Reno ready to name Danforth to head Waco probe
September 8, 1999
From staff and wire reports
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Janet Reno has chosen former Republican Sen. John Danforth to head an outside investigation of the FBI's 1993 assault on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, and will announce the appointment Thursday morning, CNN has learned.
Danforth, 63, is expected to attend the 9:30 a.m. EDT news conference. He reportedly spent Wednesday working out the final details on the scope and mandate of his investigation.
The former lawmaker and attorney has a background in law enforcement, having served two terms as Missouri's attorney general before serving three terms in the U.S. Senate.
Reno's decision to select Danforth was made known Wednesday, about the time Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott called for Reno's resignation. He said the recent revelation about the Waco investigation is just the latest issue that puts her competence into question.
'Attorney general should resign'
"Based on the pattern now that has developed over 6 and a half years and the events involving not only the appointment of independent counsels, her refusal to provide information or answer questions by the Congress, the problem with the Waco investigation, the situation with the Puerto Rican pardons -- all of that leads me to conclude that the attorney general should resign," said Lott (R-Mississippi).
The FBI recently uncovered video surveillance tapes that revealed military-style pyrotechnic tear gas canisters were fired during the Waco siege, after denying for six years that it used potentially flammable equipment.
Lott, just back from a month-long congressional recess, said although he would support an independent investigation led by Danforth, the Senate must also conduct its own probe into the Waco matter.
"We have a responsibility here to the American people as elected officials to conduct our own investigation and ask questions. We'll be interested in seeing what our former colleague from Missouri finds, and hopefully he can help facilitate getting to the truth," Lott told reporters.
There are multiple probes already under way. The Senate Judiciary Committee, led by Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) has already begun an investigation. House Government Reform and Oversight Committee Chairman Dan Burton (R-Indiana) has issued subpoenas in his own re-examination of the tragedy.
Lott called the Justice Department decision to seize FBI documents a "curious development," saying, "I've never seen anything like that."
Asked if FBI Director Louis Freeh should also consider resigning, Lott responded only by saying, "I said Justice and the FBI should be investigated."
'Reno deserves commendation'
Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-South Dakota) defended Reno, saying under no circumstances should she resign.
"I think Janet Reno deserves commendation, not criticism. She has done an extraordinary job under very, very difficult circumstances, and she deserves our support, and she deserves every bit of the benefit of the doubt here until all the facts are known," Daschle said.
He also threw his support behind Danforth, calling him "credible" and "objective."
But Daschle agreed with Lott that Congress must investigate the Waco matter, and hopes it can be "nonpolitical or nonpartisan, objective and swift."
One lawmaker is deferring to Danforth, however.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde said Wednesday he would withhold his planned legislation to establish a five-member commission to first see if Danforth gets the full cooperation of the Justice Department.
"Should events prove otherwise, we will reconsider this decision," Hyde (R-Illinois) said. Meanwhile, Hyde's panel will examine the agency's structure as soon as this fall during hearings on Justice Department programs, according to a GOP official close to the panel.
A former FBI agent may have given Danforth something new to investigate Wednesday.
Former FBI agent Bob Ricks told CNN that while he "can't recall flares being used" during the 51-day standoff at the Branch Davidian compound, he "wouldn't be surprised" if that happened.
Ricks was the FBI's spokesman throughout the siege.
On Wednesday, The Dallas Morning News reported that spent illumination flares were found among the evidence recovered from the rubble of the compound.
Ricks said even though the compound was illuminated by bright lights at night, there were still areas in shadows and, if agents thought they saw movement, they would use whatever they could to light up the area.
Ricks said the agents paid particular attention to possible movement after two people sneaked into the compound during the standoff. "If you'll remember, we didn't know they were there until we saw them at the front door," he said.
Ricks also said the agents used "stun or flash grenades" during the standoff when they saw members of the Branch Davidians outside the compound. The grenades were used "to drive people back inside."
Ricks added that he does not believe flares were used on the final day of the standoff, when the compound burned to the ground.
Tear gas canister 'bounced off' Waco bunker
Federal Bureau of Investigation
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