|THE WACO INVESTIGATION|
September 2, 1999
The FBI turned over tapes to the Justice Department today, detailing that permission was granted to launch flammable tear gas canisters at the Waco compound. The Washington Post's Roberto Suro discusses this development with Jim Lehrer.
JIM LEHRER: The Waco developments and to Roberto Suro of the Washington
Roberto, welcome. An independent investigation of the FBI's action at the Branch Davidian compound six years ago, that seems inevitable now, does it not?
ROBERTO SURO: Yes, it does. I think we'll probably hear even tomorrow who will head that investigation.
JIM LEHRER: And Attorney General Reno has the power to appoint somebody to do that, right, some outsider?
ROBERTO SURO: That's right. The form of the investigation isn't clear yet. It will depend a lot on who she chooses, but it may be something more like a blue ribbon inquiry than a special prosecutor, for example.
JIM LEHRER: Are there any names being mentioned or thrown around of types of people that she wants?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, one of the types of people that she's looking at is the prominent Republican politicians, former Senator John Danforth, former Senator Warren Rudman are two of the names that have been kicked around. There are some in the Justice Department who really believe that she needs somebody of such political stature to restore credibility to the Justice Department and the FBI.
JIM LEHRER: But at this point nobody knows what kind of authority or what kind of scope this investigation might have.
ROBERTO SURO: That's right. It's not clear.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. All right, now -- and you think that will be announced tomorrow, right, the person?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, there is that decision. She is coming back today; she's been in Panama for the inauguration of the new president there. She has a press conference -- a likely scheduled press conference tomorrow morning. And there's a lot of expectation that she may take that step tomorrow.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. This new video, this night videotape sound track development, tell us about that. Why is that important?
ROBERTO SURO: It's important most of all because it's surfaced so late in all of this. It's important because after everyone thought that all the pertinent evidence had come forward yet another important, potentially significant piece of evidence has arisen unexpectedly. It caught people at the Justice Department short. They're sort of asking, well, what else is there - have we seen it all? It's more significant in terms of the credibility of the investigation, I think, than in terms of what it tells us about the events that day in Waco.
JIM LEHRER: Let's look at it and listen to it again real quickly. We just saw it in the News Summary, but I mean, let's listen to it and hear it again and then let me ask you a question about it, okay?
|Permission granted on tape|
STEPHEN P. McGAVIN, Supervisory Special Agent, Hostage Rescue Team (HR2): 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.
RICHARD M. ROGERS, Assistant Special Agent in Charge, Hostage Rescue Team (HR1): 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: Yeah, that's affirmative.
END TAPE EXCERPT.
JIM LEHRER: So the agent is asking for permission to use these tear gas canisters, correct?
ROBERTO SURO: That's right.
JIM LEHRER: And permission was granted.
ROBERTO SURO: Permission is granted through, in a very cursory way on the spot.
|Did canisters cause the fire?|
JIM LEHRER: Now, the point that the FBI has made and former FBI officials who were involved in this have done some interviews and they've pointed out that this was done hours before the fire began; they claim there was no connection between these canisters firing and the fire, itself. What's your reading of that?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, that's right. The FBI point of view is that it was hours before and also many yards away from the wooden structure that eventually caught fire. These rounds were aimed at an underground space that was -- they feared the Davidians would use as a kind of shelter. They wanted to make sure that they wouldn't go in and they were fired at the very early stages of that day, hours before the fire. So the argument both at the FBI and in the Justice Department is that these incendiary tear gas rounds are not responsible for the fire that broke out some hours later.
JIM LEHRER: Their argument being that where they were fired, it was concrete and not flammable, correct?
ROBERTO SURO: Correct. And also that it was, as you said, several hours before.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. But going to your earlier point, where in the world has this videotape been all this -- for the last six years?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, it's been down in Quantico, Virginia, where the FBI Academy is; it's also the headquarters of the hostage rescue team, which is the unit that was on the scene that carried out a lot of the actions at Waco, and apparently was there and apparently it had not been inventoried, it had not been turned over to congressional investigators, despite several inquiries in the past, had not been turned over to the Justice Department in the past. And a lot of the anger and concern that erupted at the Justice Department yesterday afternoon was over the fact that suddenly this thing had appeared.
JIM LEHRER: Is there any evidence that somebody was intentionally withholding this, or was it an accident, or does anybody really know?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, that's very much what this kind of inquiry is going to try and determine.
|Where were the tapes?|
JIM LEHRER: Yes. And how did this turn up suddenly?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, last week, after the FBI for the first time acknowledged that it had used these incendiary rounds, FBI Director Freeh put out an order -- it was related to me -- to turn the place upside-down. I mean, he wanted everything and anything that related to Waco, and he wanted to make sure that there was nothing left. And it was as a result of that order that they went and looked at these tapes once more down in Quantico. They found this audio track.
JIM LEHRER: You mentioned some frustrations or anger between the Justice Department and the FBI. What is the state of trust and confidence between these two bodies at this moment?
ROBERTO SURO: I think right now it probably is as difficult as it's ever been. Certainly, it's as difficult as I've ever seen it, and there have been some rough times in the last few years. There's a real sense that Reno has gone out on a limb repeatedly for the FBI, has staked her credibility on their version of the events at Waco time and again and now twice in two weeks has come back and said, oh, we've got other pieces of evidence we haven't told you about all this time. And so there's real emotions there, and there's grave concern in both institutions about their credibility.
JIM LEHRER: Now, how unusual is this action last night of US Marshals seizing -- is that too strong a word -- seizing this videotape from the FBI?
ROBERTO SURO: Well, the FBI -- you know -- called over and said we've got it and said from the onset -- that we're happy for you to have it, but it was -- Reno could have said well, why don't you just send it across the street. Instead, it was a very dramatic action and a very unusual one, and I won't say it's unprecedented but no one can remember it happening ever before.
JIM LEHRER: Yes. And we always have to remember, as members of Congress were pointing out today, technically the Justice Departments are the bosses of the FBI. This is a very unusual, if not, as you say, unprecedented situation.
ROBERTO SURO: Well, the FBI has always been a very independent institution, although it is part of the Justice Department and answers to the attorney general; and an FBI director is a very powerful individual in his own right in the city, but it's a very unusual circumstance to have a public jostling. And more than that, the impression given that the Justice Department is viewing the FBI almost as a suspect.
JIM LEHRER: And now we have an independent investigation probably announced tomorrow, and then Congress is also going to look at this, right, Roberto?
ROBERTO SURO: That's right. There are two proposals in Congress. One is for a straightforward congressional investigation; another for -- for Congress to appoint a blue ribbon commission of its own to look into both.
JIM LEHRER: Okay. Roberto, thank you very much for the update.