By Dave Kopel, Independence Institute, and Paul H. Blackman, National Rifle Association
National Review Online, 9/07/00 1:50 p.m.
EDITOR'S NOTE: The authors are speaking on their own behalf only, and not on behalf of any organization. Their book, No More Wacos: What's Wrong with Federal Law Enforcement and How to Fix It, was given the 1997 Thomas S. Szasz Award for outstanding contributions to the cause of civil liberties, presented by the Center for Independent Thought.
Last September, there were hints that the Waco cover-up might end. In response to the FBI admission it had previously lied about using incendiary devices before the final conflagration, the Justice Department's primary opponent of independent investigations, Janet Reno, was promising one on Waco.
Yet Janet Reno's interest in uncovering the truth about Waco was no greater than her interest in uncovering the truth about Chinese Communist money entering the 1996 presidential campaign. But for Waco, her cover-up was managed far more adroitly than her patently indefensible refusals to name a special prosecutor for the 1996 campaign.
Reno, in all her Waco genius, used the appointment of an outside investigator as part of the cover-up. Her September 1999 selection of John Danforth to investigate Waco was almost instantly successful in getting the U.S. House Republican leadership to squash efforts by Rep. Dan Burton to investigate the Waco fiasco. As the Elian Gonzalez kidnapping showed, the House Republican leadership has no interest in investigating criminal violence by federal police, unless opinion polling shows in advance that the investigation will be popular.
Danforth was a brilliant choice by Reno. A moderate Republican, he had a well-established reputation in Washington for honesty. This was the main fact that the press noticed.
But there were two other significant facts about Danforth. As a senator, he had a compiled a generally pro-gun voting record. But on leaving the Senate, he gave a speech expressing his regret about all those votes, and his caving in to special interests. The Waco investigation offered Danforth a perfect opportunity for personal expiation for having been too pro-Second Amendment in Congress.
Second, Reno told Danforth that his second-in-command should be Edward Dowd, the United States Attorney for eastern Missouri. Unlike Danforth, Dowd has never pretended to be anything other than a fervent anti-gun advocate. During the Spring 1999 Missouri election campaign on a referendum to establish a licensing system for carrying handguns for legal protection, Dowd used the financial resources of his U.S. Attorney's office to fight the referendum — establishing a toll-free number for referendum opponents.
The day after the Reno Justice Department cleared Dowd of criminal charges stemming from his use of federal resources for a political campaign, the Reno Justice Department appointed Dowd to investigate the Reno Justice Department's handling of Waco. One hand whitewashes the other.
As second-in-command, Dowd could reasonably be expected to exercise plenty of control over the mode and type of information that was presented to Danforth — who was five years into retirement, and who had not practiced law for a quarter of a century. Danforth decided that his inquiry would be limited solely to the final day of the fifty-one day Waco siege. He also decided that limited inquiry would ignore any issues as to whether the FBI or others in the government had exercised bad judgment.
Thus, the Danforth inquiry did not inquire as to why the BATF served an arrest warrant for one person, David Koresh, by launching an 81-man machine gun, helicopter, and grenade offensive on a group home occupied by 120 people, most of them women and children. Nor did Danforth examine why a tank and chemical warfare assault was launched to end the siege — even though Koresh had already announced plans to surrender, and was complying with those plans. Nor did Danforth examine why the FBI concealed Koresh's surrender offer from Attorney General Reno, or how the FBI misled her about the deadly effects of CS chemical warfare agent when used indoors (nine people were dead of CS poisoning before the fire started), or how the FBI deceived Reno into approving the tank attack with false assertions that Koresh was currently abusing babies inside the compound.
Also off the table for the Danforth inquiry was the FBI's decision to ignore the advice of its own behavioral experts who predicted terrible consequences if the FBI attacked. On the weekend before the FBI attack, the Branch Davidians, expecting an imminent assault, hung a banner out their window reading "Flames Await." Yet the FBI claimed to be surprised when the building burned down after the tank assault began.
Instead, the Danforth tunnel-vision inquiry contented itself with finding that some of Koresh's lieutenants had started the fire, and that therefore the FBI was entirely blameless for everything that happened on April 19, 1993.
The only real target of Danforth's pique is the former assistant U.S. attorney whose whistleblowing forced the government to produce its latest cover-up report. It had certainly never occurred to us that Bill Johnston would turn out to be one of the good guys. His prosecution of the surviving Davidians included a panegyric in praise of the use of CS against the children. But Johnston had consistently shown some interest in preserving evidence—as when he complained during the siege that FBI tanks were destroying evidence as they crushed everything in site outside the Branch Davidians' building.
Johnston now faces probable indictment for allegedly failing adequately to turn over all his information to the special counsel, apparently out of fear the FBI would make him the fall guy.
Shortly after the failed BATF assault on Feb. 28, 1993, the Texas Rangers were appointed as special U.S. marshals to investigate the events of that day. The marshals recommended that perjury charges be brought against several BATF employees for blatantly lying to the Rangers, under oath, about what happened on Feb. 28. But of course the Reno Department of Justice prosecuted no one.
It is an effective warning to every federal employee that the only federal employee who faces any prosecution because of Waco is the man who blew the whistle on the cover-up.