1983: Neoconservative Arrives at Pentagon, Allegedly Acts as Israeli Agent within Defense Department
Neoconservative academic Michael Ledeen is brought into the Defense Department as a consultant on terrorism, via the auspices of Assistant Secretary of Defense Richard Perle, a fellow neoconservative. Ledeen’s supervisor, Noel Koch, is troubled by Ledeen’s frequent visits to his office to read classified documents. When Koch and Ledeen journey to Italy on Pentagon business, Koch learns that Ledeen is considered an “agent of influence” for a foreign government: Israel. After returning from Italy, Ledeen asks Koch to help him obtain two highly classified CIA reports which he says are being held by the FBI. Ledeen gives Koch the reports’ “alpha numeric designators”—numbers as highly classified as the reports themselves. Koch is at a loss to understand how Ledeen obtained such information. Koch tells his executive assistant to stop allowing Ledeen to access the classified materials in his office. In return, Ledeen stops coming to work. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004] Shortly thereafter, Ledeen will begin “consulting work” for the National Security Council.
June-July 1983: Future Chief Justice Advocates Expanded Presidential Powers
The Supreme Court rules in INS v. Chadha that Congress has no right to issue what it calls “legislative vetoes,” essentially provisions passed by Congress giving the executive branch specific powers but with Congress reserving the right to veto specific decisions by the executive branch if it does not approve of the decisions made by the executive. Congress had relied on such “legislative vetoes” for years to curb the expanding power of the president. The Court strikes down hundreds of these “legislative vetoes” throughout federal law. Congress quickly schedules hearings to decide how to respond to the Court’s ruling. White House attorney John Roberts, a young, fast-rising conservative, is one of a team of lawyers assigned to review the administration’s upcoming testimony before Congress. Some of the lawyers want to push Congress to place independent agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) under White House control—part of the evolving “unitary executive” theory of presidential power. Roberts writes: “With respect to independent agencies… the time may be ripe to reconsider the existence of such entities, and take action to bring them back within the executive branch.… I agree that the time is ripe to reconsider the Constitutional anomaly of independent agencies… More timid souls may, however, desire to see this deleted as provocative.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 256-257]
October 1983: Future Chief Justice Claims President Has ‘Inherent Authority’ to Deploy US Troops without Congressional Approval
Young White House attorney John Roberts, an advocate of expanded presidential powers, is selected to respond to a letter from retired Supreme Court Justice Arthur Goldberg. The former justice is commenting on the Reagan administration’s decision to unilaterally invade the tiny Caribbean island nation of Grenada. Goldberg wrote that President Reagan probably did violate the Constitution by sending troops to Grenada without Congressional approval, and in that sense has left himself open to impeachment. However, he added, the invasion had succeeded in establishing democracy in that nation. Therefore Reagan’s actions should be compared to those of President Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War, because, like Lincoln, he “acted in good faith and in the belief that this served our national interest”. Drafting the letter for Reagan’s signature, Roberts thanks Goldberg for his defense of Reagan but insists that the invasion was perfectly legal. The president, Roberts writes, has “inherent authority in international affairs to defend American lives and interests and, as commander in chief, to use the military when necessary in discharging these responsibilities.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 257]
February 13, 1984: Future Supreme Court Justice Says Presidential Papers Should Remain Secret
Young conservative White House lawyer John Roberts, an advocate of expanded presidential powers, advises senior Reagan officials that the White House should challenge the 1978 Presidential Records Act. To Roberts’s mind, the law goes much too far in requiring that presidential papers be considered government property and should, with some exceptions, be released to the public 12 years after a president leaves office. The law infringes on the right of a president to keep information secret, Roberts argues. Later, he will argue that the 12-year rule is far too brief and, as it would “inhibit the free flow of candid advice and recommendations within the White House,” is unconstitutional. [Savage, 2007, pp. 258]
May 16, 1984: Future Supreme Court Justice Says President Should Retain Control over National Archives
Young conservative White House lawyer John Roberts, an advocate of expanded presidential powers, expands on his previous argument that the president’s papers and documents should remain secret and unavailable to the public. Roberts writes that the Reagan administration should oppose a bill pending in Congress that would make the National Archives a separate agency, independent of the White House. Roberts writes that the “legislation could grant the archivist [the head of the National Archives] some independence from presidential control, with all the momentous constitutional consequences that would entail.” Others in the White House disagree with Roberts, and the administration does not oppose the bill. Roberts suggests that President Reagan attach a signing statement to the bill making it clear that Reagan has the power to fire the archivist if he/she tries to disobey the White House in releasing a presidential document. [Savage, 2007, pp. 258]
October 10, 1984: Second Boland Amendment Outlaws CIA, Defense Department, or Third-Party Funding of Contras
Congress passes the second Boland Amendment, which outlaws the use of “third-party nations” to support the Contras. The bill also bars the use of funds by the CIA, the Defense Department, or any intelligence agency for “supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization or individual.” [PBS, 2000]
The amendment is largely in response to the efforts of the Reagan administration to get around the restrictions of the first amendment, and the CIA’s mining of three Nicaraguan harbors. This amendment is far more restrictive than the first, saying flatly, “During fiscal year 1985, no funds available to the Central Intelligence Agency, the Department of Defense, or any other agency or entity of the United States involved in intelligence activities may be obligated or expended for the purpose or which would have the effect of supporting, directly or indirectly, military or paramilitary operations in Nicaragua by any nation, group, organization, movement, or individual.” [New York Times, 7/10/1987; House Intelligence Committee, 2005; Savage, 2007, pp. 53]
“There are no exceptions to the prohibition,” says Edward Boland (D-MA), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee and the primary sponsor of the amendment. Contra supporters in Congress denounce the bill, with Dick Cheney (R-WY) calling it a “killer amendment” that will force the Contras “to lay down their arms.” After President Reagan signs it into law, Cheney launches a lengthy, determined effort to persuade his colleagues to rescind the amendment. Inside the White House, particularly in the National Security Council, a number of Reagan officials, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter and his aide Colonel Oliver North, begin conspiring to circumvent the amendment with a complex scheme involving selling arms to Iran at inflated prices in exchange for American hostages held by Lebanese militants, and using the profits to fund the Contras. [Savage, 2007, pp. 53]
Late 1984: Neoconservative Lands Position at NSC, Suggests Israel Might Help Free US Hostages
Neoconservative academic Michael Ledeen, who left the Defense Department under suspicion of engaging in espionage on behalf of Israel, gains a position at the National Security Council. His boss is Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North. According to Iran-Contra investigators, it is Ledeen who suggests to North “that Israeli contacts might be useful in obtaining release of the US hostages in Lebanon”. Ledeen is granted high-level security clearance. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
1985: Israel, Turkey, and US Supply Arms to Iran
Israel, Turkey, and the US collaborate in supplying arms to the Islamic fundamentalist regime in Iran for use in the Iran-Iraq war. Unmarked Israeli and US planes transport TOW missiles and Hawk anti-aircraft batteries from Israel to Tabriz, Iran. The planes make occasional stopovers at newly-constructed Pentagon bases in eastern Turkey. [Evriviades, 1999]
April 9, 1985: NSC Staffer Warns Boss that Neoconservative Consultant a Risk for Passing Information to Israel
NSC Middle East analyst Donald Fortier writes to his boss, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, of his concerns that NSC consultant Michael Ledeen might be a risk for passing classified information to Israel. According to Fortier, NSC staffers agree that Ledeen’s role in the secret hostage negotiations with Iran should be limited to ferrying messages to Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres regarding Israel’s role in the negotiations, and Ledeen should specifically not be entrusted to ask Peres for detailed operational information. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
May 3, 1985: Neoconservative NSC Consultant Tells Israel that US Supports Arms Sales to Iran
Michael Ledeen, a neoconservative author who consults for the National Security Council, meets informally with Israeli Prime Minister Shimon Peres. Ledeen tells Peres that the Reagan administration will quietly support Israeli arms shipments to Iran. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
June 6, 1985: Secretary of State: Plan to Involve Israel in Hostage Negotiations Unreliable
Secretary of State George Shultz writes to National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane that “Israel’s record of dealings with Iran since the fall of the Shah and during the hostage crisis [shows] that Israel’s agenda is not the same as ours.” Referring to the plan concocted by NSC staffer Oliver North and North’s consultant, neoconservative and likely Israeli spy Michael Ledeen, to seek Israeli help in freeing the American hostages in Lebanon, Shultz writes, “Consequently doubt whether an intelligence relationship such as what Ledeen has in mind would be one which we could fully rely upon and it could seriously skew our own perception and analysis of the Iranian scene.” [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
August 20, 1985: Neoconservative NSC Consultant Loses Security Clearance
Neoconservative author and likely Israeli spy Michael Ledeen, a consultant for the National Security Council, has his security clearance downgraded by the Department of Defense. Ledeen formerly held “Top Secret-SCI” clearance; he now holds only “Secret” clearance. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
August 23, 1985 – December 1985: Justice Department Moves to Include Presidential Signing Statements in Legislative Histories
Steven Calabresi joins the Justice Department. Calabresi is a young conservative lawyer who has clerked for appeals court Robert Bork, who failed to secure a position on the Supreme Court just months before. Calabresi, a co-founder of the Federalist Society of conservative lawyers and judges, joins forces with another ambitious young Justice Department lawyer, John Harrison, and the two begin working to expand the power of the president. Calabresi and Harrison decide that an aggressive use of presidential signing statements can advance the president’s authority to the detriment of the legislative and judicial branches. Unfazed by a recent judicial rejection of just such signing statement usage, Calabresi and Harrison write a memo to Attorney General Edwin Meese advocating the issuing of more signing statements as part of a larger strategy to increase the president’s influence over the law.
Calabresi and Harrison are interested in how what they call “activist judges” use the legislative history of a bill that became law to interpret that law’s meaning in subsequent judicial actions. The two lawyers believe that by issuing signing statements, the president can create a parallel record of presidential interpretations of potentially ambiguous laws to help guide judicial decisions. Meese approves of the idea, and in December has the West Publishing Company, which prints the US Code Congressional and Administration News, the standard collection of bills’ legislative history, begin including presidential signing statements in its publications. In 2007, author Charlie Savage will call Meese’s move “a major step in increasing the perceived legitimacy of the device.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 232]
In 2007, Calabresi will say: “I initially thought of signing statements as presidential legislative history. I’ve subsequently come to think of them as being important vehicles by which presidents can control subordinates in the executive branch. They subsequently came to be important to the unitary executive [theory of presidential power].” [Savage, 2007, pp. 234]
November 19, 1985: Retired General Secord Sets up Contra Supply Operation
Retired Air Force Major General Richard Secord becomes deeply involved in organizing a covert supply operation for Nicaragua’s Contras under the name “Airlift Project.” Secord later testifies to the Congressional Iran-Contra Committee that the project’s money comes from private donations and friendly foreign governments. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
November 24-25, 1985: CIA Sends Anti-Aircraft Missiles from Israel to Iran
The CIA arranges for the shipment of 18 Hawk anti-aircraft missiles from Israel to Iran, ferried aboard a CIA front company transport plane. Within days, the Iranians reject the missiles because they do not meet their requirements. Some of the US officials involved in the missile transfer later claim they believe the CIA plane carried oil-drilling parts, and not weapons. After the transfer, John McMahon, the deputy director of the CIA, says that the agency can no longer provide covert assistance to Iran without explicit authorization from President Reagan. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Reagan will authorize the sale of the missiles a month later.
December 5, 1985: Reagan Retroactively Authorizes Secret Missile Sales to Iran
President Reagan issues a secret presidential finding that retroactively authorizes the sale of Hawk missiles to Iran, a sale that took place a month before. When Attorney General Edwin Meese conducts his November 1986 “investigation” of the Iran arms sales, the documentation of that finding will be destroyed. Congress will not be told of the Hawk sales, as mandated by law. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 66]
December 6, 1985: North: Arms Profits Will Go to Fund Contras
Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who handles the Iran-Contra dealings, tells Israeli Defense Ministry officials that he plans to use profits from future arms sales to Iran to fund the Nicaraguan Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
North will not inform his supervisor, National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, for five more months.
1986: Defense Department Official Attempts to Warn FBI about Potential Spy, FBI Ignores Warning
Defense Department official Noel Koch arranges to discuss a matter of potential espionage with the FBI. Koch is worried that his former aide, neoconservative Michael Ledeen, has access to highly classified information in his role as a National Security Council consultant. Koch feels that Ledeen had possibly given classified information to Israel during his tenure at the Defense Department. Koch is debriefed for two hours by FBI investigators, who tell him that they are only worried about possible Soviet espionage. Koch wonders at this, considering that Naval intelligence analyst Jonathan Pollard had been arrested just months before and charged with espionage on behalf of Israel. A frustrated Koch writes up his knowledge of Ledeen’s actions at the Defense Department and sends the report to Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA), a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee. Nothing concrete comes from Koch’s attempts to alert the FBI and Congress to potential espionage by Ledeen. [CounterPunch, 2/28/2004]
April 4, 1986: North Diverts $12 Million in Iran Arms Sales Profits to Contras
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the National Security Council staffer who facilitates the secret Iran arms deals, helps divert $12 million in money from those arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras. The deal is documented in a memorandum located in North’s desk by investigators for Attorney General Edwin Meese. Meese will inform President Reagan and top White House officials of the memo, but many of the cabinet members and top officials he will inform already know of the transaction. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993]
National Security Adviser John Poindexter, the recipient of the memo, will later testify that President Reagan never saw the memo. Reagan will deny knowing anything about the diversion of arms profits to the Contras until November 1986. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
April 30, 1986: Meese Report Creates Unitary Executive Theory
Edwin Meese. [Source: GQ.com) Attorney General Edwin Meese receives a report, “Separation of Powers: Legislative-Executive Relations.” Meese had commissioned the report from the Justice Department’s Domestic Policy Committee, an internal “think tank” staffed with hardline conservative scholars and policy advisers.
