Koresh Lawyer Says FBI Failed To Pursue Surrender Plan
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The attorney for David Koresh, who took part in the edgy negotiations between the Branch Davidian leader and the FBI, told lawmakers today that FBI agents failed to pursue a plan to have Koresh surrender to the Texas Rangers.
Sometime after the bungled federal raid near Waco, Texas, in February 1993, ``I proposed to David that he surrender to a Texas Ranger,″ attorney Dick DeGuerin said in written testimony for the fifth day of hearings by two House subcommittees.
DeGuerin said a senior Texas Ranger, Capt. Maurice Cook, ``was agreeable, but cautioned me that the authority for that must come from the FBI.″ He said he then proposed the surrender plan to two FBI agents, ``but did not receive an enthusiastic response.″
``In fairness to them, they did not reject it, either,″ DeGuerin said.
Sources close to the congressional investigation said the Texas Rangers were to be asked about reports that Davidians offered on three occasions to surrender to them if the FBI was not involved. The sources, speaking only on condition of anonymity, said the Rangers told a television reporter that they forwarded the offers to the FBI but received no response.
After grilling top Treasury Department officials on Monday about the failed raid, Republican lawmakers leading the Waco hearings are turning to the FBI’s role after the February 1993 assault.
Several FBI agents and Texas Rangers officers were to testify today about the negotiating phase of the law enforcement operation. DeGuerin and Jack Zimmermann, the attorney who represented cult lieutenant Steve Schneider, also were to appear.
The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, a division of the Treasury Department, directed the raid on the compound near Waco, Texas, that left four ATF agents and six Davidians dead. After the raid failed, the FBI took over chief responsibility for negotiating with cult leader Koresh and taking further action against the Davidians.
Following a 51-day standoff, Koresh and 80 of his followers _ including 18 children _ died April 19 when fire swept through the compound during an FBI tear gas attack.
Looking toward the FBI agents’ testimony, Justice Department spokesman Bert Brandenburg said, ``We’re going to lay the facts out again. ... The FBI negotiators on the scene bent over backwards to try to work with David Koresh.″
Brandenburg said the handoff of authority from the ATF to the FBI was made in the expectation that, because the ATF had directed the deadly raid, Koresh would deal more constructively with negotiators from another agency.
But DeGuerin said, ``I believe that the final tragedy could have been avoided had the FBI and the Justice Department not resorted to the tank and tear gas assault, but had waited until David and his followers came out voluntarily.″
DeGuerin said he told FBI agents on April 14 of Koresh’s plans to surrender once he completed a manuscript revealing the contents of the Seven Seals, which are referred to in the Bible’s Book of Revelations.
Two days later, FBI agents warned that they wouldn’t wait forever for Koresh to give himself up.
Another of today’s scheduled witnesses, J. Phillip Arnold, a religion specialist at the Reunion Institute in Houston, said ``it is startling to discover that the Branch Davidian belief system was not effectively researched, understood and factored into the negotiation strategies.″
``My research has not identified one person in law enforcement who seriously studied David Koresh and Branch Davidian beliefs,″ Arnold said in written testimony.
At Monday’s session, Treasury Undersecretary Ronald Noble and ATF Director John Magaw faced lawmakers for five hours.
Noble sharply rejected the allegation by Dan Hartnett, who was the ATF’s deputy director for enforcement, that a Treasury Department report on what went wrong with the Waco raid was an attempted coverup by Noble.
Noble told the subcommittees there was no coverup, and that the only people who criticized the report were those who were disciplined.
He also acknowledged that he initially opposed the raid, but gave his approval after his questions about preparation were answered and he was assured the raid would be called off if agents lost the element of surprise.
Magaw, the former Secret Service director who took over the ATF after the raid, said he was committed to correcting mistakes that were made there. But he cautioned Congress against using the raid as an excuse to go after the agency. ``I strongly believe that only the criminal will benefit from weakening ATF,″ he said.