The FBI's admission reverses six years of statements to the contrary. Attorney General Janet Reno has ordered an investigation to "get to the bottom" of why her orders to use only non-burning tear gas were ignored at Waco, which ended with a fire and the deaths of Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and about 80 of his followers.
Amid serious questions over the role of federal law enforcement agencies in the siege, President Clinton said Saturday he has confidence in Reno, but stopped short of saying the same for FBI Director Louis Freeh.
Summoning reporters to the presidential retreat at Camp David, Md., to speak about Mideast peace developments, Mr. Clinton was asked if he had confidence in Reno and Freeh.
"Well I certainly have in the Attorney General. You know she told us what happened. She told us she asked the right questions and didn't get the right answers," said Mr. Clinton.
As for Freeh, while not casting blame, President Clinton remained reserved.
"I think that with regard to the director there is going to be an independent investigation which she supports and which he has said he supports," Mr. Clinton said. "I don't think it serves any purpose to assign blame until the investigation is concluded and the evidence is in."
The president said he thought Freeh "did the right thing in saying that there ought to be an independent investigation and I think that is all we can ask of him."
|Here's a transcript of radio traffic intercepted by the FBI on April 19th, 1993, at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco. It reflects the request for, and approval of, military tear-gas canisters.|
Stephen P. McGavin, Supervisory Special Agent, Hostage Rescue Team (HR2): [Unintelligible] supplying Charlie 1 [unintelligible] with relative safety utilizing the vehicle for cover and attempt to get [unintelligible] penetrate the construction project."
Richard M. Rogers, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Hostage Rescue Team (HR1): "You're talking about the block over top the construction?"
McGavin: "Say again, HR 1."
Rogers: "Are you saying he can penetrate the block covering over the construction on the green side?"
McGavin: "Ten-four. He thinks he can get into position with relative safety utilizing the track for cover and attempt to penetrate it with military rounds."
Rogers: "Roger. Of course, if there's water underneath that's just going to extinguish them, but you can try it."
McGavin: "Ten-four. Copy. He can try it?"
Rogers: "Yah, that's affirmative."
"So either they were, in my opinion, incompetent in doing the investigation, or there was a cover-up," said Burton. "But she should be held responsible because she was the attorney general and it was on her watch."
Congressman Asa Hutchinson (R-Arkansas) said the investigation must be independent of the FBI "to give the credibility to it, because these extreme, violent groups are going to use this as a rallying cry for the next decade if we don't try to lay this to rest."
"The facts that we know indicate that the bureau did not set that fire. That fire was set by David Koresh and the people in that building," Attorney General Reno said last week.
With Congress moving quickly, the Justice Department is trying to name an outside investigator as soon as possible. Former Republican Senator John Danforth remains the leading candidate, but officials say they're being extra careful -- after so many blunders with Waco, they don't want to make any more.