Reno: Raid Was `Best Judgment' Children's Deaths at Waco `Will Be with Me,' She Says

Article excerpt

Attorney General Janet Reno defended her decision to use tear gas to end the siege at Waco but said Tuesday the fiery deaths of children there "will be with me for the rest of my life."

In marathon testimony concluding hearings by two House subcommittees, Reno rebuffed persistent Republican attempts to blame President Bill Clinton for what went wrong at the Texas standoff two years ago. Rep. Bill McCollum of Florida, one of two Republicans chairing the hearings, said he was satisfied that she "made the ultimate decision."

But the other co-chair, Rep. Bill Zeliff of New Hampshire, suggested at one point that Clinton made the decision and at another point that he improperly distanced himself from the decision.

"American tanks were turned on American citizens without the approval of anyone who was politically accountable," Zeliff said in his closing statement.

Reno insisted, as she has from the day the gas was used, that the decision was hers and that Clinton pledged to "back me up" when she explained what the FBI was going to do.

"I made the best judgment I could based on everything I had available," she said.

Reno was the final witness in 10 days of hearings into what went wrong at Waco, where Branch Davidian leader David Koresh and 80 followers died by fire or gunfire on April 19, 1993, six hours after the FBI started filling the compound with tear gas.

The deaths, which the government termed a mass suicide in fires set by the Davidians, ended a 51-day standoff that began with a Feb. 28 shootout that left six Davidians and four federal agents dead.

A final report won't be ready for months, but lawmakers on both sides agreed that the hearings had debunked various conspiracy theories about what happened at Waco. Democratic and Republican leaders also agreed that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms erred in trying to serve warrants at the compound after supervisors learned Koresh had been tipped to the raid.

Throughout the contentious hearings, Republican lawmakers criticized a number of actions taken by the FBI, the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms. But none of the other decisions was as closely examined as the FBI's use of tear gas.

During Tuesday's hearing, Zeliff said that decision led to the deaths of Koresh and his followers. …