John C. Danforth's investigation of Waco appears to be focusing on Richard Rogers, the former head of the FBI's Hostage Rescue Team.
That is the conclusion that some former FBI commanders at Waco have reached based on the questions that Danforth's investigators asked them during recent interviews. Other sources knowledgeable about the special counsel's investigation also believe Danforth's focus is on Rogers.
Rogers is the former Army tank officer in Vietnam who directed the Waco operation at the scene.
He is giving a deposition today in Washington in the wrongful death suit that the Branch Davidians have filed against the government. The Branch Davidians claim that the government -- and Rogers in particular -- was responsible for the deaths of approximately 80 Branch Davidians who died at the standoff in Texas in 1993.
Over the last several months, Danforth's investigators have questioned the top FBI commanders at Waco, including Jeffrey Jamar, Bob Ricks and Richard Schwein. All answered hours of questions voluntarily and without lawyers. They were not put under oath or read their Miranda rights and they were told that no grand jury is currently involved in the Danforth investigation.
Danforth's investigators wanted to know if Rogers had bullied Jamar, the special agent who was in charge at Waco. In particular, investigators wanted to know if Rogers urged Jamar to agree to aggressive tactics, including the destruction of the gym of the complex in the hour leading up to the climactic fire.
Some agents responded that no one could bully Jamar. But they added one caveat: Once the tactical operation of inserting tear gas into the complex began on April 19, Rogers had complete control as head of the Hostage Rescue Team. All that Jamar could have done would have been to call off the operation.
The government has maintained that Rogers and Jamar had the discretion to make decisions at the scene.
But a split in the ranks of the FBI's top command has emerged in recent weeks. Lawyers for the Branch Davidians have released memos and testimony in which Danny O. Coulson criticizes Rogers and Jamar. Coulson was the first commander of the Hostage Rescue Team and was at FBI headquarters in Washington during the Waco siege.
Other FBI agents have generally supported Rogers and Jamar. Several say privately that Coulson never thought anyone ran the Hostage Rescue Team as well as he had.
In one recently released memo from March 23, 1993 - three weeks before the assault - Coulson criticized a plan submitted by Jamar for tear-gassing the complex. Coulson wrote that "a lot of pressure is coming from Rogers."
The memo recalled Rogers' role in 1992 at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, where an FBI sniper killed the wife of Randy Weaver. "We had similar problems in Idaho with him," Coulson wrote, "and he argued and convinced the (special agents in charge) that Weaver would not come out. That proved to be wrong."
In 1995 testimony to Congress about the Ruby Ridge incident, Coulson testified that FBI officials had not approved the key language of the rules of engagement at Ruby Ridge - that agents "can and should" fire. Rogers added the words "and should" to the orders. Coulson said he had rejected Rogers' plan to use an armored vehicle to knock into Weaver's cabin. In a deposition last month, Coulson said the decision by Rogers and Jamar to knock into the Branch Davidians' gym with a converted tank during the last hour of the siege was a "deviation" from the plan he helped to compose.
Initial drafts of the tear-gassing plan said tanks would "create entrances/escape routes in the structure . . . ." But those parts of the plan were deleted. The final plan called for an incremental approach and only provided for tearing down the complex if the Branch Davidians did not surrender within 48 hours.
Coulson testified that he and Michael Kahoe, another FBI official stationed near him on the day of the operation, were surprised when they saw the converted tank knock into the gym. Kahoe cursed when he saw it, said Coulson. Coulson responded, "I hope that's a bad camera angle."
Coulson testified that Rogers and Jamar had not asked for permission to knock into the gym. And he said that knocking down the gym appeared to be "inconsistent" with the FBI announcement that was being broadcast over the loudspeaker at Waco that no assault was under way.
The Branch Davidians also cited Coulson's testimony in a legal filing on Thursday that blamed Rogers and Jamar for not having fire equipment standing by. The fire burned more than 30 minutes before fire fighting began.
The Justice Department's 1993 report on Waco said Attorney General Janet Reno had not asked for fire trucks to be standing by because she was worried about an explosion, not a fire. But Michael Caddell, lawyer for the Branch Davidians, said Coulson testified that Reno had asked for all kinds of emergency vehicles.
According to the record of an April 9, 1993, telephone call Jamar and Rogers made to FBI headquarters, the two decided, "There would be no plan to fight a fire should one develop in the Davidian compound."
Jamar explained later that he would not have allowed fire vehicles near the complex any sooner than he did for fear of subjecting the fire fighters to Branch Davidian gunshots. But Caddell says the FBI could have obtained armored fire equipment.
Coulson also was involved in the events of last summer that led to reopening the Waco investigation. He confirmed that Rogers had authorized the firing of pyrotechnic tear gas in the early morning of the day of the assault. This contradicted Reno's repeated assurances that no fire-causing tear gas had been fired at Waco and prompted Reno to appoint Danforth. There still is no evidence that pyrotechnic tear gas was fired at the complex or started the fire.
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