Federal prosecutors charged a former high-ranking FBI official Tuesday with obstructing justice in the Ruby Ridge case by destroying an internal critique of the deadly siege and ordering a subordinate to make it appear the document had “never existed.”
The accusations were leveled against E. Michael Kahoe, an FBI headquarters official who helped supervise the bloody North Idaho standoff in 1992 and subsequently was assigned to assess the agency’s performance.
A special prosecutor alleges that between January and April 1993, Kahoe destroyed a written FBI “after-action critique” so that it would not be available to prosecutors in the Boise trial of Randy Weaver and Kevin Harris on charges of killing Deputy U.S. Marshal William Degan.
Weaver and Harris were acquitted of that charge.
The government charged that Kahoe not only destroyed his copies of the report but also ordered a subordinate at FBI headquarters, who was not named, “to destroy all copies of the Ruby Ridge after-action critique and to make it appear as if the Ruby Ridge after-action critique never existed.”
The seven-page set of charges against Kahoe contains no hint of what was in the critique.
Boise prosecutors wanted the document to prepare their case and to meet constitutional requirements to turn over to the defense any information that might help clear Weaver or Harris.
The Los Angeles Times reported Tuesday that a plea bargain has been worked out that will allow a special prosecutor to make “a major advance” in an investigation of other FBI officials accused of covering up agency actions after the siege.
Kahoe is charged in a felony criminal information rather than a grand jury indictment.
In many cases, that suggests federal prosecutors may have reached a pleabargaining agreement to have the defendant testify against others in exchange for a lighter sentence.
If a plea bargain has been struck, Kahoe could cooperate in the prosecution of his former FBI colleagues who are under investigation for alleged wrongdoing after the siege.
Four other top FBI officials, including former FBI Deputy Director Larry Potts, remain under investigation by U.S. Attorney Michael Stiles in connection with any cover-up.
At the time the documents allegedly were destroyed, Potts was in line to become the No. 2 official of the FBI.
FBI Director Louis Freeh, who made that appointment, suspended Potts, Kahoe and two other FBI officials in August 1995, shortly before a congressional hearing.
Kahoe was head of the Jacksonville, Fla., FBI office when he was suspended last year and the case was referred to Stiles for possible criminal prosecution.
Gerry Spence, Weaver’s criminal defense lawyer, said he won’t be satisfied until action is taken for what happened at Ruby Ridge rather than in Washington.
“It appears to me they are charging somebody with a cover-up,” he said of the case against Kahoe.
“But what are they covering up? That’s the question.”
During the standoff with Weaver near Naples, Idaho, FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi shot and killed Weaver’s wife, Vicki, and wounded Weaver and Harris.
The siege began after Weaver’s 14-year-old son, Samuel, and Degan were killed in a gunbattle Aug. 21 as marshals were setting up surveillance equipment near Weaver’s cabin.
At that time, Weaver had been a fugitive for 18 months after failing to appear in U.S. District Court, as he had promised, on charges of making and selling sawed-off shotguns.
No immediate court date has been set for Kahoe to answer the charge of obstruction of justice, which carries a top penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
Investigators also have reviewed the conduct of agents at Ruby Ridge.
Horiuchi said he hit Vicki Weaver accidentally while aiming at Harris, who was armed.
Potts and the FBI’s field commander at Ruby Ridge, Eugene Glenn, have disagreed under oath whether Potts ordered, as Glenn claims, that agents “could and should” shoot to kill any adult spotted in the open during the siege.
Still suspended and under investigation are:
Potts, who supervised the siege from FBI headquarters.
Danny O. Coulson, Potts’ deputy during the siege.
Gale Richard Evans, a violent crimes unit chief at headquarters at the time.
George Michael “Mike” Baird, an inspector’s aide on a team that conducted an internal investigation of the siege in 1993-94.
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