Freeh says some documents still not turned over to McVeigh
WASHINGTON (AP) – FBI agents this week have found still more Oklahoma City bombing documents that may not have been turned over to Timothy McVeigh’s attorneys, FBI Director Louis Freeh said Wednesday.
He told Congress his agency was guilty of ”serious error” in dealing with documents in the case.
Freeh’s comments on Wednesday, the day McVeigh had been scheduled for execution, came less than a week after the revelation that more than 3,000 pages of documents were withheld from McVeigh’s lawyers before his trial. That discovery led Attorney General John Ashcroft to postpone McVeigh’s execution for the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building.
Freeh said he did not think the documents found this week or last week would change McVeigh’s conviction or sentence for the April 1995 federal building bombing that killed 168 people.
”Although I fully support the attorney general’s decision to postpone the execution – fairness and justice, of course, demand that – I do not believe this belated disclosure of documents will affect the outcome,” he said.
McVeigh’s lawyers met with him at the federal prison in Terre Haute, Ind., and said he was taking an active role in deciding what to do. McVeigh had declined to pursue further appeals, allowing his execution date to be set, but attorney Nathan Chambers said Wednesday that the inmate was ”willing to consider all options that are available to him.”
Freeh, in his first public statements about the FBI mishap, told a House Appropriations subcommittee he would be adding ”a world-class records expert” and creating a separate office of records management and policy to ensure that documents aren’t mishandled in the future.
He said he also will increase records training for agents and order the FBI to take time to review proper procedures for handling important documents.
The McVeigh documents ”should have been located and released during discovery,” Freeh said in one of his last appearances before Congress. ”As director, I’m accountable and responsible for that failure, and I accept that responsibility.”
Freeh recently announced he was retiring in June, two years before completion of his 10-year term.
Only Rep. David Obey, D-Wis., was openly critical, calling the FBI ”something close to a failed agency” and saying ”the litany of troubles with the agency are truly astounding and regrettable.”
”I just think this is a pitiful performance, which is feeding the paranoia of large sections of this country, and that’s the last thing that we can afford these days,” Obey said.
Other lawmakers said the situation had been blown out of proportion.
”You had 28,000 interviews, and you had tons of material that were turned over. And what we’re talking about here is really insignificant, irrelevant documents that have no bearing on the case,” said Rep. David Rogers, R-Ky. ”Is that a fair statement?”
”That is my understanding,” Freeh said.
Freeh said agents were reminded constantly to send their material to the Oklahoma City field office. In 1995 and 1996, he said, field offices were told 11 times to send the documents.
When it appeared that not all materials had been sent, Freeh said he sent a priority teletype to all field offices in November 1996 directing all materials be sent promptly.
”As we now know, there were still many offices that had failed to comply fully or precisely with the instructions given,” Freeh said.
FBI agents first realized they had documents that might not have been turned over to McVeigh in March when archivists started to store the documents, Freeh said. By the time they were sure that the documents hadn’t been shared, it was May, he said. The FBI turned the documents over to the prosecutors on May 8, who gave the documents to McVeigh’s lawyers on the same day.
Freeh said he didn’t learn about the documents until May 10.
He said more documents showed up this week, and they were discovered only after he ordered all of his deputies worldwide on Friday to do one last ”shakedown” for any documents and warned them he would hold them personally responsible if all weren’t retrieved.
”This latest scrubbing has produced additional documents which are currently being reviewed to determine whether they were covered by the discovery agreement and, if so, whether they have been produced,” Freeh said.
Freeh said he suspects there won’t be one single answer to why all the documents in the case weren’t turned over earlier.
”For example, some offices wrongly concluded that the information was so extraneous that it was not covered by the request related to these prosecutions,” Freeh said. ”Some offices forwarded summary results of investigation but not the underlying documents. Some offices forwarded copies of originals. Some offices turned investigative inserts into 302s and forwarded only the 302s. Some offices overlooked material when culling out responsive documents. Finally, some offices believed they sent the material but, in some cases, not in a form that could be uploaded into our existing system.”
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