Danforth To Meet Davidian Lawyers

The Associated Press, September 21, 1999
By Michelle Mittelstadt

WASHINGTON (AP) - The special counsel investigating a possible Waco cover-up is asking for information from the lawyers who are suing the government on behalf of survivors.

But less than two weeks on the job, the special counsel, John Danforth, is also griping to former colleagues in the U.S. Senate about its own fledgling investigation into the issue.

Senate Republicans, meanwhile, moved to widen their probe to include other Justice Department controversies, even as they appeared at odds among themselves on how to proceed.

Sen. Arlen Specter, who would head the proposed Senate probe, is considering hiring the former federal prosecutor who publicly disagreed with Attorney General Janet Reno over an investigation of Democratic fund-raising abuses in the 1996 election.

Specter, R-Pa., a few days ago broached the idea of hiring Charles LaBella as the lead investigator for what would be a five-member bipartisan Senate task force, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, confirmed Tuesday.

LaBella left the Justice Department earlier this year after disagreeing with Reno over whether to appoint an independent counsel in the campaign money investigation.

Grassley, who would sit on the task force, voiced concern that hiring LaBella could taint an inquiry that will focus largely on Reno's stewardship of the Justice Department.

"On the positive side, he knows where all the skeletons are," Grassley said in an interview. "On the negative side, it could send a signal that there is a preconceived notion about the FBI and the Justice Department."

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, Republican, pointed a finger at Specter after Danforth expressed irritation that the Senate had moved ahead with its own inquiries in Texas after promising to give him precedence.

"I thought we had agreed that we would work together so that I can fulfill my mission as special counsel, recognizing that Congress has its own responsibilities to fulfill," Danforth said in a Sept. 17 letter to Hatch and Sen. Patrick Leahy of Vermont, the senior Democrat on Hatch's committee.

"It is not within the spirit of cooperation for the Judiciary Committee to dispatch personnel to Waco without even troubling to give me a call," wrote Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri. His letter was obtained Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Hatch said the investigators traveled to Texas at Specter's direction and "not with full committee authorization." He pledged to cooperate with Danforth as much as possible.

A bipartisan task force headed by Specter was proposed earlier by Senate Republicans as a way to resolve an impasse over the scope and leadership of the Waco investigation.

Hatch said the task force would investigate "whether or not the Justice Department is serving the American people" in its handling of controversies from Waco to Chinese nuclear espionage.

But Hatch said it would move forward only if Senate Democratic Leader Tom Daschle and Leahy of Vermont agree to it by Thursday. If not, he said, the proceedings would take place in the Republican-controlled Judiciary Committee.

Leahy expressed concern over the scope and likely cost of such proceedings.

"Many would treat this as a way of getting at Janet Reno rather than who in the FBI withheld information" during earlier Waco investigations, Leahy told reporters after the private meeting in Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott's office.

Danforth, meanwhile, was moving on several fronts after traveling Monday to the Texas site, where an estimated 80 followers of sect leader David Korish died in a fiery blaze in April 1993 following a 51-day siege by federal law enforcement agents.

He wants his staff to meet within the next two weeks with lawyers pressing a wrongful-death lawsuit against the government on behalf of surviving Davidians and relatives of the dead.

In a letter to the lawyers Monday, Danforth requested the attorneys' views on the FBI's use of pyrotechnic tear gas canisters, the "allegedly improper use of the U.S. armed forces," and the way certain evidence and testimony was presented to Congress. He asked them to specify the most important witnesses and evidence bearing on those issues.

A trial on the lawsuit, which accuses the government of using excessive force, had been set to begin next month. But U.S. District Judge Walter Smith in Texas last week postponed it to give the government more time to produce the evidence he has demanded.

Michael Caddell, the Houston lawyer who is lead counsel in the suit, said he would cooperate with Danforth.

"We are very willing to meet with them to discuss our evidence with them, to have them meet with our witnesses, including our experts without any strings attached to that," Cadell said Tuesday.

Danforth last week asked for a month's delay in the trial so his investigators could interview witnesses beforehand.

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