The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Lee Hancock

FBI set to reveal today whether release of Koresh tape violated policy

The FBI should determine by Thursday whether a Dallas bureau official violated departmental policies in releasing a controversial Branch Davidian 911 tape to a congressional committee, Justice Department officials said Wednesday.

The FBI and Justice Department inquiry was opened at the request of U.S. Rep. Jim Lightfoot, R-Iowa, ranking minority member of the House subcommitee that aired the 30-minute tape last week during a two-day hearing on the ill-fated Branch Davidian raid.

Mr. Lightfoot called a news conference Wednesday in Washington to complain that the committee was not told by its staff that the tape played during the hearing was edited.

He said members of the House appropriations subcommitee were led to believe that the tape was an accurate recording of the tense first half-hour of talks between the cult and a McLennan County sheriff's deputy.

Mr. Lightfoot said the edited tape gave the erroneous impression that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms did not adequately plan communications for the raid and that, as a result, the deputy could not reach ATF agents after receiving a 911 telephone call from cult members.

The congressman added that the tape's use in the two-day committee hearing on the raid appeared to be part of a "a bias to make ATF look bad.'

A Justice Department official who declined to be indentified said Thursday that FBI officials have information that Oliver "Buck' Revell, special agent in charge of the FBI's Dallas office, gave the tape to the subcommittee's investigative staff, a group of retired FBI officials and FBI agents on loan to Congress.

Agent Revell said Wednesday that he could not comment on the source of the tapes but added: "There was no attempt on my part or on the part of anybody in this office to mislead Congress or disparage ATF. The inferences that the FBI edited the tape or provided that tape to disparage ATF are both false.'

Agent Revell added that he contacted FBI and Justice Department officials immediately after learning about the tape controversy. "We will fully disclose our contact with House investigators,' he said.

After a Wednesday morning closed-door meeting with subcommittee investigators, Subcommittee Chairman Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said he did not believe that the committee was misled. Although he and other committee members did believe that the tape was an accurate recording, he said, he had no concern that it may have been used unfairly to disparage ATF.

The tape played for the committee accurately showed that ATF had communication problems with the deputy manning the Waco 911 line, system, he said.

If there were significant differences between the committee's tape and what actually happened, he said, they likely would have been noted by the deputy who was called to testify during the two-day hearing.

Lt. Larry Lynch, the deputy who talked for hours with cultists after the Feb. 28 raid, said he did not know that the subcommitee's tape was not an accurate recording because he did not have an opportunity to review the 911 recordings before testifying.

A Dallas Morning News comparison of the committee's tape with two hours of 911 recordings released Friday by the Waco Police Department indicates that the congressional tape had conversations with cult leader David Koresh out of context and did not include repeated talks between ATF agents and the 911 dispatch center to coordinate dealings with the cult.

ATF officials have complained privately that the subcommittee staff, which obtained the tape and spent weeks researching ATF's handling of the raid to prepare committee members for the hearing, was unfairly critical because of rivalries between the FBI and ATF.

Congressional officials told The News on Tuesday that committee members' aides were told before the hearing that officials at the FBI's Quantico, Va., training academy made the tape. The committee members also were told that the tape was an accurate recording of the first half-hour of talks between the cult and law enforcement officials, the congressional officials said.

Two Justice Department officials who spoke on condition of anonymity said Wednesday that the FBI's inquiry has determined that the committee's investigators were told that the tape was a compilation of excerpts.

"It's my understanding that the committee staff was told,' one of the officials said. "It's my speculation that the members did not know. I don't think they would've knowingly put it out without a disclaimer.'

Mr. Lightfoot said during the Wednesday news conference that he asked Attorney General Janet Reno to determine whether the edited tape aired by the committee was released in violation of grand jury rules. The U.S. attorney's office in Waco has subpoenaed the police department's 911 recordings from the first 1 1/2 days after the raid.

Another Justice Department official who declined to be identified said FBI officials have determined that the tape released to the committee was made before the subpoena was issued.

The tape was a sampling of conversations made by the FBI's Behavioral Sciences unit to help prepare agents involved in the Waco standoff for negotiations with the cult, the Justice Department official said.

Even if the tape were obtained from the subpoenaed material, the official said, its release likely would not have violated federal law. Federal grand jury rules in the U.S. 5th Circuit, which includes Texas, prohibit the release of grand jury testimony but do not address the release of taped evidence, the official said.

FBI spokesman Charles Mandigo declined comment on the ongoing inquiry. "It's still a subject of review,' he said.

Four ATF agents were killed and 16 were wounded during the Feb. 28 raid on the heavily armed cult, an operation to execute search and arrest warrants for federal explosives and weapons violations. After the raid, the FBI was called in to try to negotiate a peaceful resolution to the standoff, which ended after 51 days with the deaths of Mr. Koresh and more than 80 of his followers in a massive fire.

Staff writer Steve McGonigle in Washington contributed to this report.