Call to discipline FBI director dismissed

WASHINGTON, The Washington Post

Justice Department officials who reviewed the FBI’s flawed investigations of the 1992 siege at Ruby Ridge called for disciplinary action against FBI Director Louis Freeh and three other FBI veterans, but the recommendations were secretly rejected in the closing days of the Clinton Administration. Stephen Colgate, an assistant attorney general who had authority to mete out final sanctions in the Ruby Ridge case, denied a recommendation to censure Freeh for condoning the shortcomings of the FBI investigations. In a brief interview Friday, Colgate, who is now in private practice, said he stood by his Jan. 3 decision. He said a prominent FBI ethics official also favored no action. But FBI agents who spent years turning up flaws in the FBI’s initial inquiries into the events at Ruby Ridge denounced Colgate’s refusal to impose sanctions on top FBI officials as “outrageous” and “a whitewash.” The agents told the Senate Judiciary Committee, which learned only last month of Colgate’s decision, that they were especially dismayed because senior FBI officials had subjected them to threats and retaliation for conducting a thorough investigation. The lead agent, John Roberts, testified that his wife, an FBI support employee, was hounded from her job in the Boston division and his attempts to win a promotion have been rejected 14 times. “Ruby Ridge…has been a textbook example of (FBI) abuses,” Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the committee chairman, said in a statement…It appears from this that the ‘good old boy’ network has been allowed to persist at the FBI. It serves to protect some senior FBI executives from the same scrutiny and discipline applied to rank-and-file agents…This double standard is unfair and demoralizing.” Freeh, who left the Bureau June 22, did not respond to a request for comment. The FBI and Freeh have been buffeted in recent months by the revelation that an agent secretly spied for Moscow since 1979, by problems with its investigation of Los Alamos nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee and by its failure to turn over thousands of documents in the Oklahoma City bombing case. Five separate reviews of FBI conduct are currently underway. The aftermath of events at Ruby Ridge, Idaho — where an FBI sniper killed the wife of separatist Randy Weaver — is an example of what even Justice Department officials acknowledge is the FBI’s unwillingness to police itself-especially when top officials are involved. A spokeswoman for Attorney General John Ashcroft said he views the situation as “a serious matter.” Ashcroft recently ordered the Justice Department’s Inspector General to take the primary role in investigating allegations of FBI misconduct. The recommended disciplinary actions against Freeh and others were cited in a July 27 letter to Ashcroft from Leahy and four other committee members seeking documents related to Colgate’s decision. They noted that the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility and a task force of the Justice Management Division “recommended in 1999 that two senior FBI executives be suspended and that the FBI Director and one other FBI agent be censured.” Committee officials refused to disclose the names of the other three FBI officials. They also noted that officials at Justice had urged that disciplinary actions Freeh took in January 1995 against three other unnamed agents involved in Ruby Ridge be rescinded, because the punishments were not warranted. Nothing was done about the recommendations until Jan. 3, when Colgate, assistant attorney general for administration, decided that “no new discipline would be imposed.” Colgate, designated by Attorney General Janet Reno as the final arbiter in the matter, also refused to rescind any previous disciplinary actions. He conveyed his decision in a memo to then-Deputy attorney General Eric Holder. It was not announced publicly or reported to Congress. The decision, Leahy said, surfaced when he asked direct questions about “final discipline” while preparing for a July 18 FBI oversight hearing. The reasons for Freeh’s proposed censure have not been spelled out, but Leahy suggested a rationale in written questions he sent to the agents who testified at the hearing. Leahy asked whether it would be a breach of conduct warranting discipline if an FBI official ordered or took part in an inquiry knowing that the person conducting the inquiry is biased or a friend of the target. Leahy also inquired about officials accepting the results of such an investigation when it has “obvious holes.” FBI agent Roberts, the OPR unit chief in charge of internal investigations, said this would amount to “investigative dereliction.” One of the snipers, Lon Horiuchi, killed Vicki Weaver as she stood in the doorway of her cabin. years of experience.” He said at the hearing that culpability “goes to the highest levels of the FBI.” FBI agent Frank Perry, who worked with Roberts on the final Ruby Ridge probe, said he agreed, “without question,” that discipline would be warranted in the scenario Leahy described. The 11-day Ruby Ridge standoff began with a shootout between three camouflaged federal marshals and Weaver, his 14-year-old son Sammy and a family friend, Kevin Harris. One of the marshals, William Degan, and Sammy Weaver were killed. FBI sharpshooters were among the hundreds of lawmen who surrounded the Weaver cabin the next day. The snipers were given unprecedented rules of engagement later deemed illegal: that “any armed male observed within the vicinity of the Weaver cabin could and should” be shot. A federal appeals court ruled this year that “such wartime rules are patently unconstitutional for a police action.”

He has testified that he was trying to kill Harris as Harris was ducking back into the cabin and did not see Vicki Weaver. Horiuchi was accused of involuntary manslaughter by state authorities but the charge has been dropped. The first FBI review of the debacle was conducted by Robert Walsh, a longtime friend of one of the targets of the investigation, then-assistant FBI director Larry Potts. Potts was in charge of the siege from FBI headquarters. A Senate subcommittee investigation later found that Walsh’s 1994 report was tilted to justify the shooting of Vicki Weaver. A Justice Department task force had already rejected Walsh’s report. The task force concluded that the shot that killed Vicki Weaver was illegal and that FBI officials at headquarters must have known about the controversial rules. A second internal FBI review was then assigned it to longtime agent Charles Mathews III, a friend of another target, then-FBI deputy assistant director Danny Coulson, who was Potts’ deputy in the Ruby Ridge crisis. Mathews blamed onsite commander Eugene Glenn for the controversial rules of engagement, and maintained that they were crafted without the knowledge of anyone at FBI headquarters. Agents of the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility we