Senators lining up to question FBI
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- There was Ruby Ridge, then Waco, then Wen Ho Lee and the recent allegation that FBI agent Robert Hanssen was a spy.
And now the FBI is in trouble again -- this time over its Oklahoma City bombing investigation.
The revelation that it failed to give defense attorneys more than 3,000 pages of witness interview notes from the 1995 bombing is bringing Capitol Hill calls for a deeper look into what one senator called a "cowboy culture" at the top federal law enforcement agency.
"I think there's a management culture here that's at fault. I call it a cowboy culture," Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, a frequent FBI critic, said Sunday on ABC's "This Week. " "It's the kind of a culture that puts image, public relations and headlines ahead of the fundamentals of the FBI."
Grassley is gaining support from other senior senators.
Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pennsylvania, who headed investigations into the Ruby Ridge, Idaho, shootout and the allegations that scientist Wen Ho Lee stole weapons secrets for the Chinese, said the FBI has developed a reputation for withholding information.
"When I chaired the subcommittee looking into Wen Ho Lee, they withheld a lot of evidence," Specter said on "Fox News Sunday."
He also cited former Sen. John Danforth's investigation into the 1993 FBI-led raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas.
"We had the Danforth report recently saying that there was evidence of misconduct of the FBI. They had delayed turning over evidence of pyrotechnical devices being used at Waco. There have been a whole series of instances," said Specter, a former prosecutor.
Meanwhile, Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-New York, said a Senate subcommittee would review the apparent FBI mistake that led to the delay, and he also called for President Bush to launch a blue-ribbon commission for a "top-to-bottom" review of the agency.
"We've had mistake after mistake after mistake," Schumer said on CBS's "Face the Nation."
But Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, defended the FBI as "still basically a healthy institution" in spite of the apparent mistake. Speaking on CNN's "Late Edition with Wolf Blitzer, " McConnell emphasized the agency's willingness to "come forward with a mistake, even an embarrassing mistake."
The FBI's admission last week that it failed to turn over the documents led U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft to delay the execution of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Ashcroft postponed the execution until June 11 but said he would not delay it again.
Only a court can now grant a subsequent delay, and McVeigh's lawyers are reviewing the new documents in hopes of convincing McVeigh to let them pursue a delay and perhaps more court review.
Beth Wilkinson, a former McVeigh federal prosecutor, said that nothing in the documents would change the outcome for McVeigh.
"I don't see how this information could have any impact on his sentencing," she said on CBS. The FBI's admission has already prompted attorneys for co-conspirator Terry Nichols to appeal his conviction. They filed papers in federal appeals court in Denver on Friday, narrowly beating a midnight deadline. They are seeking a new trial.
On the McVeigh case, at least one FBI field office suspected as early as January that some documents had not been entered into the agency's database system, an FBI source told CNN on Saturday.
But the agency has acknowledged that Director Louis Freeh was not told until Thursday.
The documents came to light as a result of a fifth request to FBI field offices for bombing-related material, FBI officials said. It was being collected so FBI archivists could compile all the papers in the case, a process that began in December. Four prior searches had been narrower in nature, the officials said.
Grassley said the way the documents came to light makes him suspicious because the same thing has happened in other cases.
"We've had Wen Ho Lee, we've had Waco, we've had a lot of cases where documents just seemed to appear. And when that happens so often, I'd have to say, I don't believe it," said Grassley.
Specter said the latest problem shows what the agency faces under the present setup. "The FBI is a tough organization to manage, as vast as it is, and what I think we need to do is to have a lot more active congressional and Senate oversight," he said.
If the documents intentionally were withheld from the defense team, severe measures are called for, said Specter.
"There ought to be a criminal prosecution for obstruction of justice, and we really ought to be tough if we can prove that this evidence was withheld deliberately," he said.
In the case of accused spy Hanssen, the bureau denied there could be a spy in its midst up until Hanssen was caught. In the 1992 raid on Randy Weaver's home in Ruby Ridge in which his wife and son were killed, documents came forward later to suggest there had been an attempted cover-up of a shoot-to-kill order.
In the case of Wen Ho Lee, documents surfaced after he was accused that cast doubt on the charges that the scientist was providing secrets to the Chinese.
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