Senior ATF Officials Resign After Federal Report On Cult Raid
DALLAS (AP) _ Two senior government officials who were accused in a report of lying and misleading the public after the botched Branch Davidian raid have resigned.
Dan Hartnett, 53, associate director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and Dan Conroy, 50, deputy associate ATF director, quit Saturday, The Dallas Morning News reported Sunday.
Hartnett, a 24-year agency veteran, and Conroy, with the agency for 26 years, were the top ATF officials in Waco after the Feb. 28 raid. They were among five ATF officials placed on administrative leave last week after release of a Treasury Department review into the raid. The Treasury Department oversees the ATF.
The report said the raid should have been canceled when an undercover ATF agent told commanders that cult leader David Koresh knew that agents were coming to arrest him and search for illegally stockpiled weapons.
The report said that Hartnett and Conroy, along with others in Washington, failed to take into account the inexperience of raid commanders in planning the raid, and did not recognize the need for less risky contingency plans.
The report also said the men made misstatements to the public or allowed them to be made, and failed to keep superiors fully apprised of key reasons for the raid failure.
In their first public comment since release of the report, the men said they never lied or intentially misled anyone.
″We are resigning because we do not agree with the findings of the Waco administrative review,″ Hartnett and Conroy said in a statement. ″The report does not reflect the facts of what occurred in the aftermath of the Waco tragedy.″
Four ATF agents and six cult members died in the shootout. A standoff lasted 51 days, ending April 19 when fire consumed the compound, killing Koresh and more than 80 of his followers.
Hartnett and Conroy said before the Waco operation that they had planned to retire at the end of the year. Their resignations, delivered to Treasury Department officials in Washington, were effective immediately.
Stephen Higgins, the former ATF director, announced his resignation Monday before release of the report.
Another report is being prepared on the FBI’s April 19 tear-gas assault on Koresh’s compound. That attack, which ended in fire, was ordered by Attorney General Janet Reno and former FBI Director William Sessions.
In Sunday’s Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Sessions defended the tear-gas strategy as a well-planned effort to break the stalemate.
However, the former director also said the Justice Department should have given greater consideration to a widely ridiculed proposal that he negotiate with Koresh.
″Great sport was made of it ... that we were looking at a shootout at high noon at the OK Corral,″ Sessions said. ″I think it was a very logical discussion, and although it was not done, it was certainly not a laughable circumstance.″
Sessions, who was dismissed by President Clinton in mid-July, said he has not been briefed on the Justice Department report.
The New York Times said Saturday that the Justice Department report will clear senior FBI officials and Reno of any significant mistakes. The Times said it reviewed a portion of the report provided by a person involved in the review.