Recommendations for Restoring, Expanding Executive Power – The Meese report approvingly notes that “the strong leadership of President Reagan seems clearly to have ended the congressional resurgence of the 1970s.” It lays out recommendations for restoring the power taken from the executive branch after Watergate and Vietnam, and adding new powers besides. It recommends that the White House refuse to enforce laws and statutes that “unconstitutionally encroach upon the executive branch,” and for Reagan to veto more legislation and to use “signing statements” to state the White House’s position on newly passed laws. It also assails the 1972 War Powers Resolution and other laws that limit presidential power.
Reinterpreting the Separation of Powers and the Concept of ‘Checks and Balances’ – Perhaps most importantly, the Meese report claims that for 200 years, courts and scholars alike have misunderstood and misinterpreted the Founders’ intentions in positing the “separation of powers” system. The belief that the Constitution mandates three separate, co-equal branches of government—executive, judicial, and legislative—who wield overlapping areas of authority and work to keep each of the other branches from usurping too much power—a concept taught in school as “checks and balances”—is wrong, the report asserts. Instead, each branch has separate and independent sets of powers, and none of the three branches may tread or encroach on the others’ area of responsibility and authority. “The only ‘sharing of power’ is the sharing of the sum of all national government power,” the report claims. “But that is not joint shared, it is explicitly divided among the three branches.”
According to the report, the White House should exercise total and unchallenged control of the executive branch, which, as reporter and author Charlie Savage will later explain, “could be conceived of as a unitary being with the president as its brain.” The concept of “checks and balances” is nothing more than an unconstitutional attempt by Congress to encroach on the rightful power of the executive. This theory of presidential function will soon be dubbed the “unitary executive theory,” a title adapted from a passage by Alexander Hamilton in the Federalist Papers. [Savage, 2007, pp. 47-48]
Charles Fried, Reagan’s solicitor general during the second term, will later write that though the unitary executive theory displays “perfect logic” and a “beautiful symmetry,” it is difficult to defend, because it “is not literally compelled by the words of the Constitution. Nor did the framers’ intent compel this view.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 50]
September 26, 1986: Rehnquist Becomes Chief Justice; Misled Congress in Confirmation Hearings
William Rehnquist. [Source: US Department of Justice] Associate Justice William Rehnquist becomes Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. A strict conservative, Rehnquist will oversee the transformation of the Court from a middle-of-the-road, sometimes left-leaning instrument into a conservative entity dominated by the “axis” of Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas. [Legal Times, 9/5/2005]
False Testimony? – According to former Nixon White House counsel John Dean, writing in his 2007 book Broken Government, Rehnquist is the first true conservative fundamentalist to be appointed to the Court, “and he would set a pattern for other fundamentalists who found it necessary to make their way through the confirmation process by deception.”
Dean, and others, have alleged that Rehnquist lied to the Senate both in his 1971 appointment to the Court as an associate judge and in his 1986 hearings for becoming chief justice. Dean will write that Rehnquist’s testimony during both sets of Senate confirmations hearings was “conspicuously false,” and in 1986 he committed “pure perjury.” In both sets of hearings, Rehnquist was embarrassed by a 1952 memo he had written while clerking for then-Justice Robert Jackson, in which Rehnquist had urged Jackson not to vote in support of the Brown v. Board of Education verdict that overturned the “separate but equal” clause that allowed for state-sponsored segregation. Although it is clear Rehnquist was stating his own pro-segregationist views, he apparently lied to the Senate over this memo as well, claiming that the memo was written to reflect Jackson’s own views and not his own.
Dean will write, “It was an absurd contention, and a defamation of the dead justice for which he worked.” Law professor Laura Ray will observe in 1996: “With the [top] seat on the Supreme Court almost in his grasp, Rehnquist may well have retreated from an uncomfortable position taken almost twenty years earlier in the only way that seemed open to him. That such a step might tarnish the reputation of Justice Jackson years after his death does not seem to have been a concern.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 129-137]
October 1986: Reagan Alludes to GOP Efforts to Control Courts
Campaigning on behalf of conservative Republican candidates in an attempt to have the GOP retain control of the Senate, Ronald Reagan goes on a campaign tour of the South, where he alludes to Republicans’ plans for exerting control of the nation’s court system. Typical of Reagan’s stump speech is the following one he delivers on behalf of embattled Republican incumbent James Broyhill: “Since I’ve been appointing federal judges to be approved by people like Jim Broyhill in the Republican Senate, the federal judiciary has become tougher, much tougher, on criminals. Criminals are going to jail more often and receiving longer sentences.
Over and over the Democratic leadership has tried in the Senate to torpedo our choices for judges. And that’s where Jim Broyhill can make all the difference. Without him and the Republican majority in the Senate, we’ll find liberals like Joe Biden and a certain fellow from Massachusetts deciding who our judges are. And I’ll bet you’ll agree; I’d rather have a Judiciary Committee headed by Strom Thurmond than one run by Joe Biden or Ted Kennedy.” Broyhill will be defeated, and Democrats will regain control of the Senate in spite of Reagan’s efforts, in large part because of Southern blacks offended by such speeches. The new Democratic leadership, responding to the voters, will help block the racially questionable Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court. [Dean, 2007, pp. 140]
November 21-25, 1986: Attorney General Meese Conducts ‘Investigation’ of Iran Arms Sales; Evidence Destroyed during Investigation
Attorney General Edwin Meese. [Source: Doug Mills / Bettman / Corbis] Attorney General Edwin Meese undertakes an internal fact-finding investigation focused on President Reagan’s involvement in the November 1985 sale of Hawk missiles to Iran. Meese is apparently not interested in finding facts, because he refuses a request to assist from the FBI, and takes no notes during his interviews of administration officials.
‘Shredding Party’ – Additionally, during his investigation, National Security Council documents are altered or destroyed, including a presidential finding from December 1985 that retroactively authorized US missile sales to Iran; National Security Adviser John Poindexter will later admit to destroying this document. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North holds what is later called a “shredding party,” destroying thousands of documents that would likely implicate White House officials in a criminal conspiracy to break the law. The Iran-Contra investigative committee will later fault Meese for departing from “standard investigative techniques” during his investigation.
Document Linking Iran Arms Sales, Contra Supplies Survives – Meese also finds a potentially explosive document in the desk of North, the National Security Council staffer who managed the Iran arms deals. The document, an undated memorandum apparently from April 1986, outlined “a planned diversion of $12 million in proceeds from the Iran arms sales to the Nicaraguan contras”. Meese’s investigation now diverges onto two tracks, one a continuation of the Hawk shipments, and the second an investigation into who knew about, and who had approved, the diversion.
Reagan Courting Impeachment? – Meese confirms from North that the $12 million had indeed been given to the Contras, and informs Reagan, Chief of Staff Donald Regan, and Vice President Bush. Reagan is reportedly shocked by the revelation, in part because he knows he could face impeachment for violating the Boland Amendment. Meese informs the cabinet the next day. Apparently Meese does not want to know if any senior White House officials knew of the diversion, because he does not ask them about it. When Poindexter informs Meese that before December 1985, his predecessor Robert McFarlane handled the Iran arms sales “all alone” with “no documentation,” Meese accepts his word. Several White House officials present at the meeting—Reagan, Regan, Bush, Poindexter, Secretary of State George Shultz, and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger—all know that Poindexter is lying, but none correct him. After the meeting, Shultz tells his aide, Charles Hill: “They may lay all this off on Bud [McFarlane].… They [are] rearranging the record.” Investigative counsel Lawrence Walsh will later write: “The Select Committees viewed this as an isolated error. It was not.”
‘Case for Deniability’ for Reagan – In Walsh’s opinion, Meese is not conducting an investigation at all, but instead is “building a case of deniability for his client-in-fact, President Reagan.” Walsh will characterize Meese’s actions as “an effort to obstruct a congressional inquiry.” In 2006, authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will write, “The two strands of an illegal policy came together in that memo.” The authors refer to the US arms sales to Iran and the diversion of the profits from those sales to the Contras. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000; Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 66]
November 25, 1986: Attorney General Meese Reveals Iran-Contra Funding Connection; Poindexter Resigns, North Fired
Attorney General Edwin Meese announces the results of his internal “investigation” of US arms sales to Iran. In the conference, Meese announces that President Reagan did not learn of the US shipments of Hawk anti-aircraft missiles until February 1986. Investigators for Independent Counsel Lawrence Walsh will later conclude that Meese lied; not only did Meese never ask Reagan about his knowledge of the Hawk shipments, he ignored evidence and testimony that proved Reagan did indeed know of the shipments, such as a statement from Secretary of State George Shultz that Reagan had told him that he had known of the Hawk shipments in advance. But Meese will also, reluctantly, admit that the US had illegally diverted between $10 million and $30 million in funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras. National Security Adviser John Poindexter immediately resigns, and Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North is fired from the National Security Council staff. [New York Times, 11/19/1987; United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000]
November 28, 1986: North’s Secretary, Other NSC Officials Agree to Conceal Evidence from FBI
Oliver North’s secretary, Fawn Hall, learns that she is to be interviewed by the FBI over her knowledge of North’s illegal activities surrounding Iran-Contra. She and two of North’s colleagues at the National Security Council (NSC), Lieutenant Colonel Robert Earl and Commander Craig Coy, discuss the upcoming interview. The three agree that they will not tell the FBI about Hall’s illegal removal of classified documents from NSC offices. [United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit, 12/13/2007]
February 2, 1987: Reagan Gives Incoherent Testimony to Tower Commission
President Reagan testifies for a second time to the Tower Commission. His testimony is incoherent and confused; some observers outside the White House begin speculating that Reagan suffers from Alzheimer’s disease or senile dementia. Commission investigators note that while the Meese investigation claimed Reagan did not know of the August 1985 shipment of missiles to Iran, Reagan himself claimed in his previous testimony he did know of the shipments. When asked to clarify the inconsistency, Reagan shocks onlookers by picking up a briefing memo he had been given and reading aloud, “If the question comes up at the Tower Board meeting, you might want to say that you were surprised.” [PBS, 2000]
White House counsel Peter Wallison is stunned. “I was horrified, just horrified,” he later recalls. “I didn’t expect him to go and get the paper. The purpose of it was just to recall to his mind before he goes into the meeting” what he, Wallison, and Chief of Staff Donald Regan had agreed was the proper chain of events—that Reagan had not known of the shipments beforehand, and had been surprised to learn of them. [Cannon, 1991, pp. 631-632]
Mid-March through Early April, 1987: Iran-Contra Committee Wrestles over Logistics
The Democratic and Republican leaders of Congress’s joint Iran-Contra investigation begin meetings to discuss the logistics of the upcoming public hearings. Speaker of the House Jim Wright (D-TX) later recalls that House committee chairman “Lee Hamilton and I bent over backwards to be fair to the Republicans.” Many of the committee Republicans are not predisposed to return the favor. Moderate Republican Warren Rudman (R-NH), the co-chairman of the Senate committee, recalls that deep divides were forming between the committee’s moderate Republicans and the more hardline Republicans led by Dick Cheney (R-WY). “The meetings were very, very intensive,” Rudman will recall. Cheney helps put together the Republican committee members’ staff, and includes a number of hardline Reagan loyalists: the Justice Department’s Bruce Fein; the former assistant general counsel to the CIA, David Addington; and others. Notably, it is during the Iran-Contra hearings where Cheney and Addington form their lasting professional association.
Artificial Deadline – The first battle is over the length of the hearings. Cheney’s hardliners want the hearings over with quickly—“like tomorrow,” one former staffer recalls. Hamilton will recall: “Did I know Dick wanted to shorten it? Yes, I knew that.” Committee Democrats, fearful of extending the proceedings into the 1988 presidential campaign and thusly being perceived as overly partisan, agree to an artificial ten-month deadline to complete the investigation and issue a final report. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein later write that the deadline is “an invitation to the administration to stall while simultaneously burying the committee under mountains of useless information.” When, in the fall of 1987, the committee receives large amounts of new information, such as White House backup computer files, Cheney’s hardliners will succeed in insisting that the committee adhere to the deadline.
Jousting with the Special Prosecutor – The committee also has trouble co-existing with the special prosecutor’s concurrent investigation. The special prosecutor, Lawrence Walsh, wants a long, intensive investigation culminating in a round of prosecutions. The committee worries that in light of Walsh’s investigation, key witnesses like Oliver North and John Poindexter would refuse to testify before the committee, and instead plead the Fifth Amendment. Rudman and committee counsel Arthur Liman want Walsh to quickly prosecute North for obstruction of justice based on North’s “shredding party”. Rudman believes that he can get his Republican colleagues to agree to defer their investigation until after North’s trial. But Walsh declines. Rudman later says: “Walsh might have been more successful if he had followed our suggestion.… But he had this grand scheme of conspiracy.” As such, the committee has a difficult choice: abort the investigation or grant North immunity from prosecution so he can testify.
