Danforth To Head Waco Inquiry

Associated Press, September 9, 1999
By Pete Yost

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Former Republican Sen. John Danforth is launching an investigation into the FBI's 1993 Branch Davidian standoff amid more calls for the resignation of the attorney general who appointed him, Janet Reno.

Danforth spent most of the afternoon Wednesday at the Justice Department meeting with various officials, including Reno, about the scope of the investigation and how much authority he would have, according to government officials familiar with the discussions.

A senior Justice Department official said Reno would introduce Danforth today at her weekly news conference.

Reno's selection of Danforth came as the top Republican in the Senate said he now has doubts about who started the fire that ended the 51-day siege { years ago near Waco, Texas, and believes it is time for Reno to step down.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said Wednesday that new revelations that the government withheld evidence about its use of force in the April 19, 1993, assault add to a "pattern" of refusing to cooperate with congressional requests, such as repeated GOP requests that she seek an investigation of Democratic fund-raising in the 1996 election.

"There are doubts because questions have been raised," Lott told reporters. "All of that leads me to conclude that the attorney general should resign."

Senate Majority Whip Don Nickles, R-Okla., also called for Reno to step down, his spokesman said.

At the same time, the attorney general received a strong endorsement from Senate Democratic leader Tom Daschle of South Dakota, who said Reno "deserves commendation rather than criticism," and that "under no circumstances" should she resign.

President Clinton has expressed continuing confidence in Reno, but has not done the same for FBI Director Louis Freeh.

Lott's comment added fuel to a GOP campaign against Reno since the belated revelation that the FBI fired two potentially incendiary devices near the Branch Davidian compound hours before fire swept through the wooden building and that the agency failed to produce, until last week, videotapes showing agents' raid on the compound.

More than 80 members died in the inferno, which the government maintains was ignited by sect members, not federal agents.

Reno selected Danforth and he accepted the offer during several days of negotiations that focused on what authority Danforth would have and how wide the investigation would be, according to government officials who spoke only on condition of anonymity.

Danforth left the Senate in 1995 and is respected by members of both parties for his stubborn independence and reputation for integrity.

Danforth, 63, is an Episopal priest with solid Republican credentials. He successfully shepherded the troubled nomination of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas through a tough confirmation process. He also has a background in law enforcement. Before entering the Senate, he served as attorney general in Missouri for eight years.

Danforth's independent probe could clash with multiple hearings that Republicans on Capitol Hill were preparing, but House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde, R-Ill., said Wednesday he would withhold his planned legislation to establish a five-member commission to first see if Danforth gets the full cooperation of the Justice Department.

"Should events prove otherwise, we will reconsider this decision," Hyde said.

While senators of both parties expressed their respect for Danforth's integrity, some warned that the multiple committee probes could hamper his inquiry.

"They'd begin to get in the way of Senator Danforth unless they fed into" that inquiry, Sen. Bob Kerrey, D-Neb., said.

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