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MS. RENO: Good morning. I have been working to identify an individual outside the Department of Justice who could head up the investigation into the events at Waco, Texas, on April the 19th, 1993. During that time, I have tried to find someone with impeccable credentials, someone with bipartisan support in Washington who is widely regarded throughout the country, someone who is independent and someone who has the wisdom and determination to do the job the right way. I have found that person in Senator John Danforth.
Senator Danforth will have the authority to investigate whether any government employee or agent: one, suppressed information relating to the events on April the 19th, made false statements or misleading statements concerning those events, used any pyrotechnic or incendiary devices or engaged in gunfire on that day, and took any action that started or contributed to the spread of the fire. In addition, he is authorized to investigate whether there was any illegal use of the armed forces.
More than two weeks ago, I said I wanted to set up an investigation to find answers and present those answers to the American public. I believe the system we have agreed upon today will enable Senator Danforth to do just that. Under the order I have signed today, Senator Danforth will have the same authority as that which any special counsel would have under our new special counsel regulations. As for any limited role that I would otherwise have in supervising such an outside inquiry, I have asked Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder to handle those duties, since he was not involved in any way with Waco. I have spoken with Director Freeh and he agrees with the choice of Senator Danforth and says he feels it is an excellent choice.
The recent revelations have caused the American people to raise new questions, questions that deserve to be answered. Senator Danforth, I think, is a person who can find those answers.
MR. DANFORTH: I think you'll understand that once an investigation gets going, it's really not appropriate to have a running commentary on a day-to-day or week-to-week basis as to what's going on in the investigation, but before it gets started, and it's going to take, you know, a few days to gear it up, I think it's important for me to be accessible to the media and to the American people to try to make it clear what's going to happen and what this investigation is about and what it is not about.
I, when I was first approached by the attorney general, made it clear that it is very important for this investigation to have definition, to have some mission statement of what it is and what it isn't. And the attorney general's order spells out what it is, and I want to just summarize it for you so that there is a total understanding of this.
Basically, when you boil down the half-dozen points that are in the order, they amount to two big questions that have to be resolved. The first question is, was there a cover-up? And the second question is, did federal officials kill people? That's the question of the cause of the fire, whether there was shooting and so forth. And those are the two big questions, and those are the questions that we will be examining in this investigation.
In other words, what we're going to be looking at is whether there were bad acts, not whether there was bad judgment. And I want that understood. Our country can survive bad judgment. I take it that every day for the history of America there's been bad judgment. But the thing that really undermines the integrity of government is whether there were bad acts, whether there was a cover-up, and whether there was government and whether the government killed people.
So what we are not going to be looking at is whether it was advisable in the first place for ATF to be concerned about the Branch Davidians, whether it was a good idea or not to stage the raid in February of 1993, or in April of 1993, for that matter, or the psychological efforts that took place in between.
Those -- I don't minimize the importance of those questions at all, but I don't think that those should be the questions for a special counsel. I think they are questions that Congress can address and the media can address and the American people can address, or the political process can address. But they are really not the subject of this investigation.
Now another point that should be made about the attorney general's order is at the very end of the order, where it says, "In addition to the confidential report, the special counsel, to the maximum extent possible, and consistent with his duties and the law, shall submit to the attorney general a final report, such interim reports, in the form that will permit public dissemination."
The first priority is to get to the facts. And the attorney general has armed me with all the authority under the law necessary to get to the facts, including, if necessary, the power to impanel a grand jury. That's the first priority, to get to the facts.
However, it is my hope and my intention that the facts that are discovered will be made available to the American people, for that is very, very important.
And as we proceed with the investigation, we have to bear in mind that, you know, if we ever get to the grand jury point, obviously secrecy is in place. And I'm just telling you the balancing act that we're going to have to go through along the way. Getting the facts -- that's order number one, but hopefully in a form that can be made public.
It is clear to me that the quality of the product of what we hope to produce is going to be dependent on the quality of the people who produce it. And it was clear to me that I needed as a deputy somebody who was very, very experienced in prosecutions, in investigations, and somebody in whom I could have confidence. And I asked for the help of Ed Dowd (sp), a person I have known -- he's from St. Louis, and he is a person who is very highly regarded in our community and a very, very experienced prosecutor -- to be the deputy special counsel. And I'm happy to say that he has accepted that.
