"Senators' task force to examine FBI, siege, Justice Department Task force to focus on FBI, siege"
by David Jackson and Lee Hancock ("The Dallas Morning News", September 24, 1999)
After days of debate, Senate Republicans created a task force Thursday to investigate both the deadly Branch Davidian siege and the Justice Department and FBI as a whole.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., who was appointed task force chairman, said he would hold off interviewing witnesses in the siege at the request of special investigator John Danforth. In addition to the siege, which ended with the deaths of more than 80 Branch Davidians at their compound near Waco, the Senate task force will examine the Justice Department's performance in investigations of campaign fund raising and alleged Chinese spying.
What is going on at the Justice Department?" said Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. "Why don't we have justice at the Justice Department?
Mr. Lott said the task force will consist of three Republicans and two Democrats from the Senate Judiciary Committee - although aides to the committee's ranking Democrat, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, said they were unaware of the Republican plan until the announcement.
We'll want to hear what they have in mind," said David Carle, Mr. Leahy's spokesman. "They haven't discussed it with us.
Attorney General Janet Reno pledged cooperation with any Senate inquiry.
The House Government Reform Committee is also conducting an investigation, but it is focused on the 51-day standoff between the Branch Davidians and the FBI.
Also on Thursday, U.S. marshals transferred Davidian-related evidence from Austin to the U.S. District Court in Waco, where a wrongful death suit arising from the siege is pending.
New investigations into the Waco siege began after a former FBI official told The Dallas Morning News last month that the agency used two pyrotechnic tear gas canisters during the final assault of April 19, 1993.
The FBI later confirmed that, reversing 6 1/2 years of denials by top officials that any pyrotechnics were used during the final tank-and-tear gas assault.
Ms. Reno - who made similar denials - responded by asking Mr. Danforth to conduct an independent investigation.
The Senate made its task force announcement after days of skirmishes between Mr. Specter's staffers and Mr. Danforth's independent investigation.
Last Friday, U.S. marshals in Texas turned away a Senate investigator working for Mr. Specter when he tried to view siege evidence being held by the Texas Rangers in Austin, officials in Texas said.
House investigators had previously been allowed to visit the two large rooms piled with Branch Davidian evidence at DPS headquarters, but marshals sent to Austin to help prepare the evidence for transfer to Waco said further visits would require court clearance.
After U.S. District Judge Walter Smith approved a visit, the staffer was briefly refused entrance to evidence rooms again this week, and was told that Mr. Danforth had asked the Rangers not to let him in until the independent counsel's representatives could view it, officials in Texas said.
In a letter to members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, Mr. Danforth complained: "It does undermine the work of the Special Counsel when Judiciary Committee personnel attempt to conduct interviews without any coordination with this office.
Mr. Specter downplayed reports of friction, saying he would honor Mr. Danforth's request to give the special investigator's office 30 days to conduct its investigation.
A Spector aide was eventually allowed in on Wednesday, just before the evidence collection was shipped to the court in Waco, the officials said.
The evidence - including boxes of charred firearms, projectiles, bloody police body armor, and audio and videotapes - arrived shortly after noon Thursday at the U.S. District Courthouse in downtown Waco.
Judge Smith ordered the transfer in August after the state DPS complained about being stuck in the middle of an ongoing effort by the U.S. Department of Justice to keep the public and others from accessing the Branch Davidian evidence.
In response to a DPS request, Judge Smith also issued an unprecedented order not only taking control of the Rangers' evidence but also instructing the entire federal government to turn over every piece of evidence and every document in any way tied to the Branch Davidian tragedy.
Justice Department lawyers initially tried to fight the order but agreed last month to comply. Judge Smith set a deadline of Oct. 1 but told federal officials on Thursday he will extend the deadline if necessary.
He also warned federal officials that they must turn over even classified materials and also must submit originals or explain why they cannot be found and turned over.
I assure you that no one, including myself, will view any such material unless they have proper security clearance," he added.
Such materials will be key to determining the number of military personnel in Waco during the standoff and their assigned duties. A Government Accounting Office study released last month found discrepancies in the number of special operations personnel present during the standoff.
Lawyers for the Branch Davidians have alleged that government personnel, possibly including Special Forces soldiers, shot machine guns at the compound during the April 19 tear gas assault, a charge that government lawyers have vehemently denied.
Waco, FBI and the Branch Davidians: Updates
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