Cheney and his hardliners, and even some Democrats, favor not having North testify in deference to his upcoming prosecution. “People were all over the place on that one,” Rudman will recall. Hamilton is the strongest proponent of immunity for North. “He believed that North had information no one else had,” a staffer will recall. Hamilton and the moderate Republicans are more interested in finding the details of the Iran-Contra affair rather than preparing for criminal prosecutions. The committee eventually compromises, and defers the testimony of North and Poindexter until the end of the investigation. Another committee staffer later recalls, “Hamilton was so fair-minded and balanced that in order to get agreements, he gave ground in areas where he shouldn’t have.”
North Deal ‘Dooms’ Investigation – Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The deal the committee struck with North’s canny lawyer, Brendan Sullivan, doomed Walsh’s investigation and the hearings.” The committee offers North “use immunity,” a guarantee that his testimony cannot be used against him in future prosecutions. The committee also agrees, unwisely, to a series of further caveats: they will not depose North prior to his testimony, his testimony will be strictly limited in duration, the committee will not recall North for further testimony, and he will not have to produce documents to be used in his testimony until just days before his appearance. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70-72, 77]
May 5, 1987: Iran-Contra Committee Begins Public Hearings
Richard Secord receives whispered advice from his attorney, Thomas Green, during his testimony. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis]Public testimony begins in the joint House and Senate investigations of the Iran-Contra affair. General Richard Secord is the first witness. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
‘Hero’s Angle’ – The televised hearing area in Room 325 of the Senate Office Building, built to accommodate over two dozen committee members, their staff, witnesses, lawyers, and television reporters and camera operators, features a series of two-tiered stages. Film director Steven Spielberg will later tell Senate counsel Arthur Liman that from a visual viewpoint, the staging is a terrible mistake; the witnesses appear on television “at the hero’s angle, looking up as though from a pit at the committees, who resembled two rows of judges at the Spanish Inquisition.” Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will note with some sardonicism that the committee’s two lawyers could not have been better choices to play television villains. Liman is “a nasal-voiced New York ethnic with ‘spaghetti hair,’” and House counsel John Nields is “a balding lawyer with long locks down to his collar who couldn’t keep his distaste for the witnesses from creeping into his voice.”
Opening Statements; Cheney Blames Congress, Not the White House – The hearings open with the usual long-winded opening statements from the various committee members. Representative Dick Cheney (R-WY), the leader of the Republican hardline contingent, makes it clear from the outset where he intends to go in the investigation. “Some will argue that these events justify the imposition of additional restrictions on presidents to prohibit the possibility of similar occurrences in the future,” he says. “In my opinion, this would be a mistake. In completing our task, we should seek above all to find ways to strengthen the capacity of future presidents and future Congresses to meet the often dangerous and difficult challenges that are bound to rise in the years ahead.” He then introduces his counter-argument: Congress’s dithering, not the Reagan administration’s clear violation of the law, is the crux of the problem with the Iran-Contra affair. “One important question to be asked is to what extent did the lack of a clear-cut policy by the Congress contribute to the events we will be exploring in the weeks ahead?”
Cheney and his colleagues will argue that because Congress had supported the Contras in the past, its decision not to continue that support was an unforgivable breach, “a form of actionable negligence,” in Dubose and Bernstein’s words, that made it necessary for the Reagan administration to establish “a parallel support network as a ‘bridging’ mechanism until Congress could be brought around to a sensible policy.” Oliver North will echo this concept in his own testimony, driving committee Vice Chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) to retort: “The American people have the Constitutional right to be wrong. And what Ronald Reagan thinks, or what Oliver North thinks or what I think or what anybody else thinks makes not a whit if the American people say, ‘Enough.’” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 72-75]
May 6, 1987: Former CIA Director Casey Dies
Former CIA Director William Casey dies as a result of his inoperable brain cancer. Casey was a key figure in the Iran-Contra machinations. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will later write, “In death he would become a helpful scapegoat for Oliver North and a resting place for missing information that would have filled out the contours of the scandal.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 70]
Casey had been named as one of the architects of the scheme to use profits from illegal arms sales to Iran to secretly fund the Nicaraguan Contras. He had been hospitalized since April 25, and unable to testify in the Iran-Contra hearings. The immediate cause of death is what doctors call “aspiration pneumonia,” which may mean that Casey inhaled food or food particles in his lungs that set up a toxic chemical reaction. A physician not involved in Casey’s treatment says that Casey may have had trouble swallowing properly. The hospital in Glen Cove, Long Island refuses to give any more details. Despite the swirling Iran-Contra controversy, President Reagan says of his longtime colleague and friend: “His nation and all those who love freedom honor today the name and memory of Bill Casey. In addition to crediting him with rebuilding America’s intelligence capability, history will note the brilliance of his mind and strategic vision, his passionate commitment to the cause of freedom and his unhesitating willingness to make personal sacrifices for the sake of that cause and his country.” [New York Times, 5/7/1987]
July 1-October 23, 1987: Bork’s Nomination to Supreme Court Fails
Robert Bork. [Source: National Constitution Center] The controversial nomination of conservative judge Robert Bork to the Supreme Court is defeated in the US Senate. Bork is denied a seat on the Court in a 58-42 vote, because his views are thought to be extremist and even some Republicans vote against him.
‘Right-Wing Zealot’ – Bork, nominated by President Reagan as one of the sitting judges who most completely reflects Reagan’s judiciary philosophy, is characterized even by administration officials as a “right-wing zealot.” Reagan also wants a nominee to placate the hard right over their disaffection caused by the brewing Iran-Contra scandal. However, to make him more palatable for the majority of Americans, Reagan officials attempt to repackage Bork as a moderate conservative. Senate Judiciary Committee member Edward Kennedy (D-MA) attacks Bork’s political philosophy, saying before the committee hearings: “[In Bork’s America] women would be forced into back alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is the—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.… No justice would be better than this injustice.” Kennedy’s words provoke complaint, but the characterization of Bork is based on his lengthy record of court verdicts and his large body of judicial writings.
Racial Equality Issues – Although there is no evidence to suggest that Bork is himself a racist, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write that “his positions on civil rights were an anathema to all who cared about equality in America.” Constitutional law professor Herman Schwartz will write in 2004, “Bork condemned the Fourteenth Amendment’s Equal Protection Clause decisions outlawing the poll tax (to him it was just ‘a very small tax’), the decision establishing the one-person, one-vote principle, abolishing school segregation in the District of Columbia, barring courts from enforcing racially restrictive housing covenants, preventing a state from sterilizing certain criminals or interfering with the right to travel, and prohibiting discrimination against out-of-wedlock children…. Bork’s hostility to governmental action on behalf of minorities did not stop with his critique of court action. In 1963 he criticized a section of the proposed Civil Rights Act of 1964 that required white businesses to serve blacks as resting on a principle of ‘unsurpassed ugliness.’”
Ready to Fight – The Reagan administration understands that Bork’s nomination is opposed; on July 1, the day of his announced nomination, the media reports that Reagan will try to ensure Bork’s confirmation by waging an “active campaign.” Even Senate-savvy James Baker, Reagan’s chief of staff, is uncertain about Bork’s chances at being confirmed, and further worries that even if Bork wins the fight, the cost to Reagan’s political capital will be too high.
His Own Worst Enemy – Conservatives Justice Department official Terry Eastland will later say Senate Democrats sabotage Bork’s chances at faring well in the confirmation hearings, even positioning his table to ensure the least favorable angles for Bork on television. However, the public’s opinion of Bork is unfavorable, and Dean will write: “[I]t was not the position of his chair in the hearing room that made Bork look bad, but rather his arrogance, his hubris, and his occasional cold-bloodedness, not to mention his equivocations and occasional ‘confirmation conversions,’ where he did what no one else could do. He made himself a terrible witness who did not appear to be truthful.” The confirmation conversions even surprise some of his supporters, as Bork abandons his previous stances that the First Amendment only applies to political speech, and the Fourteenth Amendment’s equal protection clause does not apply to women. The Senate Judiciary Committee passes Bork’s nomination along to the full Senate, where Bork is defeated 58-42.
The Verb ‘To Bork’ – In 2007, Dean will write, “Bork’s defeat made him both a martyr and a verb,” and quotes conservative pundit William Safire as writing that “to bork” someone means to viciously attack a political figure, particularly by misrepresenting that figure in the media. [Dean, 2007, pp. 137-143]
July 7-10, 1987: North Testifies before Iran-Contra Committee
Oliver North testifying before the Iran-Contra Committee. [Source: Bettmann / Corbis] Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North testifies before the joint House-Senate Iran-Contra investigative committee. During the course of his testimony, he says he does not know if President Reagan had any knowledge of the diversion of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Nicaraguan Contras. North also testifies that William Casey, the recently deceased CIA director, knew of and approved the diversion of funds to the Contras. North admits that the Iranian arms sales were initially designed to help facilitate the release of the American hostages being held by Hezbollah. [New York Times, 11/19/1987]
Tour de Force – North’s testimony is a “tour de force,” in the words of authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein, that allows Republicans the opportunity to reverse the field of the hearings and go on the offensive instead of defending the conduct of the Reagan administration. North, a Marine lieutenant colonel, wears his full-dress Marine uniform throughout his entire testimony with rows of ribbons festooning his chest. Handsome and full of righteous patriotism, he is striking on television, and contrasts well with the nasal, disdainful committee lawyers who spend four days interrogating him.
Need to Free Hostages Trumps Law – For the first two days, North and House counsel John Nields spar for the cameras. North says that Casey had directed him to create the so-called “Enterprise”, the clandestine organization that supported the Nicaraguan Contras with money, weapons, and sometimes US personnel. North admits to shredding untold amounts of evidence after the operation came to light. He also admits to lying to Congress in previous testimony. But all of his actions are justified, he says, by the need to get Iran to free the American hostages. “I’d have offered the Iranians a free trip to Disneyland if we could have gotten Americans home for it,” he declares in response to one question about US arms sales to Iran. Senate counsel Arthur Liman will later write, “He made all his illegal acts—the lying to Congress, the diversion [of funds from Iranian arms sales to the Contras], the formation of the Enterprise, the cover-up—seem logical and patriotic.”
Targeting Covert Operations – Nields’s preferred line of questioning—covert operations—makes many committee members uncomfortable. Some House Democrats want to use the investigation to further their own goals of limiting covert actions, and others simply want the truth to be revealed. In contrast, House Republicans are united in opposition to any details of covert operations being revealed on national television and thus hampering the president’s ability to conduct future operations as needed. After the first day of North’s testimony, committee member Dick Cheney (R-WY) exults on PBS that North “probably was as effective as anybody we’ve had before the committee in coming forward very aggressively and stating what he did, saying why he did it, arguing that he was in fact authorized to take the activities that he did.”
Leaky Congress Unfit to Know of Covert Ops, North Contends – North echoes Cheney’s position that the question is not whether White House officials broke the law, but whether Congress was fit to consider the question of national security at all. North goes so far as to question the propriety of the hearings themselves: “I believe that these hearings, perhaps unintentionally so, have revealed matters of great secrecy in the operation of our government, and sources of methods of intelligence activities have clearly been revealed, to the detriment of our security.” North’s message is clear: Congress is not fit to handle covert operations or, by and large, to even know about them. Best for the legislature to allow the White House and the intelligence community to do what needs doing and remain quiet about it. North’s contention that Congress has leaked vital national security information is shot down by Senate committee chairman Daniel Inouye (D-HI), who not only forces North to admit that he has no evidence of his contention, but that the White House, not Congress, is the main source of leaked classified information. Indeed, North himself has leaked information.
Inouye’s co-chair, Warren Rudman (R-NH) will later say: “The greatest leaks came out of the White House. North and company were the biggest leakers of all during that period.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78]
Nields, addressing North’s implication that the NSC has no obligation to tell the truth to Congress, says towards the end of his session with North: “We do believe in a democracy in which the people, not one lieutenant colonel, decide important policy issues, don’t we? … You denied Congress the facts North had admitted to lying about the government’s involvement with the Hasenfus plane. You denied the elected representatives of the people the facts.” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
Impact on Public Opinion – Results will differ on North’s popularity with viewers.
July 9-31, 1987: Polls, Letters, Media Diverge in Opinion of North
Public opinion is sharply divided on the testimony, believability, and popularity of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North after his testimony before Congress’s Iran-Contra committee. A Washington Post/ABC News poll shows 64 percent of those surveyed have a “favorable opinion” of North after watching his testimony. But the “scores of letters received” by the Post was almost exactly opposite, with two-thirds expressing disapproval or reservations about North’s testimony.
The Post reports, “Of 130 letters that could be categorized easily as either favorable or unfavorable, 39 were favorable, 91 unfavorable.” One of the unfavorable letters reads in part: “I wish to register an emphatic voice that does not join in the general adulation of… North. He is certainly bright, articulate, sincere and dedicated—but not to the basics of democracy, the rule of law or the tenets of the Constitution.” One favorable letter characterizes North as “the guy we thought we were voting for when we voted for Reagan,” and lauds North for “his endeavor to help release our hostages, get a better relationship with Iran and most of all support the Nicaraguan contras with both military arms and humanitarian supplies.” Many of the letters in support of North chastize the media. One letter writer accuses the Post and the television news media of mocking North throughout his testimony, and concludes that after North’s performance, “the media have, at long last, been hoist on their own petard.”
