Former Waco Prosecutor Indicted
ST. LOUIS (AP) -- A former government prosecutor has been indicted on
federal charges of obstructing the investigation into the 1993 siege at the
Branch Davidian compound at Waco, Texas, that he helped set in motion.
Former assistant U.S. Attorney Bill Johnston was charged with two counts of obstruction of justice and three counts of lying to investigators and a federal grand jury.
The indictment was returned Wednesday as Waco special counsel John C. Danforth released his final report absolving the government of wrongdoing in the siege.
Attorney Michael Kennedy, while acknowledging that Johnston made mistakes in his dealings with the special counsel, called the charges baseless and unfair.
''Danforth seeks to destroy the messenger and whitewash the governmental excesses of Waco,'' he said. ''While Bill's mistakes were harmless, the same cannot be said for so many other government employees, who today are merely chastised or ignored completely by Mr. Danforth.''
Johnston helped draft the search warrant that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms tried to execute on Feb. 28, 1993, at the Waco compound. The botched raid turned into a gunfight in which four federal agents and six Davidians were killed.
The shootout sparked the 51-day standoff that ended on April 19, 1993, with a fire that consumed the compound, killing sect leader David Koresh and some 80 followers inside.
Johnston in 1994 helped convict nine Davidians during their criminal trial.
In 1999, federal Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. ordered the government to give him all records and evidence connected with the standoff. Johnston then complained publicly that the Justice Department was covering up evidence showing FBI agents had fired pyrotechnic tear gas at the compound.
Justice Department and FBI officials denied for years that the government had used anything capable of sparking fires when they employed tanks and tear gas to try to end the standoff.
The FBI's subsequent confirmation that some pyrotechnic tear gas was used prompted Attorney General Janet Reno to ask Danforth to investigate.
In July, Danforth in a preliminary report absolved the government of blame in the blaze. A week earlier, an advisory jury hearing a $675 million wrongful-death lawsuit brought by surviving cult members and the victims' families reached the same conclusion.
Johnston left the U.S. attorney's office in February and Danforth's
investigators questioned him repeatedly. He admitted in July that he had
withheld several pages of notes from 1993 dealing with the FBI's use of
A congressional report issued last week praised Johnston for helping reveal the use of pyrotechnics but condemned his failure to surrender the notes, which indicated he was told in 1993 that FBI agents fired several incendiary military tear gas grenades.
''I don't perceive him as a whistle-blower,'' Danforth said. ''Because I
think the meaning of whistle-blower is somebody who brings into the light
things that were hidden. The allegations in this indictment are to the
contrary: somebody who hides things.''
Johnston said in a statement Wednesday that he withheld the notes out of
fear that hostile colleagues might try to use what he had written to
discredit him. He added that he didn't reveal the notes to Danforth because his investigators ''treated me with the same loathing and hostility that I had encountered from the Justice Department.''
Waco deputy U.S. marshal asked to return for testify before special grand jury
By TOMMY WITHERSPOON Tribune-Herald staff writer
A special grand jury in St. Louis investigating the Branch Davidian case has asked that Deputy U.S. Marshal Mike McNamara of Waco return for a second round of testimony this morning.
Supporters of former U.S. attorney Bill Johnston, who has been targeted by Special Counsel John Danforth's investigation, view the grand jury's request to hear from McNamara again as a positive sign for Johnston.
"As I understand it, it is not the lawyers, it is the grand jury members who
want to talk to Mike, so we are viewing that as a good sign," said former
Waco City Manager David Smith, who also testified last month before
Danforth's grand jury.
McNamara's brother, Parnell, who also is a deputy U.S. marshal; Waco
businessman Carey Hobbs; and Waco attorney Rob Goble, who all are friends and supporters of Johnston, also testified in St. Louis late last month. So did federal prosecutor John Phinizy and Sharon Barker, both of whom worked with Johnston in the Waco U.S. attorney's office.
While at least five of the seven tried to have the subpoenas against them
thrown out and were eventually granted immunity to force them to testify,
Smith, Hobbs and Goble said they came away from the grand jury feeling good about their experience.
"We think the grand jury never had heard the good things about Bill Johnston, and Mike and all of us got to expand on that and got to tell our story about Bill and what a great job he had done down here," Smith said. "So we felt that the grand jury hadn't heard all of that before and that is why we think Mike being called back up there is a good thing."
McNamara is not a target of the grand jury, Smith said.
U.S. District Judge Walter S. Smith Jr. of Waco also testified before the
grand jury on Oct. 20.
