Reno offers Waco probe to Danforth

Attorney General Janet Reno speaks to reporters on Friday.
Retired GOP senator now an Episcopal priest

The Associated Press, September 7, 1999

WASHINGTON, - Attorney General Janet Reno has offered Republican former Sen. John Danforth the job of heading an independent inquiry into the government's use of force at the fiery end of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas, government sources said Tuesday. An announcement could come as early as Wednesday, they said.

The sources, who spoke only on condition of anonymity, said the Justice Department was in final negotiations over the details of the independent inquiry.

Congressional officials who spoke with the Justice Department Tuesday said they understood Danforth was willing to take the job. According to government lawyers and congressional officials, the Justice Department was considering appointing a second person to assist Danforth in the investigation and help to manage the day-to-day operations.

Danforth, 63, would bring solid Republican credentials as well as a background in law enforcement. Before entering the Senate, he served as attorney general in Missouri for eight years. He retired from the Senate in January.

He is an Episcopal priest, and both admirers and detractors have noted his emphasis on morals as well as his stubborn independence.

Final touches were being put on the scope and nature of the investigation, said the sources, who include Republicans on Capitol Hill who had discussions Tuesday with Justice Department officials.

Explanations called for

Reno's decision comes as congressional Republicans have increased pressure on her and on FBI Director Louis Freeh to explain how evidence, including a videotape, about the siege was withheld from the public for years.

The GOP wants to know whether the FBI lied about using incendiary tear gas canisters during the final raid on the compound. More than 80 sect members died, some of them children.

No evidence has been uncovered by any of the committees probing the raid that the government was responsible for starting the fire, according to several aides familiar with the investigations.

Several GOP-led committees in Congress have begun re-investigating the Waco matter.

At issue are recent revelations by the FBI that it fired several flammable tear gas canisters at a storm shelter hours before the main Branch Davidian building went up in flames. The FBI and the Justice Department had previously denied use of any incendiary devices, and investigations will focus on whether this misinformation was the result of a bureaucratic slip-up or a cover-up.

Justice denies cover-up

The Justice Department insists there is no change in conclusions that it was David Koresh and his followers who started the fatal fire. The department also stresses that military special operations officers were on the scene only as observers and advisers, and not in an illegal capacity as participants in the operation.

Republicans have used the revelations to attack the credibility of Reno and the Justice Department. The White House has stood behind Reno, but President Bill Clinton has declined to give a similar vote of confidence to Freeh.

Democrats on Capitol Hill have asked the GOP to let the independent investigation sought by Reno occur before congressional hearings

Those who know Danforth say he would bring instant credibility to the investigation.

"He calls them like he sees them," former Sen. Thomas Eagleton, a Missouri Democrat who served 10 years with Danforth, has said. "Members of the Senate or House will have full faith in his finding."

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