The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Steve McGonigle

Senate panel expected to look into cult probe
Justice official likely to be asked about inquiry plans

WASHINGTON -- Deputy Attorney General-designate Philip Heymann is expected to be questioned by a Senate committee Tuesday about how deeply the Justice Department will investigate its handling of the Branch Davidian tragedy.

Mr. Heymann, who will head the inquiry, raised doubts over the weekend that the investigation will include the decision-making processes that led to the FBI's tear gas assault on the cult compound April 19.

More than 80 cult members, including several children, perished inside the compound, which burned to the ground after the tear gas assault.

Mr. Heymann told The New York Times in an interview published Sunday that the internal inquiry would not examine the decision to launch the assault, which was ultimately made by Attorney General Janet Reno.

His statements appeared to conflict with President Clinton's pledge to conduct a thorough investigation of the tragedy and surprised some of the senators who will be deciding the fate of Mr. Heymann's nomination.

Ms. Reno's chief spokesman insisted Monday that the attorney general had always envisioned a complete investigation of the department's role.

"There's nothing that is not going to be looked at. Everything is on the table, and Janet has said that repeatedly,' Carl Stern said.

Sen. Dennis DeConcini, D-Ariz., told The Times that it would be a mistake for the Justice Department not to conduct a comprehensive review that would include an interview with Ms. Reno.

The senator's spokesman, Bob Maynes, said Monday that he expects members of the Senate Judiciary Committee to question Mr. Heymann about the Branch Davidian investigation when confirmation hearings begin Tuesday.

"I would expect there to be questions about Waco, but I would not expect them to be hostile questions,' Mr. Maynes said.

The attorney general was told by an aide within a few days after the assault that she probably would have to give a deposition on her role, and she has agreed to cooperate fully with investigators, Mr. Stern said.

He called it "absolutely untrue' that the last-minute decision-making process would not be reviewed.

"Obviously, that's central to the investigation,' the Justice Department spokesman said. "That's what it's all about.'

He said the department already has completed a minute-by-minute chronology of the cult's 51-day standoff with federal agents, and the FBI has begun the process of interviewing hundreds of participants in the operation.

Once interviews are completed in 60 days, Mr. Stern said, a panel of 10 experts will review the information and make recommendations. He said he expected a final report to be made public this summer.

Also Monday, Treasury Secretary Lloyd Bentsen introduced his own review panel composed of Los Angeles Police Chief Willie Williams, former Watergate prosecutor Henry Ruth and Pultzer Prize-winning journalist Ed Guthman.

Mr. Bentsen said the panel of outside experts would ensure an "uncompromising' review of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms' Feb. 28 raid, which cost the lives of four ATF agents.

"We want the American people to know what happened and why,' Mr. Bentsen said at a Treasury Department news conference.

The secretary said he expected the inquiry to be completed by Sept. 1.

Assistant Secretary Ron Noble, who will direct the Treasury investigation, said the inquiry will include all facets of the ATF's investigation of the Branch Davidians and the decision to assault the heavily armed compound.

One focus of the investigation, he said, will be to determine why the ATF proceeded with the assault after an undercover agent reported that cult leader David Koresh had been tipped that an assault was imminent.

Asked whether he expected any disciplinary actions to result from the investigation, Mr. Noble said he had "no expectations.'

"Once we find out what happened, let the facts determine whether an appropriate action ought to be taken,' he said.