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JUSTICE DEPARTMENT ASKS SENATE TO DELAY RUBY RIDGE HEARINGS

The Justice Department has asked the Senate to postpone its hearings on the deadly 1992 FBI siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, for fear they could thwart the criminal investigation of an alleged coverup by top FBI officials in the case.

"We strongly urge postponing the hearing and the attendant preparation until the investigations are complete," Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick wrote Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., chairman of the terrorism subcommittee that is planning to open hearings Sept. 6.Gorelick's letter, written last Friday, was released by the department Thursday. Specter's spokeswoman, Maggie Friedman, said, "We are planning to go ahead Sept. 6."

The Washington Times quoted Specter Thursday as saying the hearings would steer clear of the alleged coverup, but he gave no indication he would delay the proceedings.

"I want to be very careful that we do not interfere with any ongoing investigation," the Times quoted Specter as saying.

Last Friday, the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into whether five top FBI officials, including recently demoted Deputy FBI Director Larry Potts, covered up their approval of controversial "shoot-on-sight" orders given to FBI snipers at the scene. All five are suspended with pay.