Four high-ranking FBI officials are suspended from duty as a criminal investigation begins into a reported cover-up following the deadly 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge.
FBI Director Louis Freeh ordered the unprecedented suspensions Friday, less than a month before Senate hearings into the August 1992 shootings at Randy Weaver’s cabin in North Idaho.
Those suspended included Freeh’s longtime friend and recently demoted deputy FBI director Larry Potts.
“The FBI must be held to the highest standards,” Freeh said in a prepared statement announcing the suspensions.
“I remain committed to obtaining the full truth about what occurred during and after the tragic events at Ruby Ridge,” the FBI director said.
Idaho’s two Republican senators had sharply different opinions about the action.
Sen. Larry Craig applauded Freeh’s move and said it will help restore the public’s confidence in the FBI.
Craig said “it remains to be seen” whether criminal charges should be brought against the five FBI officials for their roles in the Weaver case.
But Sen. Dirk Kempthorne said the actions prompting the suspensions are troublesome and erode confidence in the FBI.
“It appears these suspensions have nothing to do with what happened at Ruby Ridge, but instead are related to what may be a cover-up after the fact,” Kempthorne said.
Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, called Freeh’s actions “nothing more than another baby step in the right direction.
“Larry Potts should be fired,” Chenoweth said.
Potts and the four other FBI officials are suspended with pay, while the investigation continues to determine whether they destroyed documents and lied to investigators reviewing their handling of the Weaver case.
The investigation centers on who approved modified “shoot-on-sight” orders for FBI snipers sent to Weaver’s cabin after Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan was killed.
FBI agents can only shoot to defend themselves or another person.
Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Sam, was killed in the initial gunbattle with marshals. His wife, Vicki, was shot later by an FBI sniper, acting upon the modified shooting orders.
Potts’ attorney, Dan Webb, said there is no evidence of wrongdoing against his client, who was removed a month ago as the No. 2 official at the FBI.
With the criminal investigation under way, Potts could invoke the 5th Amendment and not testify about his role in Ruby Ridge if he is subpoenaed next month before Congress.
Craig has been asked by Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., to sit as a non-voting member of Specter’s Senate Judiciary subcommittee, set to conduct hearings on the case beginning Sept. 6.
On Friday, Specter said the hearings will focus not only on events at the Weaver cabin but also on actions of federal law enforcement officials afterward. He declined to say how long the hearings would last.
“Every day it looks a little more complicated,” he said.
Aides said Specter will meet with Weaver and his family today to hear his version of the siege. Specter met privately with Weaver on May 13.
Specter said “there should have been an oversight hearing some time ago.”
“The question is whether it was overzealous, whether excessive force was used,” Specter said. “I don’t want to prejudge.”
Weaver is expected to be subpoenaed to testify at the Senate hearing.
The suspensions of the four additional FBI supervisors were prompted by a probe by the Justice Department’s internal watchdog, its Office of Professional Responsibility.
FBI supervisor E. Michael Kahoe, who conducted a post-siege FBI review, was suspended on July 11 after admitting that he destroying documents associated with the shooton-sight orders.
Since then, the internal probe has implicated Potts and three others for various roles in the alleged cover-up.
The other suspended FBI officials are: Danny Coulson, now chief of the FBI’s Dallas office; Gale Richard Evans, assistant chief of the FBI’s office in Salt Lake City; and Anthony A. Betz, now assistant chief of the bureau’s Baltimore office.
At the time of the Weaver shootings, Coulson was an assistant to Potts, who then was assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigative division. Evans and Betz were unit chiefs in that same division.
, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Bill Morlin Staff writer The Associated Press contributed to this report.