The American Spectator

December, 1997


LENGTH: 1593 words

HEADLINE: Another Justice Cover-Up
:Ruby Ridge goes the way of the fundraising scandals.

BYLINE: James Bovard;
James Bovard, the author of Lost Rights: The Destruction of American Liberty
(St. Martin's Press), has written often about Ruby Ridge.


While many are appalled that the Justice Department has degenerated into a White
House puppet, few pay attention to the other ways in which the agency is proving
its name an oxymoron. The Justice Department's continued stonewalling,
obstruction of justice, and lying on Ruby Ridge exemplify its dedication to
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covering up crimes against the American people.

The case began more than five years ago, when an informant for the Bureau of
Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms entrapped Randy Weaver of Ruby Ridge, Idaho, into
selling him two sawed-off shotguns. BATF officials made false reports to a
federal prosecutor, who indicted Weaver. After Weaver received the wrong court
date and did not show up for his trial, the U.S. Marshals Service (one of the
four sub-agencies of Justice) obtained an arrest warrant. On August 21, 1992,
after more than twenty intrusions onto Weaver's property, three U.S. marshals
ambushed Weaver's 14-year old son and family friend Kevin Harris. Marshal Arthur
Roderick shot the boy's dog, the boy fired back, and a firefight ensued in which
marshal William Degan was killed. As Sammy Weaver ran from the scene towards the
family's shack, Marshal Larry Cooper shot him in the back and killed him.

The next day, FBI snipers arrived on the scene and were given rules of
engagement declaring that "any armed male adult observed in the vicinity of the
Weaver cabin could and should be killed." Within an hour of the snipers taking
position, every adult in the cabin was either dead or severely wounded, even
though no one had offered any resistance. FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi shot Randy
Weaver in the back as he stood outside his shack, then killed Vicki Weaver as
she stood in the cabin doorway holding their ten- month-old baby. A federal jury
found Weaver and co-defendant Kevin Harris innocent on almost all charges, and
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the federal government paid a $3.1 million wrongful death settlement to the
Weaver family in 1995.

A confidential Justice Department report indicated that numerous federal
officials may have obstructed justice, perjured themselves, or otherwise broken
the law -- but the Justice Department dropped its investigation in early 1995.
In July of that year, after a public squabble between high-ranking FBI agents
and the leaking of the Justice Department report, Michael Kahoe, the director of
the Bureau's Violent Crimes and Major Offenders Section, was suspended on the
suspicion that he had shredded a key document on the FBI's actions at Ruby
Ridge. A month later, Deputy Director Larry Potts and four other high-ranking
officials were suspended from their positions (with full pay) -- on suspicions
of having destroyed evidence, or for their role in issuing illegal rules of
engagement. Naturally, a major investigation was launched amid all the usual
solemn promises that no stone would be left unturned.

But last August 15 -- significantly on a Friday afternoon, with most news
reporters off-duty -- the Justice Department announced that it intended to file
no criminal charges against high-ranking FBI agents in the Ruby Ridge case. The
press release bespoke a typical Clinton administration investigation: after
proudly bragging about the number of pages examined, computer disks checked, and
people interviewed, it announced that there was nothing prosecutable that had
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not already been known at the beginning of the process. The announcement
outraged many people, such as Sen. Charles Grassley, who believe that the
government may still be covering up its role in the killing of Vicki Weaver.

From the beginning of this case, Justice Department officials have repeatedly
lied about Ruby Ridge. Initial FBI internal reports contained such ludicrous
claims as that Vicki Weaver had been in the front yard pointing her gun at a
helicopter when she was gunned down. In the same spirit, Justice's official
statement on the two-year investigation declares:

the little circumstantial evidence from which it could be argued that there may
have been an intent [by FBI snipers] to use more force than was necessary was
far outweighed by a significant amount of evidence that law enforcement had no
such intention here. Instead, there was substantial evidence that FBI law
enforcement efforts were undertaken by on- site supervisors with the actual,
although not completely accurate, belief that Randall Weaver and Kevin Harris
posed a severe threat to law enforcement officers requiring the use of deadly