The Post reports that “the mix of letters” is “evidently not so very different from that received at other newspapers across the country,” with “letters editors at the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times and the New York Times all reported more mail against North. USA Today said the mail is now running 50-50 after an initial flurry of mail in North’s favor.” According to Gallup Polls president Andrew Kohut, letter writers are more articulate, more involved in public affairs, and more politicized than people who don’t write. Also, “people who hold intense attitudes tend to write…” [Washington Post, 7/31/1987]
Television news anchors and pundits are equally divided. NBC’s Tom Brokaw says North “performed the congressional equivalent of a grand slam, a touchdown, a hole-in-one, a knockout. You can almost hear his supporters around the country chanting ‘Ol-lie, Ol-lie, Ol-lie.’” But CBS’s Dan Rather asks why North did not do as he had sworn to do and take all the blame for the Iran-Contra machinations: “Whatever happened to the idea that he would take arrows in his chest?” [Boston Globe, 7/9/1987]
July 10, 1987: Last Day of Testimony Orchestrated between Cheney, North
On the last day of Oliver North’s testimony to the Joint House-Senate Iran-Contra Committee, ranking Republican Dick Cheney handles the questioning. Authors Lou Dubose and Jake Bernstein will observe that the questioning is more of “a duet than an interrogation.”
Praise from Cheney to North – Cheney opens by praising North’s handling of the hearings, saying, “I know I speak for a great many people who have been watching the proceedings, because the Congress has been absolutely buried in the favorable public reaction to your testimony and phone calls and telegrams”. North has taken to stacking piles of supportive telegrams on his witness table; what he and Cheney do not tell those watching the hearings is that Western Union is offering a half-price special on pro-North telegrams sent to the committee.
Obvious Orchestration – Dubose and Bernstein later write that Cheney and North’s session is so perfectly carried out that it seems scripted and rehearsed, “complete with programmed queries and answers not available to everyone else.” Committee co-chairman Warren Rudman (R-NH) later says, “It was apparent to me that there was coordination going on.” Bruce Fein, the Republican staff’s chief of research, later admits that there was indeed such collaboration, though he says it was nothing more than “coordinat[ing] strategy.” Cheney and North’s duet paints North as nothing more than a guy who wanted “to cut through red tape” to save Nicaragua from Communism. North takes the opportunity to portray the selfless hero: “Hang whatever you want around the neck of Ollie North… but for the love of God and the love of this nation, don’t hang around Ollie North’s neck the cutoff of funds to the Nicaraguan resistance again. This country cannot stand that, not just because of Nicaragua, but because of all the other nations in the world who look at us and measure by what we do now in Nicaragua, the measure of our whole commitment to their cause. To things like NATO, to things like our commitment to peace and democracy elsewhere in the world.”
‘Turnaround from Defense to Offense [Is] Complete’ – Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The two men were now in the zone, a parallel radical-right fantasyland, blissfully ignoring the damage to America’s reputation caused by the administration’s support for the Contras and its willingness to barter weapons for hostages with Iran and Hezbollah.” Cheney and North ignore the World Court’s condemnation of the US mining of Nicaraguan harbors, the Contras’ attacks on civilian targets such as medical centers while refusing to engage the Sandinista forces themselves, which had inflamed outrage in Europe, and the ridicule that Iranian hardliners had subjected US attempts to open negotiations. Cheney’s questioning strategy is so successful that he is able to offer North his remaining time to present a slideshow on why funding the Contras is so important. Dubose and Bernstein later write, “The turnaround from defense to offense was complete.” [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 75-78, 80]
November 1987: Ginsberg Withdraws Nomination for Supreme Court
After Robert Bork’s nomination to the Supreme Court fails, President Reagan nominates an equally hard-line conservative, appeals court judge Douglas Ginsberg. Ginsberg withdraws his nomination after the press learns that he had ignored a serious conflict-of-interest problem while at the Department of Justice, that he had smoked marijuana as both a student and a professor at Harvard Law School, and that, though Ginsberg professes to be stringently anti-abortion, his wife is a doctor who has herself performed abortions. Reagan will nominate a third and final selection for the Court, the somewhat more moderate Anthony Kennedy. [Washington Post, 1998; Federal Judicial Center, 9/26/2006; Dean, 2007, pp. 143-144]
March 16, 1988: Former National Security Adviser, Three Others Charged with Multiple Felonies
Former National Security Adviser John Poindexter is indicted on seven felony counts relating to his participation in the Iran-Contra affair. Poindexter is named with fellow Iran-Contra conspirators Oliver North, Richard Secord, and Albert Hakim as part of a 23-count, multi-defendant indictment. The charges are based on evidence that shows all four defendants conspired to defraud the United States and violate federal law by secretly providing funds and supplies to the Nicaraguan Contras. The cases will soon be severed and each defendant will be tried separately. [FINAL REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL FOR IRAN/CONTRA MATTERS: Chapter 3: United States v. John M. Poindexter, 8/4/1993; PBS, 2000]
March 26, 1988: Reagan Says Four Indicted Iran-Contra Figures Not Guilty
President Reagan declares that he believes the four defendants in the Iran-Contra trial are not guilty of any crimes. Two former National Security Council officials, John Poindexter and Oliver North, and two arms dealers, Richard Secord and Albert Hakim, face multiple charges in the indictments. Reagan says he thinks of North as a hero and has difficulty believing the Iran-Contra affair was a scandal. “I just have to believe that they’re going to be found innocent because I don’t think they were guilty of any lawbreaking or any crime,” he says. “I still think Ollie North is a hero. On the other hand, any talk about what I might do about pardons and so forth, I think, with the case before the courts, that’s something I can’t discuss now.”
Law professor Burt Neuborne says that Reagan’s comments are “inappropriate.” Neuborne says: “When you have people charged with a serious violation of the law it is inappropriate for the president to applaud them and call them heroes.… If you have a president who is not willing to enforce the law, you would never be able to enforce it without the special prosecutor.” An administration official says that in the aftermath of Reagan’s remarks, some White House aides are probably “all cringing.” A senior White House official says, “The rest of us have been told not to comment on the indictments.”
Reagan’s domestic policy adviser Gary Bauer says that Reagan’s remarks reflect “what a good number of Americans still believe.… Clearly, it was something from the heart.” Vice President Bush has joined Reagan in expressing his admiration for North, saying, “I think anybody who sheds blood for his country and wins a Purple Heart, three of them, and a Silver Star, deserves whatever accolades one gets for that kind of stellar, heroic performance.” According to recent polls, only 21 percent of Americans believe North is a hero. [New York Times, 3/26/1988]
February 1989: North Tried for Crimes Related to Iran-Contra
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, the former National Security Council member who had been a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, is tried for crimes related to the operation. [Dubose and Bernstein, 2006, pp. 82]
May-June, 1989: North Convicted of Three Felonies from Iran-Contra; Receives No Jail Time
Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, a key figure in the Iran-Contra scandal, is convicted of three counts of falsifying and destroying documents, of obstructing a Congressional investigation, and of illegally receiving a gift of a security fence around his home. He is acquitted of nine other counts. Though facing up to ten years in prison and a $750,000 fine, North receives an extremely lenient sentence: three years’ suspended, two years’ probation, community service, and a $150,000 fine. He also has his Marine service pension suspended. During the trial, North admits he lied repeatedly to Congress during his testimony, but says that his superiors, including National Security Adviser John Poindexter, ordered him to lie under oath. North contends that he was made a scapegoat for the Reagan administration. “I knew it wasn’t right not to tell the truth about these things,” he says, “but I didn’t think it was unlawful.”
US District Court Judge Gerhard Gesell calls North a “low-ranking subordinate who was carrying out the instructions of a few cynical superiors,” and says to North: “I believe you still lack understanding of how the public service has been tarnished. Jail would only harden your misconceptions.” North, who had been staunch in justifying his actions in the Iran-Contra hearings, now expresses remorse over his crimes, saying, “I recognize that I made many mistakes that resulted in my conviction of serious crimes… and I grieve every day.” North, who is a popular speaker with conservative organizations, can pay off his fine with six speaking engagements. Nevertheless, he says he will appeal his conviction. [BBC, 7/5/1989; New York Times, 9/17/1991] North’s conviction will indeed be overturned by an appeals court.
April 1990 and After: Unrepentant Poindexter Guilty of Five Felonies; Will Have Conviction Overturned
In connection with the Iran-Contra scandal, former National Security Adviser John Poindexter is convicted of five felonies, including conspiring to obstruct official inquiries and proceedings, two counts of obstructing Congress, and two counts of lying to Congress. Poindexter is sentenced to six months in prison. Instead of serving his jail time, he will win a reversal in federal appeals court. [FINAL REPORT OF THE INDEPENDENT COUNSEL FOR IRAN/CONTRA MATTERS: Chapter 3: United States v. John M. Poindexter, 8/4/1993]
The New York Times will write during Poindexter’s sentencing hearing that, though Poindexter had a brilliant career before becoming Ronald Reagan’s national security adviser, he should go to jail because he is not only clearly guilty of the felonies he is convicted of, but he has shown a total lack of remorse or contrition. “The admiral disagreed with [the] fundamental rule of law and apparently still does,” the Times will write, noting that Poindexter apparently feels that if he views the law as incorrect or overly constraining, he is well within his rights to break that law. [New York Times, 6/11/1990]
July 2-August 28, 1991: Clarence Thomas Nominated for Supreme Court
When Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first and only African-American to serve on the Court, announces his retirement, the Bush administration is ready with a far more conservative replacement. President Bush himself is already under fire for previously naming a moderate, David Souter, to the Court, and Bush is determined to give his conservative base someone they can back. Although Bush had wanted to nominate an appropriately conservative Hispanic, his eventual nomination is Clarence Thomas, who is completing his first year as a judge on the DC Court of Appeals. Thomas has two qualifications that Bush officials want: like Marshall, he is African-American; unlike Marshall, he is as conservative a jurist as Antonin Scalia or Robert Bork. Two of former President Reagan’s closest legal advisers, C. Boyden Gray and Lee Liberman (a co-founder of the conservative Federalist Society), privately call Thomas “the black Bork.” Bush calls Thomas “the most qualified man in the country” for the position. [New York Times, 7/2/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]
During the July 2 press conference to announce Thomas’s nomination, Bush says: “I don’t feel he’s a quota. I expressed my respect for the ground that Mr. Justice Marshall plowed, but I don’t feel there should be a black seat on the Court or an ethnic seat on the Court.” For his part, Thomas extols his upbringing as a desperately poor child in Georgia, crediting his grandmother and the nuns who taught him in Catholic schools as particular influences on his life and values. Republican senator Orrin Hatch says that opposing Thomas will be difficult: “Anybody who takes him on in the area of civil rights is taking on the grandson of a sharecropper.” [New York Times, 7/2/1991]
However, the non-partisan American Bar Association’s recommendation panel splits on whether Thomas is qualified or not, the first time since 1969 the ABA has failed to unanimously recommend a nominee. Twelve panelists find Thomas “qualified,” two find him “not qualified,” and none find him “well qualified.” One senior Congressional aide calls the assessment of Thomas “the equivalent of middling.” [New York Times, 8/28/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]
In 2007, former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write, “For the president to send a nominee to the Supreme Court with anything less than a uniformly well-qualified rating is irresponsible, but such decisions have become part of the politicization of the judiciary.” Thomas, himself a beneficiary of the nation’s affirmative action programs, opposes them, once calling them “social engineering;” he has no interest in civil rights legislation, instead insisting that the Constitution should be “color-blind” and the courts should stay out of such matters. Civil rights, women’s rights, and environmental groups are, in Dean’s words, “terrified” of Thomas’s nomination. To overcome these obstacles, the Bush administration decides on a strategy Dean calls “crude but effective… us[ing] Thomas’s color as a wedge with the civil rights community, because he would pick up some blacks’ support notwithstanding his dismal record in protecting their civil rights. [New York Times, 7/2/1991; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]
The nomination of an African-American quells some of the planned resistance to a conservative nominee promised by a number of civil rights organizations. [New York Times, 7/2/1991]
Three months later, Thomas will be named to the court after a bitterly contentious brace of confirmation hearings.