Obviously, this means that he will be leaving the U.S. attorney's office. He will be in fact joining the law firm that I'm in, Bryan- Cave (sp), and he will be working on this project with me. And I am very grateful for that.
Q Senator. Senator, who's going to conduct -- who's going to do the legwork? It's been speculated that you will not use FBI agents even though, as I understand it, some FBI agents who have no connection to Waco are available for that legwork.
MR. DANFORTH: I don't believe that the FBI should be investigating the FBI, and I think that that's the reason for a special counsel. I would hope, to the maximum extent that I can, to use people who are in the private sector. I think that it is possible and even likely that we will need some help from government investigators. In that case, I would hope to go outside the Justice Department to the maximum extent that I can.
I can't say that under no circumstance would I call on any help at all from the FBI, because I don't know how the course of this will proceed. But my basic thought is that the FBI should not be investigating the FBI.
Q How long do you expect this investigation to last? (Inaudible.)
MR. DANFORTH: No. I don't know how long. I think that it would be a mistake to set a fixed time limit. I can tell you that my goals are first of all to be absolutely objective, and I go into this with no preconceived ideas whatever. So I'm going to be totally, totally objective. I'm going to call 'em as I see 'em.
Secondly, to be thorough, to do all of the work that should be done to try to bring these questions to an answer.
And finally, to try to be expeditious. The first two priorities are the priorities. But consistent with that, I don't myself want this to go on and on. I don't think that serves anybody' purpose.
Q Do you plan on basing yourself in St. Louis at your law firm then --
MR. DANFORTH: Yes.
Q -- and working out of that office?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, I am in St. Louis. Now what the office base is is, you know, we haven't gotten that far. But, yeah, I'm a St. Louisan, and Ed Dowd (sp) is a St. Louisan, and that's where I want to base it. We will probably have an office in Washington also, but I'm in St. Louis.
Q And do you intend, at least initially, to staff up mainly with attorneys at Bryan-Cave?
MR. DANFORTH: I'm not sure at Bryan-Cave, although Ed Dowd (sp) will be going to Bryan-Cave and I'm a partner at Bryan-Cave. And Tom Schweik (sp), who will be helping me, is a person I've worked with at Bryan-Cave, but I'm sure it will go beyond that.
Q I just wonder what you meant when you said you'd be starting off with people mainly from the private sector. Do you mean you would hire private investigators, or would you be using only attorneys?
MR. DANFORTH: No, we haven't started the investigation. The first thing we have to do is to figure out how we go about this and then what the personnel needs are in doing that. And I really don't know the answer to any of those questions. I know that I would like to use people in the private sector, particularly insofar as the more substantive work is concerned. And so that's my objective. But exactly how that shakes out, I don't know.
Q How will you get witnesses to speak to you? Do you plan on granting any type of immunity to them? And how would you balance that with possible future criminal prosecutions of these witnesses?
MR. DANFORTH: We haven't started doing anything. And I've just been picked, and I'm really not sure precisely how this is going to proceed. I can tell you that, one, we're going to do whatever is necessary to get to the facts; and two, hopefully, we will have a product that can be presented to the American people, and that's going to have a -- that's going to require a balancing act.
Q Do you consider this a criminal review or an administrative review?
MR. DANFORTH: I don't know.
Q Senator, how might congressional hearings affect your work?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, you know, I spent 18 years of my life in Congress and I have the highest regard for Congress as an institution, and I have many friends in the Congress, and I know they will discharge their responsibilities as they see fit.
Q Will it make it more difficult for you to obtain your objectives if there are public congressional hearings involving the same people?
MR. DANFORTH: I'm not going to try to tell Congress what to do or what not to do or what I think they should be doing.
Q Will you consult with them on their plans?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, I'm certainly going to consult with them and talk to them and tell them what I, you know, intend to do and what the outline is, the parameters, the mission statement of this particular investigation, and ask them, if they have any information that they think that we should be pursuing, to please give it to us.
