Jack Danforth and the Ghost of Earl Warren

added material (11/17/00) in italics
It's official: John Claggett Danforth has accepted Janet Reno's offer to become the "Earl Warren of Waco."

Of course, that's not how they put it, but that's what he will become. I say this not in criticism of the Warren Commission (I believe Oswald was the sole gunman, though I haven't made a study of the Dallas assassination), but in the sense that his work will not put to rest the questions about Waco any more than the Warren Commission laid to rest doubts about the Kennedy assassination.

Already we hear about how he is a former Senator respected on both sides of the aisle, an Episcopal priest, a man of unquestioned integrity, a man whose findings will be trusted by Republicans and Democrats alike. Well, official Washington may be prepared to blindly accept whatever he reports, but these Establishment credentials don't mean squat outside the Beltway. A callow antidisestablishmentarian Republican in the George Bush mold is not going to be able to allay the skepticism now aroused in the general public.

I personally am not holding my breath for his investigation. We have already had so-called "independent," "thorough" investigations into Waco, and now everyone knows that they failed to turn up critical evidence. Already, I don't like what I'm hearing. First, his mandate has been strictly circumscribed to limited issues. Second, Danforth seems to go out of his way to stress that he will be "objective" and has no "preconceptions" or "preconceived ideas" about Waco. Yeah, right... I've never met anybody who didn't have "preconceived ideas" about Waco of one sort or another, have you? If he really believes he has no "preconceptions" about what happened, he is deluding himself, and his work will be marred by unexamined assumptions.

Indeed, the limited scope of his inquiry itself implies that he is working from preconceptions. For instance, he stated that whether the government "fired shots" and "killed people" on April 19 were "dark questions," yet there was no question that government agents "fired shots" and "killed people" on February 28. His refusal to include those matters logically implied that he presumed those killings were justified, a presumption disputed by government critics. It has been alleged, with varying degrees of plausibility, that the ATF agents shot first; that the ATF fired indiscriminately into the building; that Davidian Peter Gent was unarmed when he was shot from the water tower; that a wounded and helpless Michael Schroeder was "finished off" at point-blank range; and that the entire raid was a plot to kill agents who had been bodyguards for Clinton during the 1992 campaign; among other things. The point is not that all of these things are true, but that someone claiming to have "no" presumptions cannot dismiss the issues of February 28 and hold to that standard of open-mindedness.

Frankly, the bounds of the Danforth investigation strike me as having been drawn to avoid finding serious federal wrongdoing. Rather than having no preconceptions, I suspect instead that Danforth secretly believes that the charges that federal agents started the fire or shot at Davidians on April 19 are too incredible to possibly be true, and is thus sticking to ground on which he thinks he can acquit the government.

Come to think of it, why is the media so quick to put their trust in this Danforth guy? Before this appointment, his most prominent act was his sponsorship of his close friend Clarence Thomas for the Supreme Court, then his spirited defense when Anita Hill made her charges. His vaunted credibility has not made doubts about Clarence Thomas go away, among ordinary citizens, reporters, or his colleagues. So why is he magically going to put Waco doubts to rest? Certainly, regardless of who you believe was telling the truth in the Thomas-Hill affair, it cannot be said that he approached that matter "objectively" and without "preconceptions."

In fact, it is probable that most journalists in the liberal-dominated Washington press corps believe Anita Hill. By implication, they reject Danforth's judgment in that case, so why are they now rushing to endow him with laser-like powers of discernment to get to the truth on Waco? Why do people who think he failed to "get to the bottom" of the Anita Hill matter trust him to "get to the bottom" of Waco?

(Of course, his findings may not be accepted unacrimoniously even in Washington. These statements about his solid reputation for honesty, fairness, and bipartisanship sound a lot like the things that were said at the appointment of a man named Kenneth Starr...)

I certainly believe that other investigations must move forward while the Danforth probe gets underway. The scope of his inquiry is too narrow to deal with all the issues. What is needed is an investigation of the entire Waco matter, not merely the final day. If we're lucky, we may get a few obstruction of justice indictments from him, but I do not expect his investigation to turn up the full truth about that last day, much less the entire siege. Having multiple investigations means that all eggs are not in one basket.

Not that I have faith in the Congressional proceedings either. The 1995 House hearings were a shambles. In the wake of Oklahoma City, Republicans were too defensive to ask hard questions of the witnesses before them. However, that was not the only problem. It quickly became clear that most of the Congressmen had not prepared for the hearings, didn't know critical facts, and had no clue what they were doing. Perhaps things will be different this time- now that it is clear to everyone that the public has not been getting the full truth from the federal agencies, Democratic attacks that Republicans are against law enforcement or playing into the hands of the militias are blunted- but Representatives will have to take the trouble to become informed this time around if this latest round of hearings is not to degenerate into another fiasco.

No, we must continue to press for the truth about Waco ourselves. We cannot sit back and rely on official investigations to do our work for us. For over six years, this complacent attitude has allowed authorities to cover up the facts. Let's keep up the pressure!

See also "Comments on Danforth's Preliminary Report"

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