Reno Picks Former Sen. Danforth to Lead Waco Probe

By Susan Jones | July 7, 2008 | 8:24 PM EDT

( - Attorney General Janet Reno today named former Republican Senator John Danforth of Missouri to lead an independent inquiry into the government assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas six years ago.

At a news conference this morning in Washington, Reno said Danforth will have broad authority to look into any aspect of the final assault on the compound. He will have full powers to compel testimony, demand documents, and convene a federal grand jury, if necessary. Reno also said Danforth look into the possible illegal use of the armed forces in ending the siege.

Danforth told reporters, "I think you'll understand that once an investigation gets going, it's really not appropriate to have a running commentary on how it's proceeding," and therefore he took the opportunity to tell the nation what he plans to do and what he doesn't plan to do.

"Basically, when you boil down the half-dozen points that are in the [Attorney General's] order, they amount to big questions that have to be resolved," Danforth said. "Was there a cover-up? Did federal officials kill people?" Danforth said those are the two big questions he will be examining in the course of his investigation. "The thing that really undermines the integrity of the government is whether there were bad acts, whether there was a cover-up, and whether the government killed people."

But Danforth explained he will not investigate whether it was a good idea for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms to be investigating the Branch Davidians in the first place, or whether is was a good idea to stage the raid on the compound on April 19, 1993. "I don't minimize the importance of those questions," he said, adding that he thinks Congress and the American people can better address those particular issues.

In recent days, the nation has learned that contrary to earlier denials by federal agents, incendiary tear gas canisters were indeed fired on the final day of the Branch Davidian siege. And on Wednesday, the Dallas Morning News reported that illuminating flares also were used at some point during the siege.

The compound burned to the ground, but Reno and other federal officials continue to insist it was the David Koresh and the Branch Davidians who set the deadly fire.

Danforth said his first priority is to get to the facts. "However it is my hope and my intention that the facts that are discovered will be made available to the American people, for that is very, very important, he said. "This is a really big thing," he said. "I see at stake the beginning of the Declaration of Independence, that the point of government, the purpose of government, is to protect the life and liberty and pursuit of happiness of the American people." If government doesn't do that, Danforth said, it undermines what the founding fathers intended government to be.

"I think my role is to give the American people knowledge of what happened," he said, adding that he hopes to do that in a timely fashion. He also said he comes to the investigation without preconceived notions.

In other developments, Attorney General Reno is coming under increasing criticism, with the Senate's top Republican joining the chorus of those who want her to resign. "I think the Attorney General is falling into a pattern of not showing competence or probity," Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott told reporters yesterday.