A Senate subcommittee chairman won't postpone hearings on the deadly 1992 FBI siege at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, but is offering to tailor them to avoid jeopardizing a federal criminal investigation of an alleged FBI cover-up.
Sen. Arlen Specter, chairman of the Senate Judiciary terrorism subcommittee, said a telephone conversation with Attorney General Janet Reno on Thursday left him "convinced we can proceed on Sept. 6 without impeding what the Justice Department is doing."Reno "expressed reservations and wanted to know who we would call as witnesses," Specter said.
To alleviate Reno's concerns, Specter said initial hearings would concentrate on early contacts between white separatist Randy Weaver and federal Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents and on planning by U.S. marshals to arrest Weaver at his mountain cabin on firearms-related charges. Weaver family members would testify.
Specter, R-Pa., did not make clear how far and with what witnesses the hearings also might delve into an FBI sniper's killing of Weaver's wife, Vicki.
Reno did not comment on her conversation with Specter. A senior Justice official said a compromise modeled on Specter's suggestions might be possible, particularly if former rather than current officials testified.
The Justice Department opened a criminal investigation last Friday 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.
In a telephone interview from Portsmouth, N.H., where he was campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination, Specter said, "Phase one is not going to interfere with what Justice is doing."
"Even in phase two on the shooting incidents themselves, we can accommodate their concerns," Specter said. "And there is a line between the disagreement over who authorized the new shooting rules for the FBI and phase three, which is whether anybody later covered that up."