A Senate panel investigating the Randy Weaver case is struggling behind the scenes with reluctant witnesses who fear they will face state or federal criminal charges.
Many of those witnesses are FBI agents or deputy U.S. marshals who were assigned personal attorneys as late as Friday by the Justice Department.
“We have at least a dozen new attorneys involved in this case now, and that’s really causing some confusion and delay,” one committee staffer said Monday.
FBI Director Louis Freeh and Attorney General Janet Reno are expected to testify before the hearings end Sept. 22.
Another committee aide said an even larger impediment to the hearings is posed by Boundary County (Idaho) Prosecutor Randall Day, who attended all three days of hearings last week.
Day has not ruled out bringing state criminal charges against any of the participants in the 11-day Ruby Ridge siege which left three people dead in August 1992.
“His actions are creating a cloud over this whole thing,” said one high-ranking committee source who asked not to be identified.
“Day, at this point, is preventing the American people from hearing what happened at Ruby Ridge,” the source said.
“Agents and marshals are not going to get up here and testify if they have any reason to believe Day is going to bring criminal charges against them,” the committee source said.
Day was back in Bonners Ferry on Monday and did not return telephone calls.
The Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information may have to grant immunity to certain witnesses, such as FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi, before they will testify.
Horiuchi, who killed Randy Weaver’s wife, Vicki Weaver, rejected the subcommittee’s request to testify, according to The New York Times. He could be subpoenaed to testify or could be granted immunity if he takes the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.
Any vote on the question of immunity would be taken in a public session of the subcommittee, staff members said.
Horiuchi is scheduled to appear today when the subcommittee begins its fourth day of testimony. His identity would be shielded from public view in the same way the committee on Friday protected an informer who had bought two illegal sawed-off shotguns from Randy Weaver in 1989.
The federal government has paid Weaver and his three surviving daughters $3.1 million for the deaths of Vicki Weaver and the couple’s 14-year-old son, Sam, who was shot in the back during an initial encounter with deputy U.S. marshals.
Even if the subcommittee grants immunity to some witnesses, there is an unresolved question whether that deal-making would prevent the Boundary County prosecutor from bringing state charges.
“We don’t know the answer to that question at this point,” said an aide to Sen. Arlen Specter, a Republican presidential hopeful who heads the subcommittee.
Further complicating the public airing of the issues surrounding Ruby Ridge is a second Justice Department investigation. Many believe it will call for criminal charges.
That investigation is examining whether senior FBI officials, including former Deputy Director Larry Potts, broke the law when they changed the rules of engagement at Ruby Ridge.
It also is looking at possible obstruction of justice and destruction of government document charges against at least five FBI officials who are suspended from their jobs.
One of the FBI officials admitted destroying internal documents dealing with the bureau’s modified rules of engagement at Ruby Ridge.
“This whole thing is very fluid right now, and changing on a daily basis,” said one congressional aide close to the process.