Signs are good that the inquiry will be focused, balanced and to the direct questions of whether government agents are culpable for crimes and whether they left a trail of deceit that undermines the credibility of the law. By selecting former Sen. John Danforth as the investigator of government conduct in the Branch Davidian inferno, Attorney General Janet Reno has tried as well as we can think possible to get the Waco thing onto a high road.
The St. Louis lawyer and Episcopal priest, who left the U.S. Senate after a long career as a Republican officeholder, brings to this endeavor a sterling personal reputation, a record of professional integrity and the political skills to manage this probe.
He already has set a well-considered tone for the inquiry into the conduct of government agents during and after the April 19, 1993, attack and subsequent fire at the Branch Davidian redoubt. Calling the matters under his charge as special investigator "the dark questions," Danforth was careful to enumerate his task as to determine:
Note, please, that Danforth does not intend to take side trips back into the why and what of government decisions during the 51 days of the siege, which began as a weapons violations pursuit and ended with about 80 people dead in the compound of the religious group. Danforth has been careful to explain in public that the probe is of possible "bad acts" not of "bad judgment."
The early discipline is important for a variety of reasons. Among the most important is that the Danforth probe sets out to get to the bottom of the credibility crater that federal law enforcement now occupies because it has lied about Waco. Diversions from this central question are outside the interest of focusing on a just finding that the American people can believe. Danforth, with the ways of Washington's scandal-prolongers well understood, set his boundaries smartly. He also hired on a Democratic-appointed U.S. attorney, Edward Dowd Jr., as deputy.
It is heartening, too, that the chairmen of both congressional judiciary committees have shown courtesy and respect to the Danforth probe. This respect, of course, will not sway all the partisan hound dogs who want to go another round of gotcha with the Clinton administration in general and Reno in particular. For the moment, however, signs are good that the Danforth inquiry will be focused, balanced and to the direct questions of whether government agents are culpable for crimes in Waco and whether they left a trail of deceit that undermines the credibility of the law.
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