Davidians To Blame; Special Counsel Clears Government In Waco Siege

Star-Telegram, July 21, 2000
By Dianna Hunt and Toni Heinzl

ST. LOUIS -- A 10-month, $12 million investigation into the standoff and final inferno near Waco in 1993 has cleared the government of wrongdoing and blames the Branch Davidians for the deaths of about 80 sect members.

An interim report released yesterday by special counsel John C. Danforth also ruled out a widespread government conspiracy and cover-up. It concluded that the government did not start the fire on April 19, did not fire at Davidians that day and did not improperly use the military.

"I give you these conclusions with 100 percent certainty," Danforth, a former senator from Missouri, said in an afternoon news conference. "I hope it lays these questions -- the darkest questions relating to Waco -- to rest."

The report mirrors the findings of an advisory jury in a Waco civil trial last week. Danforth said he based his conclusions on more than 2 million pages of documents, interviews with almost 900 witnesses and examination of volumes of physical evidence.

Danforth said his office will continue to look into what he described as nondisclosure by some FBI officials and government lawyers about the use of pyrotechnic devices at the Davidians' Mount Carmel complex. In the news conference, he blamed their secrecy and six-year concealment of facts for creating public mistrust in the government but said in an interview that he will not pursue criminal charges.

"There will be no criminal prosecution," he said. "It would be overkill."

A final report should be ready by the end of the year, he said.

Danforth, whose name has surfaced as a possible running mate to Texas Gov. George W. Bush, was appointed as a special counsel in September by Janet Reno. His assignment was to investigate the confrontation between federal agents and the Davidians that led to the deaths of four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and six sect members on Feb. 28, the first day of the siege, and of about 80 sect members on the last day.

Danforth said he decided to release his interim report, which he described as 95 percent complete, to avoid conflicts with the November presidential election.

He denied that the timing was related to his desire to join Bush on the presidential campaign trail, though he made veiled references to "an unexpected political possibility" that surfaced in May. He did not elaborate.

Davidians and their families said they weren't surprised by the findings.

At the Mount Carmel site near Waco, a weary, 79-year- old Edna Doyle shooed away some reporters and waved others into her double-wide mobile home. A simple white chapel has been built nearby by survivors and friends.

Doyle left the complex several months before the standoff but lost her teen-age granddaughter in the fire.

"God is going to do the judging, and they are going to be eternally sorry and eternally lost, and it's nothing they can do to get out of it," she said.

David Thibodeau of Austin, who survived the April 19 fire, said the report's conclusions show that "the fix is in," even though Danforth is a Republican who was appointed by a Democratic administration.

"It's clear that both sides want to protect the American government," said Thibodeau, who has written a book about the siege and fire.

The Danforth report, he said, "will just keep the fires of controversy stoked, like the Warren Report did for the Kennedy assassination."

"It's not going to go away," he said.

Government officials were relieved by the vindication, their second in a week.

"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 Deputy U.S. Attorney General Eric H. Holder, who accepted the report on Reno's behalf.

"We join Senator Danforth in wishing [that] this report begins the process of restoring the faith of the people in their government," Holder said.

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said the report confirms what the FBI has said all along and should comfort beleaguered agents.

"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," he said. "There were no ill motives, as Senator Danforth found."

In Waco last week, a five- member jury cleared the FBI and ATF of wrongdoing. The jury was acting as an advisory panel to U.S. District Judge Walter Smith Jr., who is expected to issue his own ruling after conducting a hearing next month to determine whether FBI agents fired into the complex on the final day of the siege.

Mike Caddell, who represented several Davidians in the civil suit, said the Danforth investigation overlooked inconsistencies in testimony and failed to explore other possibilities.

The decision not to pursue criminal charges "cannot help but add to the impression that a double standard exists for government misconduct," said Caddell, also of Houston.

Attorney Dick DeGuerin, who entered Mount Carmel during the standoff to represent Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, said that critics will describe the report as a "whitewash" because it does not question federal agents' decision to finally use force.

"It seems to ignore the creation of the situation that caused the fire, and that is the tanks and tear gas," said DeGuerin, of Houston. "Even if you accept that Koresh was evil and was controlling whether they surrendered or not, that doesn't excuse treating all those innocent people in the same manner they treated Koresh.

"It's just going to feed all these conspiracy theorists who will be dissatisfied with this as a whitewash."

Danforth said his investigation did not consider whether federal agents acted responsibly in their handling of the standoff or whether the government's standard operating procedures should be changed.

"The investigation was into bad acts and not bad judgment," he said.

Danforth's report concluded that FBI officials and several government lawyers concealed from the public, Congress and the courts information that three pyrotechnic devices were fired into a construction area about 75 feet from the complex.

Danforth said the tear gas canisters were fired four hours before the fire began and did not start the blaze. Nonetheless, he said, his office will continue to investigate why the Department of Justice team that prosecuted the Davidians did not disclose the use of the pyrotechnics; what happened to the physical evidence, such as shells and projectiles; and why the FBI denied the existence of infrared tapes that captured the FBI commander approving use of the devices.

Michael Bradford, the U.S. attorney based in Beaumont who represented the government in the civil case, said the Danforth report bolsters the jury's conclusions.

"It's certainly totally supported by the facts," he said. "I would hope the verdict of the jury and the findings of Senator Danforth would put an end to this matter. It should be a final resolution to these questions."

Staff writer Barry Shlachter in Waco contributed to this report. Dianna Hunt reported from Fort Worth.

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