FBI finds additional materials on Waco gas cannisters
September 1, 1999
Web posted at: 10:26 p.m. EDT (0226 GMT)
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- CNN has learned the Justice Department has discovered "additional materials" relating to the 1993 siege of the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas -- materials previously undisclosed.
"Earlier this afternoon senior Justice officials learned from the FBI the FBI has found additional materials in its possession regarding the shooting of military CS (gas canister) rounds on the morning of April 19 (1993)," the Justice Department said in a written statement late Wednesday.
According to a senior law enforcement official, the materials -- which have been transfered to FBI headquarters in Washington -- include video and audio tapes, which allegedly show the request and the approval for the use of CS gas devices, which have been described by FBI officials as possibly pyrotechnic.
Last week, the FBI revealed that pyrotechnic tear gas canisters were fired at a bunker near the central compound occupied by Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and 79 of his followers. That revelation contradicted earlier claims that no such devices were used in the final assault on the compound on April 19, 1993.
Despite the new admissions by the FBI, officials continue to insist that the Davidians started the fire that consumed the compound. The agency says the tear gas canisters could not have contributed to the blaze.
According to the source, the tapes show the request and approval decision appears to have been made in the field by field commanders -- which seems to support the early contention by senior FBI officials they were not involved in the decision to use the CS gas canisters and did not know about it at the time.
A senior law enforcement source said FBI officials characterized the disclosure as both a "good-news and bad-news" scenario. The good news, say officials, is that it sheds additional light on what happened at Waco, but also paints an embarrassing scenario because the materials should have been discovered earlier.
White House favors independent investigation
While the House Judiciary Committee is drafting a proposal for a "blue ribbon" commission to investigate the incident, a senior administration official tells CNN the White House is pushing for an independent investigation of the matter.
Sam Stratmen, a spokesman for the committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), said the commission would be sanctioned by Congress but said its five participants would not be members of either body. Instead, the commission members would be appointed by the House and Senate leadership.
There already are several ongoing congressional inquiries, and the commission would not replace the investigations being conducted by the House Government Reform and Oversight Committee and the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"A commission offers us an opportunity for a much more thorough, dispassionate, thoughtful response," Stratman said.
House Judiciary Committee officials said they are anxious to avoid what Stratman called "the political theater swamp" that critics claim have been the case for previous congressional committee inquiries into Waco.
Both the House and Senate would have to approve a bill sanctioning such a commission before it could be established. If approved, the panel would have subpoena power and a staff of investigators.
The House could consider the proposal as early as next week when it returns from recess.
On Tuesday, FBI Director Louis Freeh informed U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno that someone outside the Justice Department should head the investigation into the final assault on the Branch Davidian compound.
A source close to Freeh said he wants an outside probe that would operate similar to that of an independent counsel or special prosecutor.
The White House supports an independent investigation of the FBI's failure to disclose the use of pyrotechnic devices during the siege and has made its support for such an investigation known to Reno, a senior administration official tells CNN.
The official predicts an announcement about the investigation would come from the Justice Department soon, most likely on Friday.
Both Reno and Freeh, according to two officials, are of the opinion an independent investigation is necessary to explore the controversy.
CNN's John King, Kevin Bohn, Pierre Thomas and Chris Plante
contributed to this report.