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Democrats Balk At Waco Probe

Senate Democrats are refusing to participate in a Republican-led task force that will investigate how President Clinton's Justice Department handled the inquiry into the Waco standoff.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, the senior Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, scoffed yesterday at the Republicans' offer to make the probe bipartisan.

Leahy said the task force was set up over Democratic objections and was announced to reporters first.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott says the five-member task force will be chaired by Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter, and will include two Democrats and two more Republicans in addition to Specter.

Lott says the investigation will focus on "why is there no justice at the Justice Department."

The panel will also look at alleged campaign finance abuses and nuclear espionage.


The Branch Davidian compound in Waco

In another story related to the Waco probe, investigators sought information from the Alabama National Guard, which may have violated laws by assisting in federal law enforcement during the 1993 standoff.

The Alabama National Guard sent a reconnaissance jet to take aerial pictures about three months before fire gutted the sect's compound, killing dozens of people. The Texas National Guard sought the jet at the request of the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

"It wasn't an extraordinary request from our end," said Guard spokesman Norm Arnold.

But Alabama's National Guard has no authority to conduct military operations outside the state, and Texas law says military forces from another state cannot enter Texas without the permission of the governor, who did not know about Alabama's involvement.

Col. Evans Whaley, whose Birmingham-based unit provided the jet, said such requests for out-of-state help were not unusual, citing Florida hurricanes where planes were sent to take pictures.

Whaley said the reconnaissance mission was done under the auspices of a "counterdrug link we had to Texas. That's how it was approved."

The renewed investigations were prompted by the FBI's recent admission that it had fired two tear gas grenades at the Davidian compound, despite previously denying it did anything that may have caused a fire.