July 20, 1991: Iran-Contra Prosecutor Has Tapes, Transcripts of CIA Conversations
The New York Times reports that Iran-Contra special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh is in possession of tapes and transcripts documenting hundreds of hours of telephone conversations between CIA headquarters in Langley, Virginia, and CIA agents in Central America. The time period of the taped conversations corresponds to the period in which NSC officer Oliver North, retired Air Force General Richard Secord, and arms dealer Albert Hakim were running their secret arms pipeline informally known as either “Airlift Project” or “The Enterprise”. Former Deputy Director for Operations Clair George installed the taping system in the early- to mid-1980s. The contents of the conversations are not known, though it is known that Walsh is using the tapes to force accurate testimony from North and others either standing trial or serving as witnesses in Iran-Contra prosecutions. [Time, 7/22/1991]
September 17, 1991: North Charges Dropped, Convictions Reversed
A federal judge drops all charges against convicted felon Oliver North. A federal appeals court had reversed part of North’s conviction and ordered the case returned to a US District Court for the remainder of the convictions. District Judge Gerhard Gesell, who presided over the original trial that found North guilty of three felonies, drops the charges after special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh says he is forced to abandon the prosecution of North. In order to testify before the Iran-Contra hearings, North was granted limited immunity from prosecution, and Walsh says prosecutors will be unable to show that North’s immunity grant did not affect his trial testimony, and the testimony of witnesses in his earlier trials. The decision by Walsh and Gesell brings to an end five years of court proceedings against North, who calls himself “fully, completely” vindicated. Last week, former National Security Adviser Robert McFarlane, North’s former superior and mentor, testified that his testimony in North’s earlier trials had been heavily influenced by North’s testimony before Congress. President Bush says: “He’s been through enough. There was an appeal. He’s been let off. Now that’s the system of justice is working.… I’m very, very pleased.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-KS) says the Walsh investigation should be closed down entirely, saying, “What have American taxpayers received for their $50 million?” referring to some estimates of the cost of the overall inquiry. “A lot of press releases. A lot of rumor and innuendo. But little in terms of justice.” Walsh, who had opposed immunity for North from the start of the investigations in 1987, says: “This is a very, very serious warning that immunity is not to be granted lightly. Now, I have never criticized Congress. I urged them not to grant immunity, but they have the very broad political responsibility for making a judgment as to whether it’s more important that the country hear the facts quickly or that they await a prosecution.” [New York Times, 9/17/1991]
An outraged New York Times editorial says that North’s claim of complete exoneration is a “wild overstatement” and calls the reversal “a serious setback for another objective of democratic government: promptly to uncover the truth in high-profile cases and to prosecute them when necessary without sacrificing the Constitution’s privilege against compelled self-incrimination.” It concludes: “Mr. North can thank his battling lawyers and a fastidious judiciary for letting him beat the rap. That remains far short, however, of exoneration.” [New York Times, 9/17/1991]
October 7, 1991: Former State Department Official Pleads Guilty to Lying to Congress
Former Assistant Secretary of State Elliott Abrams, facing multiple counts of lying under oath to Congress about, among other things, his knowledge of the US government’s involvement in the resupply operation to the Nicaraguan Contras, his knowledge of the role played by former CIA agent Felix Rodriguez in the resupply, and his knowledge of third-party funding of the Nicaraguan Contras, agrees to plead guilty to two misdemeanor charges of withholding evidence from Congress. Abrams agrees to the plea after being confronted with reams of evidence about his duplicity by investigators for special prosecutor Lawrence Walsh as well as from testimony elicited during the House-Senate investigation of 1987 and the guilty plea and subsequent testimony of former CIA agent Alan Fiers.
Abrams pleads guilty to two counts of withholding information from Congress, to unlawfully withholding information from the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and the House Intelligence Committee, and admits lying when he claimed that he knew nothing of former National Security Council official Oliver North’s illegal diversion of government funds to the Contras. Abrams says that he lied because he believed “that disclosure of Lt. Col. [Oliver] North’s activities in the resupply of the Contras would jeopardize final enactment” of a $100 million appropriation pending in Congress at the time of his testimony, a request that was narrowly defeated. Abrams also admits to soliciting $10 million in aid for the Contras from the Sultan of Brunei. [Final Report of the Independent Counsel for Iran/Contra Matters: Chapter 25: United States v. Elliott Abrams: November 1986, 8/4/1993]
October 13, 1991: Thomas Confirmed as Supreme Court Justice
Clarence Thomas survives the Senate hearings to join the Supreme Court. [Source: PBS] The full Senate votes to confirm Clarence Thomas on a 52-48 vote, the lowest margin of victory by any Supreme Court nominee in US history. It is possible that some senators’ votes are influenced by a wash of “fast-action” polls reported by the White House, purporting to show that African-Americans overwhelmingly support Thomas, and a majority of citizens support Thomas’s confirmation. A year later, analysis proves those polls to be completely wrong. [Thomas Hearings Website, 8/1997; Dean, 2007, pp. 146-153]
In 1992, Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, will say: “That last hearing was not about Clarence Thomas. It was not about Anita Hill. It was about a massive power struggle going on in this country, a power struggle between women and men, and a power struggle between minoritites and the majority.” [Thomas Hearings Website, 8/1997]
November 1991 – Summer 1992: Future Oklahoma City Bomber Leaves Army, Joins National Guard, Becomes Increasingly Radicalized and Depressed
Timothy McVeigh, a nascent white supremacist and survivalist who is in the process of taking “early termination” from the US Army after being denied a position in Special Forces, moves back in with his father in Pendleton, New York. Initially, he joins a National Guard unit and tries unsuccessfully to join the US Marshals. He is formally discharged from the Army on December 31, 1991. His final psychological assessment from the Army shows him to be under extreme stress and experiencing a powerful sense of disillusionment with the federal government.
In January 1992, he goes to work for Burns International Security Services in Buffalo after leaving the Guard, and quickly rises to the rank of inspector. [New York Times, 5/4/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 810; Serrano, 1998, pp. 48; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; CNN, 2001; CNN, 12/17/2007] (A New York Times report later says McVeigh leaves the Army in early 1992. A book about McVeigh, One of Ours, claims that McVeigh returns to Pendleton after leaving the Army around Christmas of 1991.) [New York Times, 5/4/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 44]
Depressed, Suicidal, Detached, Enraged – Over time, McVeigh becomes increasingly depressed and reportedly considers suicide; friends and colleagues will describe him as deteriorating both mentally and physically, and, in the words of the New York Times, will describe him as “an increasingly unstable man who wavered between gloomy silences and a hair-trigger temper, who lost so much weight he seemed anorexic, and who could follow simple orders but could not handle pressure or take independent action.” Lynda Haner-Mele, a supervisor for Burns Security in Kenmore, New York, later recalls working with McVeigh at the Niagara Falls Convention Center. She remembers calling him “Timmy” and worrying about his weight loss. “He seemed almost lost, like he hadn’t really grown up yet,” she will say. She is unaware of his Army service, later recalling: “He didn’t really carry himself like he came out of the military. He didn’t stand tall with his shoulders back. He was kind of slumped over.… That guy did not have an expression 99 percent of the time. He was cold. He didn’t want to have to deal with people or pressure. Timmy was a good guard, always there prompt, clean, and neat. His only quirk was that he couldn’t deal with people. If someone didn’t cooperate with him, he would start yelling at them, become verbally aggressive. He could be set off easily. He was quiet, but it didn’t take much.”
Increasingly Radicalized – McVeigh becomes increasingly radicalized, growing more disenchanted with the idea of a federal government and distressed about the possibility of a federal crackdown on gun ownership. He talks about the government forcibly confiscating the citizenry’s guns and enslaving citizens. He writes angry letters to newspapers and his congressman on subjects such as his objection to inhumane slaughterhouses and a proposed law prohibiting the possession of “noxious substances,” and warns against an impending dictatorship if action is not soon taken. He urges friends to read a novel, The Turner Diaries, which tells the story of a white supremacist revolt against the US government and the extermination of minorities, and gives copies to his friends and relatives.
He begins acquiring an arsenal of guns, and sets up a generator and a store of canned food and potable water in his basement so that he would be self-sufficient in case of emergency. He applies to join the Ku Klux Klan, but decides against it because, he believes, the KKK is too focused on race and not enough on gun rights. The Times will later write: “While there was no firm evidence that Mr. McVeigh belonged to any organized right-wing paramilitary or survivalist groups, there was considerable evidence that he sympathized with and espoused their beliefs. He voiced their ideas in conversations, he wrote letters expressing them, he read their literature, and attended their meetings. And he lived, worked, and traded weapons in areas where the paramilitary groups enjoy considerable support, according to numerous interviews.”
In the summer of 1992, McVeigh moves to Michigan to stay with his old Army friend Terry Nichols, telling friends he is leaving to find a “free state” in which to live. McVeigh’s and Nichols’s shared hatred of the federal government continues to grow. [New York Times, 5/4/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 810; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; CNN, 2001; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; CNN, 12/17/2007]
Reportedly, McVeigh tells people that the Army has placed a computer chip in his buttocks to keep him under surveillance. [People, 5/8/1995]
McVeigh’s fellow security guard, Carl Edward Lebron Jr., later recalls long conversations with McVeigh that center around “politics, secret societies, some religion and conspiracy theories,” UFOs, and government conspiracies to addict its citizens to illegal drugs. Lebron wonders if McVeigh himself might belong to a secret society of some sort, perhaps a Freemason sect. Lebron will recall McVeigh showing him Ku Klux Klan newsletters and gold coins, some minted in Canada. Lebron becomes worried enough about McVeigh’s apparent instability to tape-record some of their conversations, and keep notes of what McVeigh tells him. What seems to worry Lebron the most is McVeigh’s talk about stealing weapons from Army bases. In August, McVeigh quits his job at Burns, telling coworkers: “I got to get out of this place. It’s all liberals here.” Lebron bids him goodbye, saying, “Stay out of trouble,” to which McVeigh replies: “I can’t stay out of trouble. Trouble will find me.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 48-57]
Law professor Douglas O. Linder will later speculate that McVeigh’s radicalization may have been triggered, and was certainly deepened, by the FBI’s raid on the Ruby Ridge compound of white supremacist Randy Weaver. [Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
McVeigh later tells his lawyers that during this time, he became increasingly stressed because of what he will call his “heightened sense of awareness of what the news was really saying.” He becomes increasingly obsessed with the news, raging at politicians for trying to blend politics and the military, and at the government for “strong-arming other countries and telling them what to do.” He becomes increasingly enraged by what he calls the increasing anti-gun sentiment in the US, and the “liberal mindset that all things in the world could be solved by discussion.” He learned in the military that most problems can best be solved by aggression, he will say, citing physical fights he had with fellow soldiers and angry confrontations with fellow security workers. [PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]
Movements Cloudy – McVeigh’s movements are somewhat cloudy during this period. A New York Times report will say that McVeigh and Nichols may have lived together in Marion, Kansas, not Michigan, and McVeigh may have moved to Kingman, Arizona, during this time or sometime later. [New York Times, 4/23/1995]
Future Oklahoma City Bomber – McVeigh will go on to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City, with Nichols’s aid. Haner-Mele will have difficulty believing McVeigh orchestrated the bombing. “Timmy just wasn’t the type of person who could initiate action,” she will say. “He was very good if you said, ‘Tim, watch this door—don’t let anyone through.’ The Tim I knew couldn’t have masterminded something like this and carried it out himself. It would have had to have been someone who said: ‘Tim, this is what you do. You drive the truck.’” [New York Times, 5/4/1995]
McVeigh’s cousin Kyle Kraus, who received a copy of The Turner Diaries from McVeigh, puts the book away until after the bombing, when he will reread some of it. Horrified, he will contact the FBI; the copy will become an exhibit in McVeigh’s criminal trial. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 51]
April 19, 1993: FBI Assaults Branch Davidian Compound; 78 Die in Fire
Combat engineering vehicles (CEVs) lined up outside the blazing Branch Davidian compound. [Source: PBS] The FBI and local law enforcement officials begin their planned assault on the besieged Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas, despite indications that the Davidians inside the compound will retaliate either by firing on the gathered law enforcement officials, by torching the main residential building, or perhaps both. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Warning – At 5:55 a.m., Richard Rogers, the commander of the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT), orders two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs, unarmed modifications of Bradley fighting vehicles and the primary means for deplying CS “riot control agent” into the main building) deployed to the main building. One minute later, senior negotiator Byron Sage telephones the residence and speaks with Davidian Steve Schneider. At 5:59, Schneider comes to the phone. Sage tells him: “We are in the process of putting tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We will not enter the building.” Schneider replies, “You are going to spray tear gas into the building?” Sage says, “In the building… no, we are not entering the building.” At the conclusion of the conversation, Schneider or another Davidian throws the telephone out of the building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Minutes later, Schneider slips out, retrieves the phone, and ducks back inside. [Time, 5/3/1993]
Combat Vehicles Begin Deploying Gas, Davidians Open Fire – At 6:02 a.m., the two CEVs begin inserting CS gas into the compound, using spray nozzles attached to booms. The booms punch holes through the exterior walls of the building. The FBI uses unarmed Bradley Fighting Vehicles to deploy “ferret rounds,” military ammunition designed to release CS after penetrating a barricade such as a wall or window. As the CEVs and the Bradleys punch holes into the buildings for the deployment of the gas, Sage makes the following statement over the loudspeakers: “We are in the process of placing tear gas into the building. This is not an assault. We are not entering the building. This is not an assault. Do not fire your weapons. If you fire, fire will be returned. Do not shoot. This is not an assault. The gas you smell is a non-lethal tear gas. This gas will temporarily render the building uninhabitable. Exit the residence now and follow instructions. You are not to have anyone in the tower. The [guard] tower is off limits. No one is to be in the tower. Anyone observed to be in the tower will be considered to be an act of aggression [sic] and will be dealt with accordingly. If you come out now, you will not be harmed. Follow all instructions. Come out with your hands up. Carry nothing. Come out of the building and walk up the driveway toward the Double-E Ranch Road. Walk toward the large Red Cross flag. Follow all instructions of the FBI agents in the Bradleys. Follow all instructions. You are under arrest. This standoff is over. We do not want to hurt anyone. Follow all instructions. This is not an assault. Do not fire any weapons. We do not want anyone hurt. Gas will continue to be delivered until everyone is out of the building.”
