Suspended FBI Deputy Director Larry Potts produced a paper trail of typed and scribbled notes Wednesday before a Senate panel, supporting his claim that he never approved deadly shooting rules for Ruby Ridge.
Potts’ personal memos, made public for the first time, seem to blame the people he supervised for the bungled and bloody 1992 standoff at Randy Weaver’s North Idaho cabin.
His memos contain sketchy descriptions of the FBI’s proposed rules of engagement but don’t include the orders actually used in the standoff - that snipers “could and should” shoot to kill any armed adult male.
FBI field agents have testified Potts approved the sweeping rules. But his notes suggest a milder, more forgiving version.
Potts gained support from Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, who testified that the evidence suggests the final shooting rules were employed without Potts’ approval.
But senators remained skeptical, questioning the authenticity of the newly found notes and refusing to absolve Potts from responsibility in the 11-day standoff.
“While there is a meager paper trail, it yet does not say to me that he is absolutely exonerated,” Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, said after the hearing. “He was still the man in control.”
During the standoff, an FBI sniper shot and killed Weaver’s wife, Vicki, and wounded his friend Kevin Harris as he ran through the doorway of Weaver’s mountaintop cabin.
The previous day, Weaver’s son Samuel and a deputy U.S. marshal were killed in a shootout in the nearby woods.
Potts’ handwritten notes, dated 10:45 p.m. on the day of the shootout, include a draft of the proposed FBI shooting rules from a telephone conversation with Richard Rogers, the sniper team leader.
“Adults who are seen with a weapon are to be considered immediate threats, and appropriate action can be taken,” the note reads.
Potts testified that he and Rogers verbally agreed to the rules. Then he dictated a typed summary, reading: “Any adult with a weapon … may be the target of deadly force.”
“Never, ever, ever was there the slightest inference that there ‘should’ be a shoot-on-sight rule,” Potts testified Wednesday.
But upon questioning, Potts admitted he never confirmed this with Rogers.
Furthermore, Potts said he never sent a copy of his typed summary to field commanders. The note, which was not signed or dated, wasn’t read by anyone until an FBI secretary found it several years later.
Senators said the note’s sudden appearance looked suspicious.
“There was either a miscommunication, or there wasn’t a miscommunication and someone’s covering their tail at this point,” Craig said to Potts.
Later, Craig said he didn’t mean to imply that Potts was lying.
“But anyone had ample time, if they needed to, to create a paper trail that could provide cover,” Craig said after Wednesday’s Terrorism, Technology and Government Information subcommittee hearing.
Asked about notes’ credibility, committee chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., said “it is not clear” whether they were written when Potts claims.
Potts, then assistant director of the FBI’s criminal investigation division, later was promoted, but since has been suspended pending a Justice Department investigation into criminal wrongdoing.
Gorelick said the attorney general’s office is investigating whether an internal FBI report about the standoff was shredded and destroyed as part of a cover-up.
Potts testified again Wednesday that he never saw the report, nor ordered it destroyed.
The committee is scheduled to hear testimony today from FBI Director Louis Freeh and may try to call U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno to the witness stand.
Specter said he hopes to conclude the hearings, which have spanned parts of five weeks, today. The committee then would begin work on a final report.
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