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Freeh not told of FBI mistake until Thursday

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- FBI Director Louis Freeh was informed Thursday about the problems in the case of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, a bureau official told CNN Friday.

The discovery that more than 3,100 pages of documents that should have been turned over to McVeigh's attorneys had been withheld was communicated to FBI headquarters on Tuesday.

FBI spokesman Mike Korten told CNN that Freeh was informed of the extraordinary developments "early in the day" Thursday. Asked to explain the delay in informing the director, Korten said officials were looking into the "extent of the problem during that period."


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A law enforcement official said the discovery is exceptionally embarrassing for the FBI and its departing director, who has announced he is stepping down next month.

"We have to take a look at the big picture here," said the official, "to see what happened."

Attorney General John Ashcroft Friday delayed McVeigh's execution for one month, until June 11, because of the FBI's failure to provide his trial defense with more than 500 separate documents from its investigation. McVeigh was originally scheduled to die by lethal injection on Wednesday, May 16.

Ashcroft made clear that he felt the responsibility for the legal foul-up belonged to the FBI. He said he has ordered the Justice Department's inspector general to look into the circumstances surrounding the withholding of the evidence.

"While the FBI provided volumes of documents, it is now clear that the FBI failed to comply fully," he said.

Ashcroft said he did not expect anything in the files of FBI witness interview notes, photographs and tapes to contradict the verdict against the decorated Army veteran who was sentenced to die for the 1995 truck bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building that killed 168 people.

The one-month delay was granted "to allow his attorneys ample and adequate time to review these documents and to take any action they might deem appropriate in that interval," Ashcroft said.

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4:30pm ET, 4/16

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