The Dallas Morning News
BYLINE:Lee Hancock

2 key ATF officials faulted in review of cult siege resign Agency veterans deny lying to bosses, misleading public about Davidian raid

WASHINGTON - Two senior government officials who were censured in a report for their role in the botched Branch Davidian raid resigned in protest Saturday.

Dan Hartnett, associate director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, and Dan Conroy, deputy associate director, told Treasury Department officials they were leaving the agency immediately.

The two, in their first public comment since the department issued a critical raid review Thursday, said they were unfairly accused of lying and misleading the public and their superiors during the siege near Waco.

"We are resigning because we do not agree with the findings of the Waco administrative review. The report does not reflect the facts of what occurred in the aftermath of the Waco tragedy," Mr. Harnett and Mr. Conroy said in a prepared statement.

The two men were the agency's the two highest-ranking law enforcement officials until being placed on administrative leave last week in the wake of the treasury report. Three other ATF officials also were suspended with pay pending further review by the Treasury Department, which oversees the ATF.

The months-long treasury review concluded that ATF officials designed a flawed plan to storm the compound Feb. 28 to arrest sect leader David Koresh and search for illegally stockpiled weapons.

The report said the raid should have been canceled when an undercover ATF agent told commanders that Mr. Koresh knew that agents were coming.

The operation left four agents and six cult members dead in a shootout. The confrontation lasted 51 days, ending April 19 when fire consumed the compound, killing Mr. Koresh and about 80 followers.

Mr. Harnett, 53, a 24-year veteran, and Mr. Conroy, 50, a 26-year veteran, were the top ATF officials in Waco after the raid. They became recognized during widely broadcast news conferences during the federal government's confrontation with Branch Davidian sect.

The treasury report said both men, along with others in Washington, did not take into account the inexperience of the raid commanders in planning the raid and did not recognize the need for less-risky alternative or contingency plans.

They also made misstatements to the public or allowed them to be made and failed to keep superiors fully apprised of key reasons for the raid failure, according to the treasury review.

In their statement, Mr. Hartnett and Mr. Conroy said they never lied or intentionally misled anyone.

"One fact that can never be changed is that on March 2, we asked the Texas Rangers to conduct a independent investigation of the leak (that tipped Mr. Koresh) and what was said between the undercover agent and the commanders," they said.

The two men said they asked the Rangers to report directly to an assistant U.S. attorney to prevent any suspicion that the ATF was engaging in a cover-up.

They also said they fully briefed ATF officials daily in Washington - sometimes three times a day - about all aspects of the Waco siege after the raid, including conflicting statements on whether the agency had lost the element of surprise in its assault on the compound.

Mr. Hartnett and Mr. Conroy said before the Waco operation that they had planned to retire at the end of the year. Saturday's decision, delivered to treasury officials in Washington, made it effective immediately.

Stephen Higgins, the former ATF director, announced his resignation Monday before release of the report. The other three suspended ATF officials have said they have been ordered not to discuss the case by the Treasury Department.

Ron Noble, the assistant treasury secretary who oversaw the review, could not be reached for comment late Saturday.

Meanwhile, a spokesman said Saturday that Justice Department officials were meeting to complete the report on their internal investigation into the FBI role in the standoff.

Julie Anbender, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said officials are meeting through the weekend to work on the report.