Two minutes later, Davidians begin firing on the vehicles from the windows. The gunfire from the Davidians prompts Rogers and FBI commander Jeffrey Jamar to decide to change tactics; at 6:07 a.m., the assault forces begin deploying all of the gas at once instead of dispersing it in a controlled manner over the course of 48-72 hours as originally envisioned. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; USMC Weapons, 2002] (Jamar will later testify that before the assault even began, he was “99 percent certain” that the FBI would have to escalate its assault because the Davidians would open fire.) [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
As a CEV demolishes the back wall of the gymnasium area of the compound, negotiators broadcast: “David, we are facilitating you leaving the compound by enlarging the door.… Leave the building now.” [Cox News Service, 1/30/2000]
Jamar will later explain that the Bradleys do not carry military weaponry. “Of course we had all the firepower removed,” he will say in a 1995 interview. “There were no cannons or anything on them. We used them for transportation. And they’re more than a personnel carrier—they’re a track vehicle. I mean it’s mud, just thick mud there the whole time. And the agents learned how to drive ‘em. But the idea was to protect them as best we could. And we didn’t know—they talked about blowing a 50—did they have rockets? Who knows? Did they have explosives buried in various vicinities? Are they prepared to run out with Molatov cocktails? What’s in their mind?” Jamar is referring to threats made by Koresh and other Davidians to blow up FBI vehicles. As for the CEVs, they are tanks modified for construction and engineering purposes, and are often used as bulldozers. Observers watching the events live on television or later on videotape will sometimes mistake the CEVs for actual tanks, though two M1A1 Abrams tanks are actually on site and take part in the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
House Report: Davidians Would Certainly Consider FBI’s Actions an Assault – A 1996 report by a House of Representatives investigative committee will note that it is almost impossible for the Davidians not to consider themselves under assault, with tank-like vehicles tearing holes in the building, CS being sprayed everywhere, grenade-like projectiles crashing through windows, men in body armor swarming around the compound, and the sounds of what seems like combat all around them. “Most people would consider this to be an attack on them—an ‘assault’ in the simplest terms,” the report will find. “If they then saw other military vehicles approaching, from which projectiles were fired through the windows of their home, most people are even more likely to believe that they were under an assault. If those vehicles then began to tear down their home there would be little doubt that they were being attacked. These events are what the Davidians inside the residence experienced on April 19, yet the FBI did not consider their actions an assault.” Moreover, the FBI did not consider the close-knit, home-centered community the Davidians have long since formed. “Their religious leader led them to believe that one day a group of outsiders, non-believers, most likely in the form of government agents, would come for them,” the report will state. “Indeed, they believed that this destiny had been predicted 2,000 years before in Biblical prophecy. Given this mindset, it can hardly be disputed that the Davidians thought they were under assault at 6 a.m. on April 19.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Monitoring from Washington – At 7:00 a.m., Attorney General Janet Reno and senior Justice Department and FBI officials go to the FBI situation room to monitor the assault. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Buildings Breached – At 7:30 a.m., a CEV breaches the side of one of the main buildings and injects large amounts of tear gas into the interior of the compound. At 7:58 a.m., gas is fired into the second floor of the back-right corner of the building. The FBI asks for more ferret rounds, and by 9:30 a.m., 48 more ferret rounds arrive from Houston. The assault is hampered by the FBI’s dwindling supply of ferret rounds, a CEV with mechanical difficulties, and high winds dispersing the gas. Another CEV enlarges the opening in the center-front of the building, with the idea of providing an escape route for the trapped Davidians. A third CEV breaches the rear of the building, according to a later Justice Department report, “to create openings near the gymnasium.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Clinton Told Assault Progressing Well – At about 11 a.m., Reno briefs President Clinton, tells him that the assault seems to be going well, and leaves for a judicial conference in Baltimore. During this time, a CEV breaches the back side of the compound. At 11:40 a.m., the FBI fires the last of the ferret rounds into the building. At 11:45 a.m., one wall of the compound collapses. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Transcriptionist Escapes – Ruth Riddle, the typist and transcriptionist sent inside the compound by the FBI to help Koresh finish his “Seven Seals” manuscript, escapes the compound before the fire. She brings out a computer disk containing the unfinished manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Davidians Set Fires throughout Compound – At 12:07 p.m., according to the Justice Department and House reports, the Davidians start “simultaneous fires at three or more different locations within the compound.” An FBI Hostage Rescue Team member reports seeing “a male starting a fire” in the front of the building. Later analyses show that the first fire begins in a second-floor bedroom, the second in the first floor dining room, and the third in the first floor chapel. Evidence also shows that the fires spread according to “accelerant trails,” such as a trail of flammable liquid being poured on the floor. Some of the Davidians’ clothing found in the rubble also shows traces of gasoline, kerosene, Coleman fuel (liquid petroleum, sometimes called “white gas”), and lighter fluid, further suggesting that the Davidians use accelerants to start and spread the fires. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Within eight minutes, the main building is engulfed in flames. One explosion, probably from a propane gas tank, is observed. Later investigation will find a propane tank with its top blown off in the debris. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
After the compound burns to the ground, FBI agent Bob Ricks tells reporters, “David Koresh, we believe, gave the order to commit suicide and they all willingly followed.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Some of the Davidians who survive the conflagration later claim that the Davidians did not start the fires, but arson investigators with the Justice Department and the Texas Rangers, as well as an independent investigator, will conclude that Davidians did indeed start the fires in at least three different areas of the main building. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
A 1993 Treasury Department report will produce audiotapes of Davidians inside the compound and transcripts of conversations, secured via electronic surveillance, discussing the means of setting the fires. Voices on the tapes and in the transcripts say such things as: “The fuel has to go all around to get started.” “Got to put enough fuel in there.” “So, we only light ‘em as they come in,” or as a slightly different version has it, “So, we only light ‘em as soon as they tell me.” Once the fires begin, high winds and the breaches in the walls cause the flames to almost immediately begin consuming the compound. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
In 1999, Colonel Rodney Rawlings, the senior military liaison to the HRT, will tell reporters that he heard Koresh give the orders to start the fires over FBI surveillance “bugs”. Sage later describes the horror that goes through him and his fellow agents when they realize that the Davidians have torched the compound. He will recall “pleading” with the Davidians to leave the compound, and say: “I can’t express the emotions that goes through you. I had to physically turn around away from the monitor to keep my mind focused on what I was trying to broadcast to those people.” He will recall being horrified by the failure of people to flee the compound. “I fully anticipated those people would come pouring out of there,” he says. “I’d been through CS teargas on numerous occasions [in training exercises]. And I would move heaven and earth to get my kids out of that kind of an environment. And that’s frankly what we were banking on. That at least the parents would remove their children from that kind of situation.” Of Koresh, he will say: “By him intentionally lighting that place afire and consuming the lives of 78 people, including over 20 young children, was just inconceivable to me. In 25 years of law enforcement I’ve never been faced with someone that was capable of doing that.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Six years later, the FBI will admit to releasing two pyrotechnic grenades into the compound, but insists the grenades did not start the fires.
Plea for Release – At 12:12 p.m., Sage calls on Koresh to lead the Davidians to safety. Nine Davidians flee the compound and are arrested [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] , including one woman who leaves, attempts to return to the burning building, and tries unsuccessfully to fight off a federal agent who comes to her aid. [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
One of the nine runs out of the building at around 12:28 p.m., indicating that even 21 minutes after the fire, it is possible for some of the inhabitants to make their escape. However, most of the Davidians retreat to areas in the center of the building and do not attempt to get out. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
‘Systematic Gunfire’ – At 12:25 p.m., FBI agents hear “systematic gunfire” coming from inside of the building; some agents believe that the Davidians are either killing themselves or each other. The House committee investigation later finds that FBI agents hear rapid-fire gunshots coming from the compound; while many of the gunshots are probably caused by exploding ammunition, “other sounds were methodical and evenly-spaced, indicating the deliberate firing of weapons.”
Fire Department Responds; Search for Survivors – At 12:41 p.m., fire trucks and firefighters begin attempting to put out the flames. HRT agents enter tunnels to search for survivors, particularly children. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
No fire trucks are at the scene when the assault begins, and it takes around 25 minutes for the first fire department vehicles to respond to emergency calls from their stations in Waco. Bob Sheehy, mayor of Waco, later says the city fire department “first got a call after the fire had already started.” Ricks explains that fire engines were not brought to the compound earlier for fear that firefighters might have been exposed to gunfire from the compound, and because FBI officials did not expect a fire. “We did not introduce fire to this compound, and it was not our intention that this compound be burned down. I can’t tell you the shock and the horror that all of us felt when we saw those flames coming out of there. It was, ‘Oh, my God, they’re killing themselves.’” [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
Death Toll – In all, 78 Branch Davidians, including over 20 children, two pregnant women, and Koresh himself, die in the fire. Nineteen of the dead are killed by close-range gunshot wounds. Almost all of the others either die from smoke inhalation, burns, or both. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
The number is improperly reported in a number of media sources, and varies from 75 to 81. Even the House committee report does not cite a definitive total. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Some of the FBI negotiators involved in the siege later say that they feel continued negotiations might have saved many, perhaps all, of the lives of those inside the compound. In an interview later in the year, one negotiator tells a reporter, “I’ll always, in my own mind, feel like maybe we could have gotten some more people out.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
But HRT member Barry Higginbotham, one of the snipers who observes the Davidians throughout the siege, will later state that neither he nor anyone on his team believed the Davidians would ever willingly surrender. Higginbotham will say: “We just felt that if you make them suffer a little more, deny them perhaps a little more food, lighting, power, things like that inside, that would cause more pressure on their leadership inside. And perhaps their leadership would go to Koresh and pressure him to start negotiating in good faith. It was hard to believe that Koresh was ever negotiating in good faith.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
In the hours after the conflagration, Ricks tells reporters: “We had hoped the women would grab their children and flee. That did not occur and they bunkered down the children and allowed them to go up in flames with them.… It was truly an inferno of flames.” Ricks says that authorities receive reports, perhaps from some of the survivors, that the children had been injected with some kind of poison to ease their pain. This claim is never confirmed. [New York Times, 4/20/1993]
In the Bunker – FBI investigators combing the building after the conflagration find an enormous amount of guns and other weaponry inside. Dr. Rodney Crow, the FBI’s chief of identification services and one of the officials who examine the bodies of the Davidians, spends much of his time in the compound’s underground bunker, where many of the bodies are found. Crow later says: “There were weapons everywhere. I don’t remember moving a body that didn’t have a gun melted to it, intertwined with it, between the legs, under the arm, or in close proximity. And I’d say 18 inches to 20 inches would be close proximity.… The women were probably more immersed in the weapons than anyone else, because there was so much weaponry inside the bunker. It was like sea shells on a beach, but they were spent casings and spent bullets. If you had rubber gloves and tried to smooth it away, you’d tear your gloves away from the bullet points that are unexploded, or unspent ammunition. Then as you went through layer after layer, you came upon weapons that were totally burned. Until we got down to the floor, and it was mint condition ammunition there. Ammunition boxes not even singed.” The most powerful weapon Crow finds is a .50-caliber machine gun. Some of the bodies have gunshot wounds. Crow will say: “My theory is there was a lot of euthanasia and mercy killing.
