Danforth will have power to compel testimony in Waco probe

The Associated Press, September 10, 1999
By Pete Yost

(09-10) 01:23 EDT WASHINGTON (AP) -- As he delves into the FBI's actions in the 1993 Branch Davidian tragedy, John Danforth will hope for cooperation, but if he doesn't get it, the former senator can always pull Plan B from his back pocket: an unlimited supply of grand jury subpoenas.

"The attorney general has armed me with all the authority under the law necessary to get to the facts, including, if necessary, the power to empanel a grand jury," Danforth said Thursday as Attorney General Janet Reno named him to head an independent investigation of the FBI's actions at the end of the Branch Davidian standoff near Waco, Texas.

Investigating what he calls the "dark questions" of Waco, Danforth's mission is to delve into whether anyone in the government lied or withheld evidence regarding the fatal April 19, 1993, fire that destroyed the Branch Davidian sect's compound. The government has always maintained the Davidians set the blaze.

Danforth and the FBI agents who are the focus of his investigation could face some difficult choices. Agents who cooperate voluntarily -- a path Danforth says he would prefer -- could be placing themselves in legal jeopardy by talking, depending on whether they're supplying evidence that touches on any criminality.

If an agent refuses to answer, Danforth must decide whether to immunize the witness to compel his cooperation, a step that probably would preclude Danforth from prosecuting the person later if Danforth concludes the agent engaged in wrongdoing.

While saying he'll wield the legal tools necessary to get the facts, Danforth says his goal is to give the American people the information they need to answer some key questions.

"How did the fire start? Were there shootings?" Danforth said Thursday. "The thing that really undermines the integrity of government is whether there were bad acts, whether there was a cover-up and whether the government killed people."

Reno has been under fierce criticism since revelations that the FBI, contradicting a position it had taken for six years, had used some potentially incendiary devices on the last day of the 51-day standoff. The devices, however, were fired at a bunker, not at the building where the cult members were under siege.

Danforth also will investigate whether there was any illegal use of the armed forces in the final assault. Delta Force commandoes were at Waco the day of the FBI assault on the compound, but the Pentagon says the military team had no operational role.

"Everything I've read, everything that I've seen leads me to believe that everything" the Defense Department "did in support of the Department of Justice during this operation was both legal and in accordance with the guidance that they had been given," Army Gen. Henry H. Shelton told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday.

A retired CIA official, Gene Cullen, claims he has information that members of the Delta team were actively involved in the Waco siege.

Danforth refused to place a time frame on his probe.

Asked if he planned to finish the inquiry by the time the Clinton administration leaves town a year and a half from now, Danforth did say, "I certainly hope so. That would seem a long time from now to me." As the former senator made a round of courtesy calls on Capitol Hill, congressional leaders said they envision Congress' own Waco investigations will be more wide-ranging than Danforth's.

"I want to know it all," House Majority Leader Dick Armey, R-Texas, said.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Congress should not defer to the executive branch in delving into Waco because "after all, Congress was misled by the executive branch." "I would hope that they would do it in the broadest possible way," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss., said of congressional probes.

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