Outside Waco investigator to be named soon
Reno denies rift with FBI
September 3, 1999
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Janet Reno confirmed Friday that someone outside the FBI and the Justice Department would head an independent investigation into the deadly 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.
She did not reveal her choice to lead the probe but "hoped to name that person shortly."
During a news conference at the Justice Department, Reno also denied that recent revelations about the conduct of government agents during the Branch Davidian siege had strained her relations with FBI Director Louis Freeh.
This is no time to "play one off against the other," she said.
Reno and Freeh themselves have been under siege since a disclosure last week that federal agents fired potentially flammable tear gas canisters near the main Branch Davidian compound on the final day of the 51-day standoff -- an admission that came after six years of denials.
Reno said the new review is meant to "ensure the American public has confidence and faith in whatever that investigation reveals."
But she declined to go into detail about the scope of the investigation, saying, "I think we've got to let the independent investigator determine what he or she needs to pursue."
Reno said she will find a person who is free of "conflicts of interest and will be well-received" to head an independent investigation.
"What I hope will happen," she said, "is that we will be able to agree on a mandate that gives them full authority to pursue any unanswered question."
Among those reportedly on the attorney general's list to lead the investigation are two former Republican senators, John Danforth of Missouri and Warren Rudman of New Hampshire, as well as former Iran-Contra prosecutor Dan Webb.
Danforth has emerged as the leading candidate, a senior law enforcement official told CNN.
The White House, Freeh and congressional Democrats and Republicans alike have suggested that Reno sidestep her department and the FBI's investigative resources in favor of an independent review.
Last week, the FBI admitted that potentially flammable tear gas canisters were fired at a concrete bunker near the main Davidian compound, a disclosure that prompted an angry Reno to say she'd "get to the bottom" of what happened on April 19, 1993.
On Thursday, the bureau released a videotape on which an FBI commander is heard authorizing the use of the tear gas.
Reno denied the furor surrounding the recent revelations -- and her decision to have U.S. marshals travel to FBI headquarters to take possession of the tape -- had caused a strain between her and Freeh.
"That's just plain wrong," she said.
The attorney general said she and Freeh often confer on difficult issues.
"Yeah, sometimes I call him and say, 'Why did you do this?' or he will call and say, 'Why did you do that?' That's the type of relationship we have," she said.
"It's not right, not realistic," Reno said, for her and Freeh to be in constant agreement. "Louis Freeh and I have what I think is one of the best relationships people can have in law enforcement."
Federal officials have insisted that the fire was started by cult leader David Koresh and his followers.
White House spokesman Jake Siewert said Thursday that President Clinton is "deeply concerned that the attorney general appears to have been misled and may have been lied to" about the use of the pyrotechnic canisters.
On Friday, Reno acknowledged that she had been misled about the nature of weapons used on the final day of the siege. But she said all the evidence she has seen supports the view that federal agents did not start the fire.
Reno said: "If the truth shows what I believe to be the case -- that we tried to set up something that would bring the people out and give them a chance to come out in a safe and orderly way -- and that it was their determination and their judgment and their actions that brought that fire upon them, then I would use the experience we have here and figure out what we can do for the future."
Asked whether she would resign, she said, "If the truth shows I've done something wrong, then I will accept the consequences."
In addition to the Reno-ordered probe, congressional hearings will be convened this fall.
Former Sen. Danforth likely head of independent Waco probe, official says
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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