That group probably were just about as active as anywhere in the compound, mercifully putting each other out of misery in the last moments.” In total, 33 bodies are found inside the bunker; almost all the women and children found inside the compound are in the bunker. Many are found to have died from suffocation or smoke inhalation (two died from falling debris), but some died from gunshot wounds, and one woman was stabbed to death. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Local medical examiner Nizam Peerwani later says he does not believe the people in the bunker committed suicide, saying: “There has been a lot of speculation if this is a mass suicide or not. And—did they all go there to die? Ah, we don’t really think so. What I feel personally is that they tried to escape. A bunker was perhaps the safest area in the compound.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Sage will say that he knew the children were dead sometime around 12:30 p.m. He recalls terminating the negotiations at that time, “because I didn’t want the loudspeaker bank to interfere with instructions being given on the ground. At that point in time, I walked over to the site in shock, basically. And, uh, the first thing I asked is, ‘Where are the kids?’” He is told, “Nowhere.” Sage will say: “They had not come out. They had been consumed.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Koresh’s Fate – Koresh and Schneider are found in a small room the authorities call “the communication room.” Koresh is dead of a single gunshot wound to the forehead. Schneider is dead from a gunshot wound in the mouth. Peerwani later says: “Did David Koresh shoot himself and Schneider shoot himself? Or did Schneider shoot David Koresh and then turn around and shoot himself? Certainly both are possible. We cannot be certain as to what really transpired.” [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
No Ill Effects from Gas – Peerwani and his colleagues examine the bodies for damage caused by the CS gas used in the assault, and find none. While many of the Davidians were exposed to the gas, according to tissue and blood studies, none inhaled enough of it to cause anything more than short-term discomfort. Concurrently, Peerwani and his colleagues find no damage from the propellant used in the ferret rounds. A fire report later written by Texas-based investigators will call the tear gas operation a failure at dispersing the Davidians. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Medical examinations show that some of the children may well have been overcome by the gas, and rendered unable to escape, but the compound had not been gassed for an hour before the fires began, and CS has a persistence factor of only 10 minutes—in other words, the effects should have worn off by the time the fires broke out. The gas proves ineffective against the adults, because the adult Davidians are equipped with gas masks. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Wrongly Executed Plan – The plan as signed by Reno called on law enforcement forces to deploy tear gas into the compound at stated intervals, then have agents retreat to await evacuees before approaching again. This “passive,” “restrained” approach was to have been followed for up to 72 hours before using assault vehicles to force entry. Instead, the agents wait only 12 minutes before beginning a motorized vehicle assault. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Taking Responsibility – One of the unlikely “heroes” of the debacle is Reno. She signed off on the attack, and within hours of the attacks, she holds a televised press conference where she says: “I made the decision. I am accountable . The buck stops here”. She repeats this statement over and over again on national television. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
8:35 a.m. – 9:02 a.m. April 19, 1995: Oklahoma City Bombing Destroys Federal Building, Kills 168
The Alfred P. Murrah Building after being bombed. [Source: CBS News] A truck bomb destroys the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people in America’s worst domestic terrorist attack. Timothy McVeigh, later convicted in the bombing, has ideological roots both in the Patriot world and among neo-Nazis like William Pierce, whose novel, The Turner Diaries, served as a blueprint for the attack. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; Southern Poverty Law Center, 6/2001; Clarke, 2004, pp. 127]
Initially, many believe that no American set off the bomb, and suspect Islamist terrorists of actually carrying out the bombing. Their suspicions prove groundless. Investigators will find that the bomb is constructed of some 5,000 pounds of ammonium nitrate and fuel oil, carried in 20 or so blue plastic 55-gallon barrels arranged inside a rented Ryder truck. The bomb is detonated by a slow-burning safety fuse, most likely lit by hand. The fuse is attached to a much faster-burning detonation cord (“det cord”) which ignites the fertilizer and fuel-oil mixture. [New York Times, 4/27/1995]
The Murrah Federal Building houses a number of federal agencies, including offices for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF); the Social Security Administration; the Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Veterans Affairs, and Agriculture departments; and the Secret Service. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995]
It encompasses an entire city block, between 5th and 4th Streets and Harvey and Robinson Streets, and features a U-shaped, indented drive on 5th that allows for quick pickup and delivery parking. The entire building’s facade on this side is made of glass, allowing passersby to see into the offices in the building, as well as into the America’s Kids day care center on the second floor, which by this time is filling with children. It is in this driveway that McVeigh parks his truck. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 99-102]
Entering the City – McVeigh drives into Oklahoma City, entering around 8:30 a.m. from his overnight stop in Ponca City, Oklahoma; the details reported of his entrance into the city vary. At 8:55 a.m., a security camera captures the Ryder truck as it heads towards downtown Oklahoma City [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] , a sighting bolstered by three people leaving the building who later say they saw the truck parked in front of the Murrah Building around this time. At 8:57, a security camera captures an image of McVeigh’s Ryder truck being parked outside the Murrah Building in a handicapped zone. One survivor of the blast, Marine recruiter Michael Norfleet, later recalls seeing the Ryder truck parked just outside the building next to the little circle drive on 5th Street leading up to the main entrance of the building. Norfleet had parked his black Ford Ranger in front of the Ryder.
McVeigh Lights Fuses – McVeigh drives the Ryder truck west past the Murrah Building on NW Fourth Street, turns north on a one-way street, and turns right on Fifth Street. He pulls the truck over and parks near the Firestone store, next to a chain-link fence. He then lights the five-minute fuses from inside the cab, sets the parking brake, drops the key behind the seat, opens the door, locks the truck, exits, and shuts the door behind him. A man later claims to have hit his brakes to avoid someone matching McVeigh’s description as he crossed Fifth Street around 9:00 a.m. McVeigh walks quickly toward a nearby YMCA building where he has hidden his getaway car, a battered yellow Mercury Marquis, in the adjoining alleyway, crossing Robinson Street and crossing another street to get to the alleyway. He begins to jog as he approaches his car. He later says he remembers a woman looking at him as she is walking down the steps to enter the building; he will describe her as white, in her mid-30s, with dirty blonde hair. According to McVeigh’s own recollection, he is about 20 feet into the alley when the bomb goes off. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 184-185; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; Serrano, 1998, pp. 158; Douglas O. Linder, 2006; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Truck Explodes – At 9:02 a.m., the truck explodes, destroying most of the Murrah Building and seriously damaging many nearby buildings. Eventually, it will be determined that 168 people die in the blast, including 19 children. Over 500 are injured. The children are in the second-story day care center just above the parking space where McVeigh leaves the Ryder truck. McVeigh will later tell his biographers that he is lifted off his feet by the power of the blast.
Devastation and Death – When the bomb detonates, the day care center and the children plummet into the basement. The building, constructed with large glass windows, collapses, sending a wave of flying glass shards and debris into the building and the surrounding area. The oldest victim is 73-year-old Charles Hurlbert, who has come to the Social Security office on the first floor. Hurlbert’s wife Jean, 67, also dies in the blast. The youngest victim is four-month-old Gabeon Bruce, whose mother is also in the Social Security office. One victim, Rebecca Anderson, is a nurse who runs towards the building to render assistance. She never makes it to the building; she is struck in the head by a piece of falling debris and will die in a hospital four days after the blast. Her heart and kidneys will be transplanted into survivors of the bombing. [Denver Post, 6/3/1997; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 153-154; Oklahoma City Journal Record, 3/29/2001]
Sherri Sparks, who has friends still unaccounted for in the building, tells a reporter in the hours after the blast, “Oh, I can’t stand the thought of… those innocent children, sitting there playing, thinking they’re safe, and then this happens.” The explosion leaves a 30-foot-wide, 8-foot-deep crater in the street that is covered by the wreckage of the building’s upper floors. The north face of the nine-story building collapses entirely. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; Washington Post, 4/22/1995]
Mary Heath, a psychologist who works about 20 blocks from the Murrah Building, says the blast “shook the daylights out of things—it scared us to death. We felt the windows shake before we heard the noise.” In a neighboring building, a Water Resources Board meeting is just commencing; the audiotape of the meeting captures the sound of the blast. [Washington Post, 4/20/1995; The Oklahoman, 4/2009]
Norfleet, trapped in the Marine Corps office, is thrown into a wall by the explosion. His skull is fractured, and a shard of glass punctures his right eye. Three separate arteries are pierced, and Norfleet begins bleeding heavily. Two supply sergeants in the office are far less injured; Norfleet asks one, “How bad am I hurt?” and one replies, “Sir, you look really bad.” One of the two begins giving Norfleet first aid; Norfleet later recalls: “He immediately went into combat mode and started taking care of me. He laid me on a table and he started looking for bandages to administer first aid. And while I was laying on that table, I just knew that I was losing strength and that if I stayed in the building, I would die.” Norfleet wraps a shirt around his head and face to slow the bleeding, and the two sergeants help him to the stairs, through the fallen rubble, and eventually out. Norfleet will later say that he follows “a blood trail of somebody that had gone down the steps before me” to get outside, where he is quickly put into an ambulance. He loses almost half his body’s blood supply and his right eye. He will never fly again, and will soon be discharged for medical incapacity. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 161-162]
Eighteen-month-old Phillip Allen, called “P.J.” by his parents, miraculously survives the blast. The floor gives way beneath him and he plunges 18 feet to land on the stomach of an adult worker on the floor below, Calvin Johnson. Landing on Johnson’s stomach saves P.J.‘s life. Johnson is knocked unconscious by the blast and by the impact of the little boy falling on him, but when he awakes, he carries the toddler to safety. P.J.‘s grandfather calls the child “Oklahoma’s miracle kid,” and media reports use the label when retelling the story of the miraculous rescue. P.J. is one of six children in the day care center to survive the blast. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 275-277]
Some people later report their belief that the Murrah Building was rocked by a second explosion just moments after the first one, the second coming from a secure area managed by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (BATF) that illegally stored explosives. Law professor Douglas O. Linder will later write, “Both seismic evidence and witness testimony supports the ‘two blast theory.’” [Douglas O. Linder, 2006] That theory is later disputed.
Explosion’s Effects Felt Miles Away – Buildings near the Murrah are also damaged, seven severely, including the Journal Record newspaper building, the offices of Southwestern Bell, the Water Resources Board, an Athenian restaurant, the YMCA, a post office building, and the Regency Tower Hotel. Two Water Resources Board employees and a restaurant worker are killed in the blast. The Journal Record building loses its roof. Assistant Fire Chief Jon Hansen later recalls, “The entire block looked like something out of war-torn Bosnia.” Every building within four blocks of the Murrah suffers some effects. A United Parcel Service truck 10 miles away has its windows shattered by the blast. Cars in parking lots around the area catch fire and burn. Millions of sheets of paper, and an innumerable number of glass shards, shower down for hundreds of feet around the building. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 28-30]
Truck Axle Crushes Nearby Car – Richard Nichols (no relation to bomber Timothy McVeigh’s co-conspirator Terry Nichols), a maintenance worker standing with his wife a block and a half away from the Murrah Building, is spun around by the force of the blast. They throw open the back door of their car and begin taking their young nephew Chad Nichols out of the back seat, when Richard sees a large shaft of metal hurtling towards them. The “humongous object… spinning like a boomerang,” as Richard later describes it, hits the front of their Ford Festiva, smashing the windshield, crushing the front end, driving the rear end high into the air, and sending the entire car spinning backwards about 10 feet. Chad is not seriously injured. The metal shaft is the rear axle of the Ryder truck. Later, investigators determine that it weighs 250 pounds and was blown 575 feet from where the truck was parked. Governor Frank Keating (R-OK) points out the axle to reporters when he walks the scene a day or so later, causing some media outlets to incorrectly report that Keating “discovered” the axle. The scene will take investigators days to process for evidence. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 32; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 187-189]
First Responders Begin Arriving – Within minutes, survivors begin evacuating the building, and first responders appear on the scene.
McVeigh’s Getaway – McVeigh flees the bomb site in his Mercury getaway car, but is captured less than 90 minutes later.
9:03 a.m. — 10:17 a.m. April 19, 1995: Oklahoma City Bomb Suspect Flees Scene, Captured by Highway Patrolman
Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Charles Hanger. [Source: The Oklahoman] Timothy McVeigh, who has just detonated a massive fertilizer bomb that has devasted the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, gets into his Mercury Marquis getaway car and flees north out of the city. At 10:17 a.m., while driving north on I-35 outside of Billings, Oklahoma, about 60 miles north of Oklahoma City, McVeigh is stopped for having no license plates on his vehicle by Oklahoma Highway Patrolman Charles Hanger, a trooper nicknamed “The Hangman” for his zeal in pursuing violators. According to later testimony, there is a radio blackout in force because of the bombing, allowing police to keep the airwaves clear. Hanger had been ordered to go to Oklahoma City, but then had those orders countermanded and was told to resume his duties.
Roadside Stop – Hanger stops McVeigh’s car and calls his office on a cellphone to check the car, but forgets to activate his dashboard camera, so no video record of the arrest is made. Hanger later says he was apprehensive because another trooper had been shot on the same highway two weeks earlier. McVeigh, cooperating with Hanger’s directions, exits the vehicle and begins walking towards Hanger, hands empty. “I stopped you because you weren’t displaying a tag,” Hanger says. McVeigh looks at the rear of his car, clearly unaware that he lacks a license plate. He says he has not had the car long and that is why he lacks a plate. Hanger asks to see a bill of sale, and McVeigh tells him the paperwork is still being drawn up. Hanger does not believe this statement, and asks to see McVeigh’s driver’s license. McVeigh reaches into his back pocket and takes out a camouflage-colored billfold. As he does so, Hanger notices a bulge under McVeigh’s windbreaker. Hanger asks McVeigh to pull open his windbreaker. McVeigh says calmly, “I have a gun.” Hanger orders, “Get your hands up and turn around.” McVeigh complies. Hanger puts the muzzle of his gun to the back of McVeigh’s head. He orders McVeigh to walk to the back of his car. “My weapon is loaded,” McVeigh says. “So is mine,” Hanger replies. He then tells McVeigh to place his hands flat on the trunk of the Mercury and spread his legs. McVeigh complies. Hanger removes the pistol from McVeigh’s shoulder holster and tosses it onto the shoulder of the road, well out of McVeigh’s reach. McVeigh tells Hanger he has another ammunition clip on his belt, and Hanger removes this as well. “I also have a knife,” McVeigh says. Hanger removes the blade from a brown leather sheath and throws it to the roadway.
“Why the loaded firearm?” Hanger asks. “I have a right to carry it for protection,” McVeigh replies. Hanger handcuffs McVeigh, walks him to his squad car, and puts him in the front passenger seat, belting him in. He then goes back to pick up the gun, the ammunition clip, and the knife. McVeigh, at Hanger’s request, recites the serial number of the Glock. Hanger comments, “Most wouldn’t know the serial number on their weapon,” and McVeigh replies, “I do.”
