Senators criticize FBI handling of McVeigh, Birmingham cases |

Senators criticize FBI handling of McVeigh, Birmingham cases


WASHINGTON (AP) – The FBI has had ”too many failures, too many blunders” of late – including its failure to turn over thousands of documents to Timothy McVeigh’s attorneys – and that is undermining the confidence of the American people, the Senate Intelligence Committee chairman said Tuesday.

”Any kind of failure at the FBI, anything that happens at the FBI that calls into question something they did or failed to do leads to a lot of mistrust with the American people,” Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said after his committee met privately with FBI Director Louis Freeh.

Freeh told the senators that information in the newly found documents ”won’t have any bearing on the case,” Shelby said. Reflecting a wariness of such pronouncements, the senator added, ”We’ll have to wait and see.”

”It’s something that should not have happened, and it shows, probably, a lack of diligence somewhere in the FBI,” Shelby said. As the bureau’s director, Freeh is responsible, Shelby said, but he said others in the FBI who failed to meet deadlines or follow orders ”ought to be brought to task.”

Freeh announced May 1 – a week before the FBI revealed the McVeigh documents – that he would retire in June.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, who chairs the Judiciary Committee that oversees the FBI, said of the McVeigh documents: ”There’s no question these mistakes should not have been made in a high-profile case, or any case.”

”Every criminal defendant has the right to these types of materials and we’ve got to live up to our responsibilities,” said Hatch, who was not in the Freeh hearing. ”We must see that those rights are protected.”

The FBI could be heading for some tough times in Congress after years of almost unquestioned support.

Shelby called for ”a broad review of the FBI, its mission, its problems and some solutions,” Hatch plans Judiciary Committee hearings on the McVeigh matter and Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., intends to propose creation of a separate inspector general for the FBI, supplanting the Justice Department’s IG there. The new IG would report to the Governmental Affairs Committee. Durbin is on both that panel and the Judiciary Committee.

The Intelligence Committee briefing was ostensibly about longtime FBI agent Robert Hanssen, arrested in February on charges of spying for Moscow for 15 years.

But the talk moved to the McVeigh case, and, of particular concern to Shelby, the case of the 1963 bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Ala., that killed four black girls.

”From what I’ve learned recently, the FBI had information which they never furnished first to our former attorney general, Bill Baxley, when he reopened the bombing case” in the 1970s, ”and only recently furnished it to the U.S. attorney’s office in Birmingham.”

The information – including hundreds of hours of tape recordings – helped win the May 1 murder convictions of Thomas Blanton Jr., 62, a former Ku Klux Klansman.

The three-decade withholding of information infuriated Baxley, who convicted ex-Klansman Robert Chambliss when he reopened the probe in the 1970s.

”What excuse can the FBI have for allowing Mr. Blanton to go free for 24 years with this smoking gun evidence hidden in its files?” Baxley wrote in a May 3 commentary in The New York Times.

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