St. Louis The blame for the catastrophe at Waco that killed 80 people rests solely with cult leader David Koresh, a former senator said Friday after a 10-month independent investigation. It was the second time in a week that the government was exonerated.
John Danforth concluded "with 100 percent certainty" that federal agents did not start the fire or shoot at members of the Branch Davidian cult during the 1993 inferno. The government also did not improperly use the military, and did not engage in a major cover-up, Danforth said.
Danforth, a longtime Republican senator from Missouri, was appointed by Atty. Gen. Janet Reno last September to investigate the siege after the government acknowledged, following years of denials, that it used pyrotechnic tear gas canisters during the final assault.
Danforth released a 152-page preliminary report containing the conclusions he and his team of investigators reached.
"The blame rests squarely on the shoulders of David Koresh," Danforth said. He added: "This is not a close call."
However, Danforth said that some Justice Department employees and the FBI failed to disclose that agents had fired three pyrotechnic tear gas canisters within 75 feet of the compound. Also unresolved is what happened to the shells and pyrotechnic projectiles that are missing from evidence.
Danforth said investigators are still looking at those issues, and he did not rule out the possibility of criminal charges after his final report is issued, in about 3 1/2 months.
The former senator concluded that the pyrotechnic devices were fired four hours before the fire and had nothing to do with the destruction of the Branch Davidian complex in Texas.
"Yet its failure to disclose that information, more than anything else, is responsible for the loss of the public faith in the government's actions at Waco, and it led directly to this investigation," Danforth wrote in his report.
Danforth cleared Reno and other top government officials of any responsibility for the tragedy.
In Washington, Deputy Attorney General Eric Holder said: "Today's independent review sheds further light on the truth and discredits many of the unsubstantiated allegations that have skewed the public's perception of the events of April 19, 1993."
Similarly, FBI Director Louis Freeh was heartened by the findings.
"The simple truth, as the FBI has maintained since April 19, 1993, has been unmistakingly confirmed again today -- the FBI fired no shots on that day and the Davidians started the fire that ultimately engulfed the compound," he said.
It was the second time in a week that federal agents have been cleared in the 51-day standoff.
On July 14, a five-member jury in a civil trial in Waco decided that the government was not responsible. The ruling came in a $675 million wrongful-death suit brought by surviving cult members and the victims' families.
Ramsey Clark, who represented several survivors and relatives at the trial, said the Danforth report "failed to address the obvious."
"If their conduct was so right," Ramsey asked, "how did it end so very wrong, with so many deaths?"
Clark added that Danforth's report, along with the jury verdict, only reinforces dangerous law enforcement practices.
Danforth did not address whether government agents used poor judgment. "This was an investigation into bad acts, not bad judgment," he said.
The siege began Feb. 28, 1993, when Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents tried to arrest Koresh. A gunfight broke out, leaving four ATF agents and six Davidians dead, and the standoff began.
It ended April 19, 1993, when tanks driven by FBI agents pumped tear gas into the compound. A fire broke out and nearly all of the Davidians, including Koresh, died, some from the fire, some from gunshots.
The government has long contended the Davidians set the fire and caused their own deaths.
Most of the Danforth investigation was done by 17 private lawyers and 38 postal investigators to make sure it was independent of the Justice Department.
Danforth said he expects to spend $11 million to $12 million. About 900 witnesses were interviewed, and 2.3 million pages of documents were examined.
On the Net: Danforth's report: http://www.osc-waco.org