To call it "not completely accurate" that Weaver and Harris "posed a severe
threat to law enforcement officers" is to understate the case abysmally: the FBI
snipers were hidden in the woods hundreds of yards away, simply biding their
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time before making a killing. A federal appeals court, hearing a motion for
civil damages by Kevin Harris, declared on September 27: "Horiuchi and his
fellow officers were safely ensconced on the hill overlooking the Weaver cabin.
No threatening movement was made by Harris with respect to Horiuchi or anyone
else, even after Horiuchi shot Randy Weaver." The appeals court called the rules
of engagement "a gross deviation from constitutional principles and a wholly
unwarranted return to a lawless and arbitrary wild-west school of law
enforcement." A 1995 Senate Judiciary subcommittee report on the rules of
engagement declared them blatantly unconstitutional. Yet the Justice Department
investigation dismissed the plain evidence of the rules' illegality as "little
circumstantial evidence."

Thanks to this investigation, the Justice Department will hold no one
responsible for giving or carrying out the orders to "go kill them on the
mountain." The only FBI official to take a hit is Michael Kahoe -- who copped a
plea bargain in October 1996 and was sentenced a year later to eighteen months
in prison and a $4,000 fine. To Justice, it seems, shredding paper is a worse
offense than killing innocent people.

But the real lesson of the Kahoe sentence is: Cover up a Killing, Get a Pension.
After his suspension, Kahoe was allowed to remain on the FBI payroll (at
$112,000 a year) for fifteen months. After pleading guilty, he was permitted
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to stay on the payroll for two more months to qualify for an annual pension of
$67,000. Had he been fired when he entered his plea, his pension would have been
significantly less. What sort of Justice Department keeps people on its payroll
after they plead guilty to obstruction of justice?

Last August 21, a week after the DOJ whitewashed the FBI defendants, Boundary
County, Idaho prosecutor Denise Woodbury announced the indictment of FBI sniper
Lon Horiuchi for involuntary manslaughter in the killing of Vicki Weaver. FBI
Director Louis Freeh was outraged that a local court would seek to hold an FBI
agent legally responsible for the killing, declaring that Horiuchi had an
"exemplary record" and is "an outstanding agent and continues to have my total
support and confidence." This raises the question: How many mothers holding
babies does an FBI agent have to gun down before the FBI Director loses faith in
him? Freeh, who has always defended Horiuchi for firing the shot that killed
Vicki Weaver, declared that Horiuchi "was within the scope of his
authority....He reasonably believed at the time that what he was doing was
proper." The Justice Department, which is paying for Horiuchi's top-notch
Washington attorney, is expected to try to have the charges moved to a federal
court -- where the Department can use its leverage to get all charges dropped.

The same Horiuchi shot that killed Vicki Weaver also hit and nearly killed
Kevin Harris. Harris is now suing Horiuchi and twelve other federal agents for
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damages. The agents' lawyers -- hired by the Justice Department -- argued in
federal court that even if the defendants had perjured themselves, or given
shoot-to-kill orders, or gunned down Kevin Harris and Randy Weaver without
pretext, they were completely immune from liability -- simply because they were
federal lawmen. Typically, the Justice Department is using one legal stratagem
and delaying tactic after another to prevent Harris's complaint against the
government from being heard. But a federal appeals court on September 25 cleared
the way for the case to go to trial.

The Justice Department eloquently expressed its official view of Ruby Ridge
at a little-noticed ceremony last year, when the U.S. Marshals Service bestowed
its highest valor awards to the marshals involved in the August 21, 1992
confrontation. Service Director Eduardo Gonzalez commended the five men for
"their exceptional courage, their sound judgment in the face of attack, and
their high degree of professional competence during this incident." Gonzalez
labeled the men "heroes." Yet a 1994 Justice Department internal investigation
cast grave doubts on the marshals'credibility, and the report of the Senate
subcommittee concluded that it had "seen no evidence which would support the
Marshals' claim" of how Sammy Weaver was killed. More recently, the federal
appeals court concluded that marshal Cooper shot and killed the 14-year-old even
after effectively disarming him.
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As soon as public attention shifts, the government rushes to proclaim that
dissemblers and killers are really heroes. The more powerful the Justice
Department becomes, the more such injustices the American people can expect.