Tuesday was not a good day for federal law enforcement in the U.S. Senate hearings on Ruby Ridge.
Not only did an FBI sniper invoke his constitutional right against self-incrimination, but also, for the first time, a top-ranking Justice Department official was linked publicly to the shooting rules that led to Vicki Weaver’s death.
The Justice Department’s No. 2 official was consulted about the FBI’s controversial shoot-on-sight rules at Ruby Ridge, the former U.S. marshal for Idaho told the Senate panel.
Michael Johnson said he was in a command post below Randy Weaver’s cabin in August 1992 when he heard the FBI Hostage Rescue Team commander say the proposed shooting rules had to be “run by Terwilliger.”
At the time, George Terwilliger was deputy attorney general in the Justice Department.
The rules of engagement were changed from shooting only in self-defense to shooting any armed adult male seen outside Weaver’s cabin.
Five senior FBI officials have been suspended from their jobs for what some say is a cover-up of who approved the shooting rules.
Terwilliger, now in private practice in Washington, D.C., told the Los Angeles Times he was on vacation at the time of the siege “without communication to anyone in the Justice Department. I had no conversation with anyone about the matters under discussion, including the rules of engagement.”
FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi, who fired two shots under the modified shooting rules, refused to testify Tuesday when called before a closed session of the Senate subcommittee investigating the Ruby Ridge siege. Horiuchi invoked his Fifth Amendment rights.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat on the committee, said Horiuchi was questioned in closed session “to avoid simply making a spectacle of it.”
A transcript later was made public. Sen. Larry Craig, R-Idaho, who is sitting as a non-voting committee member, agreed to the closed hearing and to the decision not to grant Horiuchi immunity in exchange for his testimony.
Horiuchi was a member of the FBI’s elite Hostage Rescue Team deployed to Weaver’s cabin after a deputy U.S. marshal and Weaver’s 14-year-old son were killed in a gun battle on Aug. 21, 1992.
A day later, Horiuchi fired two shots, one wounding Randy Weaver and another killing Weaver’s wife, Vicki, and wounding family friend Kevin Harris.
Horiuchi testified in Weaver’s trial that he hit Vicki Weaver by mistake.
An initial Justice Department investigation cleared Horiuchi of wrongdoing. But Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said FBI Director Louis Freeh should “take a fresh look” at whether the sniper should be punished.
Boundary County Prosecutor Randall Day is still deciding whether to bring state charges against Horiuchi and others.
Day told the Chicago Tribune he met with Attorney General Janet Reno on Friday and asked her to reconsider filing federal civil rights charges against agents involved in the siege.
Day said he made the request hoping that further evidence would be revealed now that the Justice Department had reopened its investigation, in light of the charges that FBI officials destroyed documents vital to the case.
Staff aides to the Judiciary Subcommittee on Terrorism, Technology and Government Information say privately that the Day’s indecisiveness over possible state charges is dampening the hearings.
“We would like to have had Mr. Horiuchi’s testimony, but the Constitution is implicit: He has the right against self-incrimination,” said subcommittee chairman Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.
Sen. Herb Kohl, D-Wis., said he believed Horiuchi wanted to testify, but was following his attorney’s advice. The subcommittee will review the transcript of Horiuchi’s testimony at Weaver’s 1993 trial in Boise.
After Horiuchi’s refusal, the panel called Johnson, now a Boise businessman, and H. Henry Hudson, who was director of the U.S. Marshal Service during the Weaver siege in 1992.
Johnson arrived at a command post near Naples, Idaho, a day after Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan was killed. He joined FBI supervisor Eugene Glenn and hostage rescue team commander Richard Rogers.
Johnson recalled sitting in a motorhome that was being used as a command post when he heard Glenn and Rogers discuss the modified shooting rules.
Johnson heard Rogers or Glenn say, “Now Terwilliger is involved in this thing.” He recalled Rogers express frustration because of the delay while ranking Justice Department officials in Washington, D.C., reviewed the shooting rules.
There “is no doubt in my mind” that the shooting rules were approved in Washington, D.C., Johnson testified.
The Senate hearing is in recess today but will continue on Thursday.
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color Photo
MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: Tuesday’s developments Michael Johnson, former U.S. Marshal for Idaho, said the FBI consulted the No. 2 U.S. Justice Department official when crafting the shooting rules at Randy Weaver’s cabin. Lon Horiuchi, the FBI sniper who killed Vicki Weaver and wounded Kevin Harris, invoked his 5th Amendment privilege and refused to answer senators’ questions. Rep. Bob Barr, R-Ga., the chairman of a special House Republican task force on firearms issues, said his panel has no plans or authority to hold its own hearings into Ruby Ridge. Quote of the day: “We would like to have had Mr. Horiuchi’s testimony, but the Constitution is implicit: He has the right against self-incrimination.” - Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa. Witnesses Thursday: Eight FBI sharpshooters and a helicopter pilot involved in the siege, and Duke Smith, deputy director of the U.S. Marshal Service.