But I am not going to try to tell them how to do their business.
Q Ms. Reno?
Q You've outlined the scope of your investigation. Have you given some thought to the volumes of evidence that's out there and how you are going to get at this, you know, without addressing all those other peripheral issues? And there have been all these investigations, multiple reports. How do you get at this?
MR. DANFORTH: I think that there is going to be a lot of work in both interviewing people, in reviewing various reports that have already been made, statements that had been made to various bodies and that that's going to be a lot of work. And that is one of the reasons I think that it's important to have definition to what we're doing.
We are not exploring the world. We're not exploring issues of judgment. We're really trying to define it as closely as we can to the two basic questions that I've --
Q Will you have access to all the evidence that's been -- that will be handed over by the Texas Rangers to Judge Walker-Smith (sp)?
MR. DANFORTH: I'm sure the answer will be yes.
Q Ms. Reno?
Q (Inaudible due to cross talk) -- say they're stepping into the middle of a situation that's become so politically sensitive. Any hesitation, any reluctance on your part to take this job?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, as a friend of mine said, this is not what you call a good career move. (Laughter.) And I have -- I got out of government for the reason that I wanted to go home and I wanted to really be in the private sector, so this goes against that.
On the other hand, this is really a big thing, and I think that it is very important to try to get answers to questions that are important for the whole integrity of our government, so that's how I feel about it.
Q Ms. Reno? Ms. Reno, about once every six months one of Senator Danforth's friends on Capitol Hill calls for your resignation.
Yesterday, it was Senator Lott. I am assuming this time around, you are again saying "Thank you, but no thank you"?
MS. RENO: I don't say those things to senators. I say, I appreciate your thoughts, Senator, but I don't run from controversy and I don't run from situations where we need to pursue the matter to get to the truth and then take whatever steps are appropriate.
Q General Reno, do you think this issue of flares is any cause for concern?
MS. RENO: I think it's important that Senator Danforth now conduct the investigation and do so just as he has outlined he intends to do.
Q Who has the final prosecutorial discretion here? Would the deputy attorney general have to approve any action that you wanted to take? And also, will you have the ability to question the attorney general and the FBI director in the probe?
MR. DANFORTH: Yes. The answer is yes. And the answer is --
Q The answer is yes to which part of the --
MR. DANFORTH: I think to both.
Q Senator, are you going to be a full-time special counsel, or will you practice law while conducting this investigation?
MR. DANFORTH: I think this is going to consume a lot of my time, but I'm not sure it's going to consume 100 percent of my time. You know, I have things that I am doing in my hometown, in St. Louis, that I also take seriously. But I will tell you I will take this very, very seriously. And I will do everything I can to make sure that this is thorough, that this is -- I know that it will be objective. I know that I call it as I see it. And I know that I will have a team of very first-rate people working with me.
Q This may be a difficult question for you to answer, but what was your reaction when you learned about these latest revelations from the FBI about the use of pyrotechnics?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, what I want to do is to apply myself to the task at hand, and that is investigating all the evidence that's out there, doing so thoroughly, doing so objectively, and then, hopefully, reporting publicly on it, without a running commentary. And I think you've just invited me to make my first running comment, and I'm not going to do that.
Q Well, Senator, is there any authority that you asked for that you did not receive from the attorney general?
MR. DANFORTH: No. No. No, I made it clear to the attorney general, first of all, that we needed a deputy who was first-rate, within whom I had confidence, and who had extensive experience in prosecution; secondly, that we needed a mission statement that had definition to it, which I think is what we have; and third, that I have the powers, if necessary to use those powers, to find out all the facts. And I'm satisfied that I have all of those.
Q Senator, you mentioned --
Q Senator, would you have preferred to have a Democrat as a co-chair, as well as a deputy?
MR. DANFORTH: Sorry?
Q Would you have preferred to have a Democratic either former senator or some Democrat -- prominent Democrat -- as a co-chair, as well as a deputy?
MR. DANFORTH: No.
Q Why not? It might have given a more bipartisan look to it.