Jan Diltz, a spokeswoman for the Office of Special Counsel, declined comment on the grand jury proceedings.
Danforth was appointed last year to investigate new revelations in the Branch Davidian case and has targeted Johnston, 41, for possible indictment on perjury and obstruction of justice charges related to Johnston's testimony before the grand jury in July.
David Smith and Hobbs have raised more than $30,000 to help Johnston defray legal expenses. Both said they were asked by Danforth's staff about their fund-raising efforts.
Goble had been quoted as saying that he wondered what Danforth's staff had "been smoking" by targeting Johnston and he was grilled about that statement during his grand jury appearance, he said.
"I still wonder what they have been smoking," Goble said when he returned from St. Louis.
Johnston reportedly is being targeted because he withheld several pages from a legal pad on which he took notes during his preparations to help prosecute 11 Branch Davidians in 1994 for killing federal agents.
Judge Smith had ordered all matters pertaining to the Branch Davidian case be turned over to his office last year before the trial of the Branch Davidian wrongful-death lawsuit against the government.
Johnston, who resigned in January, produced the missing pages for Danforth and submitted to a polygraph test, sources have said.
Tommy Witherspoon can be reached at email@example.com or at 757-5737.
Davidian Raid Whistle-Blower Indicted on Obstruction Charges
The whistle-blower who triggered the probe into the 1993 deaths of 74 Branch Davidians near Waco, Tex., was indicted yesterday by a federal grand jury on charges of obstructing justice and making false statements to investigators for special counsel John C. Danforth.
In a five-count criminal indictment handed up in St. Louis, former assistant U.S. attorney William Johnston was accused of concealing his knowledge that potentially incendiary devices were used in the FBI's 1993 raid on the compound and trying to shift blame to others.
Johnston, a former Texas prosecutor, maintained his innocence and said he is being made a scapegoat because he embarrassed top government officials. Danforth said Johnston is being prosecuted because he broke the law.
"Johnston hid evidence and then lied about it repeatedly to our office and to a grand jury," Danforth said. "Instead of bringing to light facts about Waco, Bill Johnston hid them from view and obstructed a grand jury. That is not my idea of a whistle-blower."
Johnston's lawyer, Michael Kennedy, said his client will vigorously fight the charges. He said Johnston has been targeted because he embarassed the government by forcing disclosure that the FBI fired pyrotechnic tear gas projectiles in the raid that left 74 Branch Davidians dead after their
compound went up in flames. Attorney General Janet Reno and others had told Congress no such devices were used.
"By criminally charging Bill Johnston, the whistle-blower, special counsel
Danforth has missed a singular opportunity to finally bring closure and some healing to the horrors of Waco. Instead, Danforth seeks to destroy the messenger," Kennedy said.
The FBI raid ended the 51-day siege at Waco, which began after Branch
Davidians shot and killed four Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms agents in February 1993. Johnston successfully prosecuted members of the sect in connection with those slayings.
Johnston is the only person facing criminal prosecution as a result of
Danforth's $17 million probe of the April 19, 1993, raid. In July, Danforth
determined that while pyrotechnic devices had been used, they did not cause the blaze. He also concluded that FBI agents fired no shots in the raid, that Reno had not intentionally misled Congress and that the Davidians themselves were responsible for setting fire to the compound.
A jury in a civil lawsuit brought by families of the dead also found in favor
of the FBI.
Johnston's Aug. 31, 1999, letter to Reno, which contended that FBI agents fired pyrotechnic shells at the compound, was one of the key reasons why Reno appointed Danforth to look into the raid. Johnston discovered the incendiary projectiles after allowing a documentary filmmaker to search through evidence of the raid kept in a Waco storage room.
Johnston acknowledges that he failed to give Danforth's investigators several pages of notes from a 1993 meeting, including one page on which he had written "incind," an abbreviation for incendiary.
Johnston says he used bad judgment but feared the notes would be used by adversaries in the Justice Department. Johnston said he turned down an offer from Danforth to plead guilty to a single felony count.
"Whistle-blowers are seldom popular," Johnston said. "My actions were
foolish, regrettable and wrong, but they were not criminal. . . . I can't
confess to concealing the pyrotechnics when I was the government employee most responsible for disclosing them."
Johnston said he corrected his testimony in a later appearance before grand jurors in St. Louis and apologized for misleading them about his notes. "I owe the American public an apology as well," Johnston said.
Danforth said that while he concluded that others at Justice and the FBI
engaged in wrongdoing, he lacked the evidence to prove their guilt.
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