November 22, 1995 in Nation/World

Weaver Report Scolds Atf, But Won’t Call For Its Abolition

David A. Lieb Betsy Z. Russell Contri Staff writer
 

A Senate panel will sharply criticize federal law enforcement actions leading to the Ruby Ridge standoff, but won’t recommend abolishing the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, sources said Tuesday.

A draft report of a special Senate investigation into the North Idaho shootout also concludes that the gunshot that killed white separatist Randy Weaver’s wife was unconstitutional.

But it does not recommend prosecuting the FBI sniper who fired it, said sources closely involved with the investigation.

The report, being circulated among panel members, scolds the ATF for using undercover agents to entice Weaver into selling them illegal shotguns, sources said. It also criticizes the ATF and FBI for spying on each other in their zeal to infiltrate a white separatist group.

The long-awaited findings were supposed to members of the Judiciary Subcommittee that held the Ruby Ridge hearings. But senators returned it with lots of markings, comments and revisions.

“The ATF is heavily criticized, but the issue of what to do with them is not addressed - at least not in the draft version,” said one Senate source.

Other sources involved with the report said it is not expected to undergo major changes.

“The assertion that we ought to abolish the ATF just doesn’t wash,” said one source. “It’s a big question, and, if anything, was just touched on tangentially with the hearings.”

Instead, sources said the report will focus on changes within the bureau’s existing structure.

Hearing chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., advocates dissolving the ATF, citing its “overboard” and “extreme” actions at Ruby Ridge and again at Waco, Texas, a year later.

Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said he will call for a review of all federal law enforcement to look for duplication and waste as “the next logical step” after hearings on Ruby Ridge and deaths at the Branch Dividian compound in Waco, Texas.

“We’ve allowed that arm of our government to grow relatively unscrutinized for a decade now,” Craig said Tuesday in Boise.

Since the Ruby Ridge standoff, the FBI has proposed substantial changes. But the U.S. Marshals Service and the ATF have not.

“They’ve not been as responsive to the criticism as the FBI has,” he said.

The 1992 shootout began after Weaver failed to appear in court on weapons charges. When U.S. marshals approached his cabin on a surveillance mission, a gunfight ensued. Weaver’s 14-year-old son Samuel and Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan were killed.

The next day, FBI sharpshooter Lon Horiuchi fired two more shots, wounding Randy Weaver and killing Vicki Weaver as she held the door open for her fleeing husband, daughter and a friend.

Horiuchi was operating under unusual FBI shooting rules that said snipers “could and should” shoot at any armed adult male. Standard FBI rules permit deadly force only when the life of an officer, or someone else, is in danger.

“They found the second shot by Horiuchi was unconstitutional, but they don’t recommend prosecution because they don’t think he purposely shot her,” a source said of the draft report.

Craig called the report’s conclusion on Horiuchi a “rush to judgment” that should have been left to Boundary County Prosecutor Randall Day and the Justice Department.

Day still is deciding whether to bring state charges against Horiuchi and others. A team of Justice Department investigators also is reviewing the incident for possible criminal charges.

Although the draft report criticizes the FBI’s shooting orders, sources say the agency emerges relatively unscathed.

FBI Director Louis J. Freeh was not in charge during the shootout but shouldered blame during the hearings for some of the agency’s later mistakes.

After the standoff, Freeh censured, then promoted, his close friend Larry Potts to the agency’s No. 2 spot. Freeh later demoted and suspended Potts, pending a U.S. attorney investigation into an alleged cover-up.

“It seems like he’s probably going to come up smelling the best,” one Senate source said of Freeh. “He kind of threw himself to the jury and admitted he was wrong. For everyone else, it was ‘Who can pass the buck fastest?”’

Freeh testified before the Terrorism, Technology and Government Information Subcommittee last month, on the final day of the Ruby Ridge hearings.

The series of 14 hearings spanned six weeks, gathering testimony from 63 witnesses, including Weaver, his neighbors and scores of agents from the FBI, ATF, Justice Department and the U.S. Marshals Service.

, DataTimes The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = David A. Lieb Staff writer Staff writer Betsy Z. Russell contributed to this report.


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