MR. DANFORTH: Because I think that while I operate on a very collegial basis, that it's very important to have decisiveness and to have decision-making.
And I have always been impressed by the comment that, "One bad general is better than two good ones."
Q And from you experience up on Capitol Hill, your 18 years you talked about, you know the tendency to politicize almost every event, particularly in what has become an election year, even though it isn't one. What can you say today to your former colleagues to tell them to call off the dogs or turn down the heat so that you can do your job?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, I can't tell them that. I can't tell people who are in Congress what to do, or people who are in the political world what to do. And I wouldn't begin to do that. I think that they have to do their -- you know whatever their thing is as they see it. I can just say what I intend to do, and what I intend to do is to stick within the mission statement, be comprehensive, be objective and hopefully be expeditious.
Q Senator, at least one committee has already issued subpoenas --
MR. DANFORTH: Mmm hmm.
Q -- to interview some of the same people that undoubtedly you will want to interview. How are you going to coordinate that with congressional committees?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, I'm going to visit with -- hopefully with the three chairs and three ranking members today and tell them what I -- you know, how I see this and what I intend to do, and ask for whatever information they have. And I do have great confidence in Congress, and I can't go tell them what to do. I can just tell them what I intend to do.
Q Sir, you characterized this as a big deal. What exactly do you see at stake here?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, I see at stake the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, that the point of government, the purpose of government is to protect the life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness of the American people. And if government doesn't do that, if government covers things up, if government kills people, if that's what happened, and I don't prejudge that, then that undermines what Jefferson talked about as being the very foundation of government.
And I further believe that, as the Declaration of Independence says, that the just powers of government are derived from the consent of the people. And it's very important to have the consent of the American people. And that consent is based on knowledge of what happened.
So I think that my role is to give the American people knowledge of what happened, and to hope that the American people will do as I do, and that is, keep their minds open about what happened until a full, factual presentation is made.
Q Senator, do you hope to get this done by the change of administrations?
MR. DANFORTH: Sorry?
Q Do you hope to get this done by the change of --
MR. DANFORTH: I am -- as I said earlier, I can't put any time parameters on this. But the change of administrations is a year and a half from now? Well, I certainly hope so. But I don't -- we haven't put any time frame, but that would seem a long time from now to me.
Q Senator, Congressman Hyde and others have talked about their concerns that the Justice Department would somehow obstruct your investigation. What do you make of those concerns? And what assurances have you gotten over the last couple of days that you'll be given the independence that you need?
MR. DANFORTH: I know I'll be given the independence, because I wouldn't have done this without it.
Q Well, how specifically have you been assured of that?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, I have been assured of it. And I have asked that question and I've accepted the job on that basis. And I know that we have sufficient legal powers to pursue this, and I have no doubt that we will pursue it diligently.
Q Senator, what's your biggest concern going into this as you look at all of the dynamics surrounding an issue that you've had all the way back to the Declaration of Independence? What's your single biggest concern as you take on this assignment?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, I mean, what the goal is is to produce something that the American people can see. So I guess my biggest concern is the balancing act, because we have to get the facts, even if it entails a grand jury to get the facts; but we also want to present something that, you know, is the basis of the consent of the people. And so doing that balancing, I think, is going to be a challenge.
Q Do you feel like you can satisfy all the conspiracy theorists who are out there? Don't you know that whatever you do will be attacked by some sectors?
MR. DANFORTH: I have never been in a pursuit where you can satisfy 100 percent of the people, but I would hope people would know that I am trying and that our group is going to try to do a careful job and that we go into this with no preconceived ideas, and that we will call them as we see them. And that's what I'm going to do.
Q Also, some people say that the Davidians did commit suicide but they did so because of the government tactics.
Given that criticism, can you look at -- can you fulfill your mission without looking at the entire episode?
MR. DANFORTH: I think that it is important and the reason for having this defined mission is to keep parameters on what we're doing.
And I think that what you've asked is really an important question, and it's important to understand it.
I take it that if, for example, ATF had never thought about the Branch Davidians, there wouldn't have been this loss of life. So in a way, you could say that any decision that was made, you know, was a decision that led up to what eventually happened.
