morning did not cause the fire that engulfed the complex four hours later."
The special counsel's work was conducted by a team of 56 lawyers and investigators who conducted 900 witness interviews, reviewed about 2 million documents and examined infrared videotapes of the assault that led them to conclude government agents fired no shots.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), who heads a special Senate task force on Waco, agreed to hold off his inquiry until Danforth completed his work. Yesterday he said he wants to examine the report and take testimony from Danforth, perhaps as early as next week, before deciding whether Congress should continue its investigation.
The government was cleared of wrongdoing at Mount Carmel for the second week in a row Friday with the release of Special Counsel John Danforth's interim report. The full report is due in the fall.
Danforth, a former Missouri senator, was appointed by U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno last September to investigate the "dark questions" regarding the FBI's actions on April 19, 1993, which saw a fire that led to the deaths of David Koresh and 75 followers, including 21 children.
"There is no doubt in my mind about the conclusions of this report," Danforth wrote in the report's preface. "Government agents did not start or spread the tragic fire ... did not direct gunfire at the Branch Davidians and did not unlawfully employ the armed forces of the United States."
Danforth's report also concluded the government did not engage in a massive cover-up.
However, it accused several people within the government of trying to hide the fact that military tear gas canisters, which are pyrotechnic, were shot at the covering over an underground tunnel at Mount Carmel. Danforth called their actions "puzzling."
"... because the use of these pyrotechnics had nothing to do with the fire," his report stated. "They were used four hours before the fire began, 75 feet from the Branch Davidian residence, and in a manner that would cause no harm. Yet the failure to disclose this information, more than anything else, is responsible for the loss of the public faith in the government's actions at Waco, and it led directly to this investigation."
Danforth blamed Dick Rogers, former FBI Hostage Rescue Team leader, among others, for the lingering impression of an elaborate government cover-up.
"Rogers' failure to correct the misleading implications of the testimony of Attorney General Reno and (FBI) Director (William) Sessions was a significant omission that contributed to the public perception of a cover-up..." the report said. "Rogers attended the congressional hearings precisely to ensure that Congress was provided with accurate information."
Reaction to Danforth's report was mixed, split along which side of Waco's federal courthouse one favored during the Davidians' wrongful-death lawsuit. An advisory jury on July 14 also found the government was not involved in wrongdoing at Mount Carmel.
FBI Director Louis Freeh issued a statement praising Danforth's report for being "vigorous and thorough."
"This kind of public recitation of the complete facts can only serve to support the long-term best interests of the FBI and our desire to be fully accountable to the American people," Freeh said.
However, former U.S. attorney general Ramsey Clark, who represented most of the longtime Davidians at the civil trial, said Danforth's focus on whether the FBI was guilty of atrocities at Mount Carmel skewed his perspective.
"It's like judging a diver's performance off the high dive and failing to mention there wasn't any water in the pool," Clark said.
Danforth should have examined the appropriateness of the entire government operation, Clark said.
"He does it by looking at the dark side, but you have to look at everything that happened," Clark said. "I never in my life expected to see ATF go out there like that. It was an invitation to disaster. It was the same thing with the tanks. We shouldn't praise or glorify those who did it just because they didn't go in there and slit throats. The people are just as dead."
Michael Bradford, the government co-counsel at the civil trial, disagreed with Clark.
"I think the report answers the important questions," said Bradford, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Texas. "It gets to the heart of whether the agencies acted in good faith and who was responsible for the tragedy. Those were the questions most troubling to people, and both were thoroughly addressed by Danforth and by the trial."
Most of the $12 million Danforth investigation was done by 17 private lawyers and 38 postal investigators to ensure it was independent of the Justice Department. About 900 witnesses were interviewed, and 2.3 million pages of documents were examined.
At the St. Louis press conference where he released the report, Danforth blamed Koresh for the deaths at Mount Carmel.
The blame rests squarely on the shoulders of David Koresh, Danforth said. He added, This is not a close call.
The Davidians clearly started the fire at Mount Carmel, the report concluded.
As proof, a string of fire-related comments by Davidians were offered: "I want a fire on the front ... you two can go." "Keep that fire going." "Do you think I could light this fire soon?" The comments were picked up by surveillance bugs inside Mount Carmel shortly before noon on April 19.
"The only plausible explanation for these comments is that some of the Davidians were executing their plan to start a fire," Danforth wrote.
Danforth's report also said fuel cans containing puncture marks were found at Mount Carmel.
"Expert tool mark examiners confirmed that someone had deliberately punctured several of the cans a common tactic among arsonists who wish to spread fuel," the report said.
The report dismisses the argument that government tanks plowing into Mount Carmel created debris that blocked exits and contributed to a faster spread of the fire.
"In most cases, the openings made additional avenues of exit for the Davidians had they wanted to avoid the fire, and some Davidians in fact used these openings to escape the fire," the report said.
Danforth rejected the contention of Houston attorney Mike Caddell, the lead plaintiffs attorney at the civil trial, that the FBI was actually trying to demolish Mount Carmel and not create openings for the Davidians to escape. Caddell unearthed a June 24, 1993 document seeking medals for the tank drivers at Mount Carmel. It stated they had been given the mission of "beginning the dismantling" of the gym.
"The Office is confident the quoted language is simply incorrect," Danforth wrote. "... the agents in CEV-3 were fully credible in stating that they were not given the mission to dismantle the gymnasium."
Caddell said Danforth's conclusion "casts a results-oriented cloud over the entire report."
"It is clear that this portion of the report in particular followed the path of least resistance," Caddell said, in a released statement.
Danforth's report concluded the FBI was telling the truth when it said no agents fired at the Davidians on the last day of the 51-day siege. It relied on the findings of Vector Data Research and an infrared expert identified as Lena Klasen. Both Vector and Klasen determined that the flashes on the FBI's famous infrared video came from debris and not gunshots, according to the report.
"These conclusions are supported by color photographs which show the reflective debris at the exact location of many of the flashes noted on the 1993 tapes," the report said.
Caddell, however, called the Vector analysis "fatally flawed."
In filings to Waco's federal court, Caddell said that Vector employees admit no multiple flashes were picked up by an infrared camera flown over a debris field during the Mount Carmel re-creation at Fort Hood in March. The FBI's 1993 infrared tape has several places where multiple flashes are seen, Caddell said.
"To dismiss these serious problems as merely 'sour grapes' is both irresponsible and a disservice to the American people," Caddell said.
The Danforth report also notes that the Davidian autopsies show that no one was shot with a high-velocity round, "which would be expected had they been shot from outside of the complex by government sniper rifles or other assault weapons."
Danforth said his office found no evidence that the military acted improperly in assisting the ATF and FBI at Mount Carmel. He downplayed the ATF's securing of helicopters from the Texas National Guard by a bogus claim that the Davidians had a drug lab.
"It is important to note that the vast majority of military support provided at Waco was not premised on any alleged drug nexus," the report said. "... the National Guard could have supported law enforcement in the manner it did without a drug nexus, although such support may have been somewhat difficult under the relevant law and regulations."
Danforth called the report "the most important work I have ever done."
"It is my hope that ... this investigation will not only resolve the dark questions of Waco, but will also begin the process of restoring the faith of the people in their government and the faith of the government in the people," he stated.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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