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KORESH BEARS FULL BLAME FOR TRAGEDY, RENO SAYS

Accused by a Republican of "unbelievable or at least careless" decisionmaking, Attorney General Janet Reno methodically and calmly insisted Tuesday that the blame for the Waco tragedy "points directly at David Koresh."

She also directly disputed Republican charges that President Clinton swayed the decisions to end the siege at Waco with a tear-gas assault.It was "not a decision of the White House" but a decision made in "the law enforcement arena - where it should be," Reno said, explaining she simply advised Clinton of the decision and he agreed to "back me up."

Rep. Bill Zeliff, R-N.H., one of two co-chairmen, criticized Reno at the outset of the 10th and final day of hearings into the loss of over 80 lives during the 1993 siege at the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.

He said she was guilty of "unbelievable or at least careless" acts in failing to read a briefing report on a tear-gas assault plan to end the 51-day siege before authorizing the plan.

Zeliff was referring to a footnote in the Justice Department's original report on Waco that noted that Reno did not read the final briefing book on the tear-gas plan "carefully, nor did she read the supporting documentation."

Reno sat solemnly at the witness table as Zeliff leveled his charges, then asserted, "I tried to do everything I could to make the best judgment I could."

For weeks, she has been on the defensive as Republicans attacked her decision to authorize the FBI to use tear gas on April 19, 1993. And Zeliff charged that the government "killed over 80 people" at the Davidian compound and he believed Clinton was involved in the decision.

He hinted at that again Tuesday, saying, "Leaders do not dodge, they do not let others take the blame when they are involved or should have been involved" in critical decisions.

But Reno said Clinton played exactly the right role for a chief executive.

"I'd advised the president, he asked good questions and he said he would back me up," she testified.

Republicans introduced a March 1, 1993, memo to President Clinton by then-Chief of Staff Mack McLarty saying the FBI would take "no significant action" at Waco without White House approval.

McLarty wrote in the memo that Stuart Gerson, who was acting attorney general at the time, "concurred fully with your philosophy regarding this matter and assured me that no significant action would by taken without White House approval."

The White House said the memo was consistent with the president's explanation he wanted to be advised of any changes in strategy. "It's consistent with what I said all along and I don't have anything to add to it," Clinton told a morning news conference.

Speaking for the Democrats, Rep. Charles Schumer of New York dismissed the criticisms of decision-making on that crucial day. He said the hearings had been witness to "Tuesday-morning quarterbacking the likes of which we have not seen for a long time."

Reno testified that Koresh, the cult leader, was solely responsible for the deaths of his followers.

"We all mourn the tragic outcome. But the finger of blame points in one direction - it points directly at David Koresh," Reno testified. "The fate of the Branch Davidians was in David Koresh's hands, and he chose death for the men and women who had entrusted their lives to him. And he, David Koresh, chose death for the innocent children of Waco."

Without mentioning Zeliff by name, Reno said any conclusion to the contrary "is an insult to the truth."