But I am not going to get into that. I'm not going to get into judgment calls, even if those judgments led to the eventual result, because I think that bad judgments -- and I'm not saying they were bad judgments, I'm not presupposing that at all; I have no opinion of it -- but whether they were good judgments or bad judgments is a different question than the dark question. And I think my job is to answer the dark question or the dark questions. Was there a cover-up? That's a dark question. Did the government kill people? That's -- how did the fire start? And was there shooting? I mean, those are questions that have been raised. Those are questions that go to the basic integrity of government, not judgment calls.
And I do want to make it clear in the next few days, while I can still speak about this, what that distinction is. I don't think that you get a special counsel with subpoena powers to deal with judgment calls. I just don't think so. I think we try to deal with factual questions, and did the government -- really and ultimately, did the government kill people, and did it -- did the government cover things up, not, you know, what was the chain of events going back to, you know, some earlier time that led eventually to a set of circumstances that led to this.
Q But Senator, wouldn't it be a judgment call for federal law enforcement officers to actually fire on -- like, hypothetically, to open fire on people that were opening fire on them? I mean, you've said you were going to look into whether they were shooting.
MR. DANFORTH: That's right.
Q So isn't that a judgment call as well?
MR. DANFORTH: Sorry?
Q Isn't shooting a judgment call as well --
MR. DANFORTH: You know, in my own mind, there is a -- there really is a clear distinction between what is set out in this order and getting into -- for example, it is said -- and I'm, you know -- really all I know is what I read in the paper -- but it is said that, say, loudspeakers were used and so on and so forth. That, to me, is maybe an interesting question, but I don't think that's my question. I think my question is whether there was shooting, whether there was -- you know, how the fire was started, and whether there was cover-up.
Q Senator, you talked about before grand-jury secrecy. Whether this gets to a grand jury eventually or not, how do you think that you can avoid the leaks and the political shenanigans that marred the Lewinsky investigation, for example?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, I don't want to say anything about that, about the Lewinsky investigation.
I can just say that my hope is -- (chuckles) -- you know, I mean, I'm going to pick who works on this and I'm going to pick people in whom I have confidence. But my hope is that once the investigation begins, we're not going to have running commentary on the investigation.
Q Senator, what would constitute cover-up, in your mind? It would just apply to covering up shootings or whether we killed people, or who started the fire, or does cover-up apply to instances in which federal officials testified under oath inaccurately? You know, would that be -- (off mike)?
MR. DANFORTH: I think cover-up entails false statements or withholding information or doctoring information that is presented to people who have the authority to know, and that would include Congress, it would include information presented to anybody at the Justice Department, it would -- any information that was provided to people who have the right to know.
Q Senator Danforth, how do you feel about the way you're being portrayed, as the only one -- (inaudible) -- job?
Senator Kerrey of Nebraska has said God bless the fact that Senator Danforth is going to do this job. Is this -- do you recognize that, sir?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, I wish I would have had it in my campaign commercials back when I was in politics.
(Laughter.) No, I'm -- look, I didn't appoint myself, so, you know, I'll just do my best, but I --
Q Senator, if part of the reason for your report is to dispel public doubt, why would you contemplate issuing a report, part of which is confidential? And if the answer is grand jury secrecy, would you contemplate petitioning the court for permission to release that?
MR. DANFORTH: Yeah. I'm going to do everything I can to find out what the facts are, and whatever tools are necessary, we will use those tools to get to the facts. But as we're doing that, we're going to be very cognizant of the other goal, and that is to present to the American people what the facts are, and we will do everything we can to make those two pieces fit.
Q Senator -- (off mike) -- be the first person to be operating under these new special counsel regulations, and they call for a lot of oversight by the attorney general or, in this case, the deputy attorney general. The deputy attorney general can, in some instances, even veto your choice of who to subpoena and who to charge.
Doesn't that give you any concerns?
MR. DANFORTH: Well, these are all questions that I have asked over the last few days. And I am satisfied that I will be able to call them as I see them, and I am satisfied that that is my mandate. And that is the basis under which I took this job, and that is what I'm going to do.
