September 5, 1995 in Nation/World

Senate To Delve Into Ruby Ridge But Panel Will Avoid Conflict With Criminal Probe Into Allegations Of Fbi Cover-Up

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Three years after gunfire erupted in the fir forests near Naples, Idaho, the eyes of the nation’s political and journalism establishments will fix on the bloody siege at Ruby Ridge.

The Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information will convene hearings Wednesday into the federal government’s dealings and ultimate confrontation with white separatist Randy Weaver.

But the FBI’s conduct at the scene and alleged cover-up later, including destruction of documents, will have to wait.

Subcommittee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., has agreed to put off testimony on the FBI’s role to protect the Justice Department’s ongoing criminal investigation.

Still, Justice officials are worried the hearings will torpedo their probe.

“It is quite unusual to have hearings in Congress at the same time that there is a pending criminal investigation, and that raises very difficult issues for us,” Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick told The Associated Press.

Five FBI officials have been suspended amid charges they covered up their approval of controversial and possibly unconstitutional shoot-on-sight orders given to FBI snipers.

One of those snipers, Lon Horiuchi, killed Vicki Weaver, 43, as she stood in the family cabin’s doorway holding her 10-month-old daughter.

The day before, on Aug. 21, 1992, Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Sam, and deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan were killed in a firefight.

Boundary County Prosecutor Randy Day is investigating whether any Idaho laws were broken by agents or the Weavers and family friend Kevin Harris.

Last month, the Justice Department agreed to pay the Weaver survivors $3.1 million to settle the family’s $200 million civil claim against the government.

Specter’s spokeswoman, Margaret Camp, disagreed with Gorelick’s fears, saying Senate hearings often are timed with outside investigations.

In addition, Specter’s staff is working closely with the Justice Department to ensure there are no conflicts, Camp said.

One of the Justice Department’s main concerns is about immunity for testimony. Camp said none of the witnesses has requested or received immunity.

Despite the narrowed focus of the hearings, lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers say the Senate examination will be substantive.

“I believe, based on all the communications with Chairman Specter, that those hearings will be very thorough,” said U.S. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho.

Craig has been invited to sit on Specter’s panel and to question witnesses.

Craig’s spokesman, George Clarke, said it’s only coincidental that Chairman Specter is running for president and that he already has made two trips to visit Weaver in Iowa - a state whose caucuses are the campaign’s first litmus test.

“He (Specter) is a former prosecutor and he’s a professional,” Clarke said. “He would have traveled anywhere to visit Weaver. If any member of Congress can get information out about this, Arlen Specter can.”

Added Camp: “We don’t see this as a political issue.”

Should the Justice Department soon conclude its investigation, the subcommittee hearings could be reconvened to examine the FBI’s conduct.

“For the sake of the FBI, this cloud has to be cleared,” Craig said.

For now, the hearings will focus on the conduct of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and the U.S. Marshal Service. ATF officials first arrested Weaver in 1989 for selling two illegally sawed-off shotguns. The Marshal Service was charged with bringing him to justice.

The Ruby Ridge hearings will begin Wednesday and continue Thursday and Friday and then Sept. 14, 15, 19, 20 and 21. They’ll extend into late September if necessary.

Randy Weaver and his now 19-year-old daughter, Sara, are the first scheduled witnesses, beginning at 7 a.m. PDT. They’ll be followed Thursday at 11 a.m. with ATF case agent Herb Byerly and ATF assistant director of enforcement Andrew Vita.

On Friday, testimony will be taken beginning at 7 a.m. from ATF director John Magaw, former Marshal Service director Henry Hudson and former head marshal for the state of Idaho, Michael Johnson.

Other witnesses have not been scheduled yet.

U.S. Rep. Helen Chenoweth, R-Idaho, said the Weaver siege was a “seminal event” and a wake-up call to citizens about government abuse.

“The only thing Congress can do is hold valid hearings, tough hearings, get to what the problem is, clean it out and pass laws to assure this can never happen again,” Chenoweth said.

“Only then can the citizenry be at peace,” she said. “We must have accountability.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo

MEMO: These 2 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. THE SUBCOMMITTEE

The Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information will convene hearings Wednesday on the 1992 Randy Weaver siege. Subcommittee members are chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa.; Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.; Spencer Abraham, R-Mich.; Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.; Herb Kohl, D-Wis.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig will sit on the panel as an ex-officio member. He will be allowed to open with a five-minute statement and to question witnesses.

2. TV COVERAGE

Three years after government agents killed Vicki and Sammy Weaver and lost one of their own, the siege atop Ruby Ridge is big news nationally. The following programming is tentatively scheduled (all times are PDT): C-SPAN will televise Wednesday’s opening day of Senate hearings, 7-10 a.m. and 10-11 a.m. The entire first day of testimony, featuring Randy and Sara Weaver, will be rebroadcast Wednesday night. Check listings. Subsequent coverage will depend on legislative actions by the House of Representatives. ABC’s “PrimeTime Live” will air Sam Donaldson’s return to Ruby Ridge with the Weaver survivors at 10 p.m. Wednesday. ABC’s Nightline will examine the Weaver case at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Spokesman-Review reporter Jess Walter will discuss his book on the Randy Weaver siege, “Every Knee Shall Bow,” on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” 7-9 a.m. Wednesday.

These 2 sidebars appeared with the story:

1. THE SUBCOMMITTEE

The Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information will convene hearings Wednesday on the 1992 Randy Weaver siege. Subcommittee members are chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa.; Fred Thompson, R-Tenn.; Spencer Abraham, R-Mich.; Strom Thurmond, R-S.C.; Herb Kohl, D-Wis.; Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.; and Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. Idaho Republican Sen. Larry Craig will sit on the panel as an ex-officio member. He will be allowed to open with a five-minute statement and to question witnesses.

2. TV COVERAGE

Three years after government agents killed Vicki and Sammy Weaver and lost one of their own, the siege atop Ruby Ridge is big news nationally. The following programming is tentatively scheduled (all times are PDT): C-SPAN will televise Wednesday’s opening day of Senate hearings, 7-10 a.m. and 10-11 a.m. The entire first day of testimony, featuring Randy and Sara Weaver, will be rebroadcast Wednesday night. Check listings. Subsequent coverage will depend on legislative actions by the House of Representatives. ABC’s “PrimeTime Live” will air Sam Donaldson’s return to Ruby Ridge with the Weaver survivors at 10 p.m. Wednesday. ABC’s Nightline will examine the Weaver case at 11:30 p.m. Tuesday. Spokesman-Review reporter Jess Walter will discuss his book on the Randy Weaver siege, “Every Knee Shall Bow,” on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” 7-9 a.m. Wednesday.


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