The Justice Department said Wednesday the FBI botched the Randy Weaver case and then failed to support government lawyers prosecuting the white separatist.
But the agency’s mismanagement does not warrant firings or severe reprimands, Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick said.
Attorney Gerry Spence, who led Weaver’s defense team, said assessing blame but not meting out punishment is “outrageous.”
Gorelick agreed with the FBI’s own investigation that its No. 2 man, Larry Potts, deserves a letter of censure - the mildest form of written discipline - for “management omissions.”
Potts, 47, is now acting deputy FBI director, but headed the agency’s criminal division during the August 1992 siege of Weaver’s remote mountaintop cabin near Naples, Idaho.
Gorelick also criticized the U.S. Marshal Service and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Idaho for their roles in the Weaver case.
The bloody siege began Aug. 21, 1992, as deputy U.S. marshals monitored Weaver at his cabin and contemplated how to safely arrest him for failing to appear in court for illegally sawing off two shotguns.
Deputy Marshal William F. Degan and Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Samuel, were killed that day. On the second day, an FBI sharpshooter wounded Weaver and his friend, Kevin Harris, and killed Weaver’s unarmed wife, Vicki, while she stood behind a door holding her 10-month-old child.
Weaver surrendered with his three daughters on Aug. 31. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday at his home in Grand Junction, Iowa.
Justice Department spokesman Carl Stern said he would not comment beyond Gorelick’s statement.
Gorelick’s findings mirror those of FBI Director Louis J. Freeh, who concluded widespread errors were made but that no FBI officials should be fired.
Freeh has publicly endorsed Potts for the permanent job of deputy FBI director. The promotion requires Attorney General Janet Reno’s approval, but Justice officials said Freeh has yet to request it in writing.
Idaho Sen. Larry Craig vowed to fight Potts’ promotion.
“To receive a reprimand and be promoted … is an inappropriate action, and it continues to bring into question the ability of the FBI to have the very best at the top of its decision-making ladder,” Craig said.
Spence said the federal government is protecting Potts’ career and reputation by not punishing him.
Like Freeh, Gorelick found that Potts did not “adequately follow through to ensure that his intent with regard to the rules of engagement was properly reflected in the final rules.”
She also found he should have “acted more aggressively to ensure appropriate FBI trial support” for federal prosecutors in a subsequent trial in which Weaver was acquitted of murdering the marshal.
The rules of engagement adopted for the siege, criticized by Gorelick and Freeh as potentially unconstitutional, stated that deadly force “could and should” be used against any armed man caught in the open away from the children. Standing FBI policy, however, bars lethal force except in defense of oneself or others.
Potts had denied he ever formally approved those rules. But two subordinates, Eugene Glenn, the FBI’s Salt Lake City chief and on-site siege commander, and Richard Rogers, head of the FBI Hostage Rescue Team, have sworn he did. Both of them were hit with more severe sanctions.
Like Freeh, Gorelick concluded that FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi acted under the FBI’s longstanding deadly force policy rather than under the questionable rules of engagement when he shot Weaver, Harris and Vicki Weaver.
Gorelick also criticized the U.S. Attorney’s Office for rejecting a Marshal Service plan to negotiate Weaver’s surrender. She said federal and state law enforcement officers exaggerated the threat Weaver posed, and she criticized the FBI for putting its snipers in place before they were fully briefed.
The Justice Department concluded earlier that the FBI did not violate anyone’s civil rights in the Weaver case.
Weaver and his daughters have filed a $300 million civil suit against federal agents, alleging their civil rights were violated.
“The American people are entitled to have an FBI that’s in control and answerable and responsible,” Spence said.
Spence, currently an NBC consultant on the O.J. Simpson trial, said he recently spoke with Reno about the Weaver case.
“She gave me the cold shrift,” Spence said. “It was as if I was talking to an iced tomato.
“She had an opportunity to do something decent in America and to re-establish the confidence of the American people in her and the FBI. Instead, she’s betrayed the trust of her office,” Spence said in a telephone interview from Los Angeles.
Boundary County Prosecutor Randy Day is still investigating whether to charge any federal officials with state crimes in the case. In a March 28 letter to Gorelick, Day said he hoped to finish interviews by June 1.
Gorelick honored Day’s request that, pending his investigation, the department delay the public release of 1,000 pages of internal investigative reports completed last year by a Justice Department task force and an FBI review team.
Weaver friend Tony Brown of Naples said the Justice Department findings were what he and other Weaver supporters expected.
“I’ve felt from the very beginning there was a coverup. This is just part of that,” Brown said.
xxxx New Weaver Report The Justice Department report released Wednesday concludes that: The FBI’s rules of engagement during the siege of Randy Weaver’s cabin were potentially unconsitutional.M FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi did not violate FBI rules when he shot Randy Weaver, Kevin Harris and Vicki Weaver. Before the siege, the U.S. Attorney’s Office erred in rejecting a Marshal Service plan to negotiate Weaver’s surrender. The FBI should have “acted more aggressively to ensure appropriate FBI trial support” for federal prosecutors in a subsequent trial in which Weaver was acquitted of murdering a U.S. marshal.
The following fields overflowed: CREDIT = J. Todd Foster staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.