July 9, 1995 in Nation/World

Waco Panel’s Probe Called Too Broad Batf Director Says Congress Shouldn’t See Personnel Records

New York Times

The director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms has objected to recent Congressional requests for the personnel records of all employees who were involved in the government raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, in 1993.

The objections by the director, John Magaw, were set out in a memorandum to Edward Knight, general counsel for the Treasury Department, which has jurisdiction over the firearms agency.

Magaw urged resistance to the Congressional requests, and a Treasury official said Saturday that Knight probably would adopt that position.

One of the Congressional leaders who made the requests, Rep. Bill Zeliff, R-N.H., said the records were needed to help determine the backgrounds of the people who made the decision to storm the compound.

Nearly 80 members of the sect were killed in a fire that began after the federal assault on the building.

The memorandum from Magaw was the second letter by a Clinton administration official last week expressing concern over the direction being taken by the Congressional hearings.

On Wednesday, Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin said he was “worried that investigating events at Waco, without investigating the extreme activities of some militias, seems to suggest that lawenforcement agencies are the real threat to the safety of American citizens.”

Magaw said in his memorandum: “The breadth of the request clearly includes personnel records of ATF employees whose roles in the decision and events under investigation were not substantial. Moreover, the letters seek records over a seven-year period on all types of ‘misconduct,’ regardless of whether there is any conceivable relevance to the purpose for which they are being requested.

“Considering the overly broad scope of the above category of records and the personal nature of the records at issue, we urge that every lawful effort be made to resist providing these documents.”

The requests for the information were made by Zeliff, who heads a government oversight subcommittee; Rep. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., chairman of the Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, and Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, chairman of the Judiciary Committee. Hatch’s requests are more limited than those of his House counterparts.

Zeliff, when reached at his home in New Hampshire, said, “What I’m trying to do in a very open, thorough way is to ask questions that need to be asked and get answers.”

Thoughts and opinions on this story? Click here to comment >>

Get stories like this in a free daily email