Q Senator, are you at least open to the idea that the agents who were on the scene April 19th, 1993, honestly believed that the military-style canisters that they were shooting at that outside bunker were not pyrotechnic devices? In other words, you're talking about semantics here. These are devices meant to insert tear gas through relatively heavy structures or heavy whatever. Are you open to the idea that people did behave honorably here and that there was no cover-up, and that what is being called a pyrotechnic device in 1999 was not being called a pyrotechnic device in 1993?
MR. DANFORTH: The question is, am I open to anything? And the answer to that question is yes. I come into this with no preconceived ideas. I come into this with a totally open mind. And I come into this with the notion that the chips should fall where they may. And that's what's going to happen.
Q Ms. Reno, when the senator talks, as he has repeatedly today, about determining whether the government killed people, fairly broad, blunt language, do you agree with that assessment of his mission, determining whether the government killed people?
ATTY GEN. RENO: I will let him speak of his mission.
Q Ms. Reno, can you explain a little bit to us about why you decided to recuse yourself?
ATTY GEN. RENO: I think it's important that this be an independent investigation. Under -- Deputy Secretary Holder did not have any involvement in Waco. I will, obviously, be a witness. And I think it's important that it be conducted without influence of those who have been involved.
Q Ms. Reno, do you still feel that the use of these canisters did not cause the fire? I mean, you've said that before.
ATTY GEN. RENO: I have no information at this time that indicates they caused the fire, but I think it's going to be very important for the senator to pursue this issue on a new slate and do it, as he said, with an open mind.
Q Ms. Reno, the Justice Department's challenging the handing over of a very broad range of evidence to the court in Texas. In this new spirit of openness, do you plan to change that at all?
Will you continue to fight that order?
ATTY GEN. RENO: We are reviewing the order, and we will obviously make appropriate determinations. And we would, I think, want to consult Senator Danforth. But his deputy will be doing that.
Q So you will ask Senator Danforth about his opinion on that legal issue?
ATTY GEN. RENO: I will let the deputy handle that.
Q Can I ask a question on another subject, please? On the investigation of the case of the Bank of New York, there were wire reports this morning that a group of Russian law-enforcement agents or experts are coming next Monday to Washington, to take part together with their American colleagues in this investigation. So what do you expect from their visit, from their efforts? And have you got any kind of assurance from the Russian side that they will be really fully cooperating on that case?
ATTY GEN. RENO: I will not comment on a pending investigation.
Q I'm asking a question about the upcoming visit.
Q Ms Reno?
ATTY GEN. RENO: Yes?
Q On the FALN, there are those who argue against clemency on grounds that the reason that these people didn't murder or commit bodily harm was because the FBI interdicted what they were going to do. How do you feel about this?
ATTY GEN. RENO: I would not comment on the clemency matter. That would be an -- appropriate for the White House to do.
Q If I could go back to Waco and this question of independence, Ms. Reno, for you, the deputy attorney general -- you are his boss. Is there ever a point at which the Justice Department as a whole needs to recuse itself and Senator Danforth would have full discretion?
ATTY GEN. RENO: When the attorney general recuses themselves -- theirself, herself, himself -- then Mr. Holder is the boss with respect to that matter.
Q Ms. Reno, you and Mr. Danforth spent several hours discussing this. What were some of the hang-ups in the negotiation?
ATTY GEN. RENO: I don't think that there were any hang-ups in the negotiations. But I would let the senator speak to that. What we did was discuss and try to identify any issue that might arise and resolve it before it arose.
Q Ms. Reno, will the Justice Department turn over the documents on the clemency deal for the FALN that the Senate Judiciary Committee requested last week?
ATTY GEN. RENO: We're reviewing the law in that matter, and we will be making an appropriate decision.
STAFF: One last question.
Q Mr. Dowd (sp), are you going to be working full-time, or --
ED DOWD (sp) (deputy special counsel): Yes, I'll be working full-time. (Soft laughter.)
Q Thank you.
ATTY GEN. RENO: Thank you very much.
Q Thank you.