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CLINTON OFFICIALS, DEMOS REBUFF GOP'S REPORT ON WACO SIEGE

In the face of new Republican criticism, Clinton administration officials insist that crucial lessons were learned from the Waco Branch Davidians disaster - and used in resolving the recent standoff with the Montana Freemen.

In a preliminary report Thursday, Republicans accused Attorney General Janet Reno of negligence in authorizing the FBI's assault on the Branch Davidians and said President Clinton should have accepted her offer to resign.House Democrats quickly charged that the GOP lawmakers were playing politics, accusing them of waiting nearly a year to release their conclusions close to the November election and trying to curry favor with the gun lobby.

The report, based on 10 days of emotional hearings last summer, contains only the Republicans' views. It was written by Reps. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., and Bill Zeliff, R-N.H., the co-chairmen of a special committee that held the Waco hearings.

Reno's decision to end the standoff by using tear gas was "premature, wrong and highly irresponsible," said the report, which called her action "seriously negligent."

The April 19, 1993, assault ended a 51-day siege against the Davidians at their compound near Waco, Texas. Cult leader David Koresh and 80 of his followers died by fire or gunshots six hours after the FBI started filling the compound with tear gas through holes punched by a tank.

Deputy Attorney General Jamie Gorelick, speaking to reporters Thursday at the Justice Department, noted the department had done its own report on Waco that was "quite self-critical." Changes have been made in how such crises are handled, she added.

"I think you see the product of that in the way we handled the Freemen situation and in the way we are handling countless other challenges that we face on a daily basis," Gorelick said.