Arrest and Booking – The dispatcher reports over the radio that Timothy James McVeigh has no outstanding warrants, and there is nothing in the system on the Mercury or on McVeigh’s pistol. Hanger arrests McVeigh for having no vehicle registration, no license plates, and carrying a concealed weapon—a loaded 9mm Glock semiautomatic pistol. According to prosecutors and Hanger’s own recollections, McVeigh is very polite and cooperative with Hanger, answering questions, “yes sir,” and “no sir,” and saying he has served in the military and as a security guard. “No, sir, I did not intend to break your laws,” he tells Hanger. “I just carry the gun for protection.” Hanger later says he interviews McVeigh in the car, but will say: “I didn’t take any notes. It was just friendly chit-chat.” McVeigh tells Hanger that he just bought the car from a Firestone dealership in Junction City. Hanger has his dispatcher call for information on the car. Hanger searches the Mercury, finding nothing of immediate interest, but when he walks back to his car, he notices McVeigh fidgeting in his seat. Hanger asks if McVeigh wants his car towed into town (at his own expense) or left on the road; McVeigh tells him to leave it where it is. Hanger locks the car and drives McVeigh to Perry, Oklahoma.
During the trip, McVeigh asks Hanger again and again when he can get his gun back. Sometime around 11:00 a.m., McVeigh is booked and lodged in the county jail in the Noble County Courthouse in Perry. He is given prisoner number 95-057, photographed, and fingerprinted. Except for one brief demand to know when he will go to court, courthouse officials remember McVeigh as polite and soft-spoken. Hanger has no idea who he has caught; he takes his wife to lunch before turning in the gun and ammunition he confiscated from McVeigh. [Washington Post, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 4/22/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996; New York Times, 4/29/1997; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 176-180; Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Indianapolis Star, 2003; Fox News, 4/13/2005; University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 2006]
McVeigh has a permit to carry the gun, but is in violation of the law because he is carrying it concealed, and because he has another weapon, the knife, also on his person. [New York Times, 4/23/1995]
Later, Assistant District Attorney Mark Gibson says that Hanger, suspicious by nature anyway, had trouble with McVeigh’s story. “Particularly with his story that he was always on the road, he just didn’t believe,” Gibson will say. “And when he grabbed his gun and there was no reaction, no shock, that didn’t seem right, either. Neither did his story. Charlie said, ‘If you were in the military, when were you a security guard?’ and he said when he was on vacation. So things didn’t really jibe.” [New York Times, 4/23/1995]
McVeigh’s gun is later found to be loaded with at least one Black Talon “cop-killer” bullet capable of penetrating body armor. [New York Times, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 4/22/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 177]
Pat Livingston, a pawn shop owner in Ogden, Kansas, will recall selling McVeigh’s friend Terry Nichols two Glock semiautomatic pistols in February 1995. He also recalls selling McVeigh a similar Glock in 1991, and a Tec-9 assault pistol in 1993. Livingston later says he remembers McVeigh well: “I knew that name as soon as I saw it on TV. That guy McVeigh, he wrote me a hot check for the Tec-9 in 1993.” [New York Times, 4/23/1995; PBS Frontline, 1/22/1996]
Author Richard A. Serrano will later report that the pistol McVeigh is carrying is a .45-caliber Glock military assault pistol, Model 2.1. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 177]
Left in McVeigh’s car are a blue baseball cap and a legal-sized envelope, sealed and stuffed with documents and clippings. Some of the documents include an excerpt from the racially inflammatory novel The Turner Diaries, quotes from Revolutionary War figures, and newspaer clippings. [New York Times, 4/29/1997]
False Driver’s License Leads to Clues – Though he presents a false driver’s license, in the name of “Robert Kling”, McVeigh gives his home address as 3616 Van Dyke Street, Decker, Michigan. The address is the farm of James Nichols, the brother of Terry Nichols. This information leads federal agents to both the Nichols brothers and later to McVeigh himself as a suspect in the bombing. [Washington Post, 4/22/1995; New York Times, 6/3/1997]
McVeigh lists James Nichols as his “next of kin.” [New York Times, 4/23/1995]
Some versions of events have McVeigh destroying the Kling driver’s license, giving Hanger his real license, and citing the Decker, Michigan, address as an emergency contact. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 178-180] McVeigh empties his pockets at the jail: the contents include $650, four rounds of ammunition, his billfold, keys, yellow coins, a roll of antacids, and a set of earplugs, which will later be tested for explosive residue. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 191; Serrano, 1998, pp. 181]
Oddities – Later, the FBI speculates that the Arizona license plate, bearing the number LZC646, the Mercury once bore fell off sometime between the time McVeigh bought the car and the time Hanger pulled him over. It is also possible, the FBI will say, that McVeigh or his accomplice moved the license plate to another car after the bombing. The license plate was originally registered on February 1, 1995 to a 1983 Pontiac station wagon owned by McVeigh, who then gave a mail drop in Kingman, Arizona, as his address. Press reports later claim that McVeigh traded the Pontiac and $250 in cash for the Mercury, and put the Pontiac’s license plate on the Mercury (a later press report states that McVeigh may have forgotten to transfer the Pontiac’s license plate to the Mercury). A statement by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) says the Kingman mail drop address was used by a “T. Tuttle” in 1993 to advertise a “LAW launcher replica,” which the advertisement said fired “37 mm flares,” for sale in The Spotlight, a publication of the anti-Semitic Liberty Lobby. A LAW is a “light anti-tank weapon.” [New York Times, 4/27/1995]
April 21, 1995: McVeigh Arraigned on Charges of Bombing Federal Building in Oklahoma City
El Reno Federal Corrections Center. [Source: Federal Bureau of Prisons] White supremacist Timothy McVeigh, held by federal officials on suspicion of being the Oklahoma City bomber, is arraigned in a makeshift federal courtroom at Tinker Air Force Base near Midwest City, Oklahoma. He is arraigned before a federal magistrate on charges of maliciously damaging federal property. Merrick Garland, the head of the Justice Department’s criminal division in Washington, arrives in time to handle the hearing for the FBI. Garland is displeased by the lack of openness in the hearing, and arranges to have a dozen reporters in the “courtroom.” McVeigh, dressed in an orange jumpsuit and socks with no shoes, is led into the room and given a copy of the criminal complaint, or affidavit, against him. The affidavit is signed by an FBI agent, and in 14 paragraphs lays out the government’s case for holding McVeigh on suspicion of carrying out the bombing. The affidavit includes evidence given by Carl Lebron, McVeigh’s former fellow security guard, though Lebron is not identified in the document.
According to Lebron, McVeigh was “known to hold extreme right-wing views” and had been “particularly agitated” about the Branch Davidian debacle two years earlier. The affidavit says McVeigh visited the site of the Davidian compound in Waco during the standoff, and later expressed “extreme anger at the federal government” and said the government “should never have done what it did.” Reporter Nolan Clay for the Daily Oklahoman later recalls: “He seemed like such a kid. I’ve covered courts for years, and I’ve seen hundreds of killers and usually they have an aura around them of being a killer. That look in their eyes. You can tell in their eyes they’re killers, and they are scary. But he looked like the kid next door. It’s true, that image about him. I was very surprised by that.” McVeigh enters no plea at the arraignment.
Transferred to Federal Prison – After the arraignment, McVeigh is transferred to the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, just west of Oklahoma City. [New York Times, 4/22/1995; Serrano, 1998, pp. 196-198] He is represented by two local lawyers, public defender Susan Otto and private attorney John Coyle, who has specialized in death penalty cases. [New York Times, 4/22/1995]
At El Reno, McVeigh is held in a cell with thick glass walls eight feet high; Coyle has to shout through the glass so that McVeigh can hear him. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 223]
According to law professor Douglas O. Linder, McVeigh tells Otto and Coyle, “Yes, I did the bombing.” Any such admission would be privileged and not divulged to law enforcement officials. [Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
Conditions of Incarceration – McVeigh refuses to provide any more information than his name, Army rank, and serial number, and allegedly tells investigators that he considers himself a prisoner of war. According to reporter Michelle Green, “The implication was clear: He saw himself as a revolutionary in the hands of the government he allegedly hoped to destroy.” [People, 5/8/1995]
He will later deny reports that he considers himself a prisoner of war, and refused to give any information besides name, rank, and serial number. McVeigh is given the same privileges as most prisoners at El Reno, a medium-security federal facility: he is allowed to send and receive mail, read newspapers, receive visitors, and listen to the radio, though he has no television access. Reportedly during his time at El Reno he will receive at least four marriage proposals from women writing to him in prison. He will meet with his lawyers on a near-daily basis and will receive two visits from his father. He reads the Dallas Morning News and a number of right-wing publications, from the mainstream newspaper, the Washington Times, to the more extremist Spotlight, the John Birch Society’s New American, and a number of newsletters from militia leaders James “Bo” Gritz and Jack McLamb. [Stickney, 1996, pp. 194]
June 26, 1995: Former Soldier Discusses Recent Interview with Suspected Oklahoma City Bomber
Retired Colonel David Hackworth, a columnist for Newsweek, talks to PBS interviewer Charlie Rose about his recent interview with accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Hackworth’s interview will result in a brief column and a cover story, both of which engender tremendous controversy; critics have said that Hackworth has played into McVeigh’s lawyers’ efforts to “soften his image”. Hackworth says that while he “expected to find a monster,” he found a normal young man, “disarming… laid back,” and a “very cool” person. “He came across as the boy that lived next door.” Hackworth says he set up the interview after sending McVeigh a copy of his book About Face, which interested McVeigh enough to have him and attorney Stephen Jones agree to the interview, McVeigh’s first after being arrested. McVeigh is “nothing like I had read in the press.” Rose asks how much of McVeigh’s presentation was “spin” to affect the press, and Hackworth says, “One hundred percent.… He knew that Newsweek talks to 20 million people, he knew that if he could project this kind of ‘boy next door’ image, it would hit the, uh, it might present a new twist on where he is coming from.… He handled himself very well.… He’s so smart that he’s capable of masterminding the operation, which a lot of people in the press said” he was too unintelligent to have done on his own. People in the Pentagon have told him, Hackworth says, that McVeigh could have been a brilliantly successful officer had he stayed in the military.
Hackworth says that McVeigh refused to answer direct questions about his carrying out the bombing, instead saying, “We’re going to trial… we’re pleading not guilty.” He calls the bombing a “precise… military operation” that “wasn’t something a militia type, frothing at the mouth, could have put together.” The bombing was handled well, he says, up until McVeigh’s “bug out,” or escape: “To jump in that old car… and get stopped was a minor charge.” Asked what that says about McVeigh, Hackworth replies, “It was almost one of those odd coincidences that we saw in the Lee Harvey Oswald case [the purported assassin of President John F. Kennedy], you know, it was perfect except he’s got the wrong ammunition or something.” Hackworth reiterates his characterization in Newsweek of McVeigh suffering from a “postwar hangover,” a depression that ensued after the war ended and he lost his battlefield comrades; his judgment became clouded and his thinking became skewed. Hackworth says that McVeigh denies any miltia ties whatsoever, and denies ever claiming he was being held as a “prisoner of war,” as news reports have alleged. Hackworth says that McVeigh told him he was treated well by his jailers, but says that McVeigh asked why he was not given a bulletproof vest on his short walk from the Noble County Courthouse to his transport to the El Reno federal facility.
Hackworth says that the blank, grim look on McVeigh’s face that has characterized him in the news is actually the “thousand-yard stare” that soldiers get when they are expecting to be shot. Hackworth says he expected to “push a button” by asking McVeigh about the Branch Davidian standoff and ultimate tragedy, but McVeigh was not rattled. He concludes that when he interviewed accused Iran-Contra conspirator Oliver North, he caught North in “a hundred lies,” but he did not catch McVeigh in a single lie. Either McVeigh was telling the truth, Hackworth says, or he is a masterful liar. [PBS, 6/26/1995]
July 3, 1995: Former Soldier Writes of Accused Oklahoma City Bomber, Lauds His Military Service
Newsweek publishes a column by Colonel David Hackworth, who regularly writes on military matters for the magazine. Hackworth recently visited accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh in prison. McVeigh and his lawyer Stephen Jones were featured in a recent issue of Newsweek as well. Hackworth includes little of the actual words of the interview in this column, and spends most of his time giving his impression of McVeigh. He is ambivalent at best, lauding McVeigh’s military record and his ramrod-straight appearance, but speculative at best about McVeigh’s professed innocence. When he talked to McVeigh at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center, he writes, “I realized my gut feeling was right. He has what a lot of soldiers, good and bad, have: fire in the belly. When we talked about the military, a change came over him: McVeigh suddenly sat straight in his chair. The Army, he says, ‘teaches you to discover yourself. It teaches you who you are.’ I know what he means. To warriors, the military is like a religious order. It’s not a job. It’s a calling. Not too many people understand that calling or have what it takes.” Hackworth believes that after McVeigh returned from serving in Desert Storm, he “slipped into what’s known among vets as a postwar hangover. [I’ve] seen countless veterans, including myself, stumble home after the high-noon excitement of the killing fields, missing their battle buddies and the unique dangers and sense of purpose. Many lose themselves forever.”
He notes that McVeigh voluntarily washed himself out of Special Forces training, “but seemingly accepted his defeat stoically. Did his failure drive him over the edge? Maybe, but McVeigh says no: ‘It wasn’t the straw that broke anything.’ He planned to get in shape and come back. Still, something snapped.” Hackworth writes that McVeigh left the Army because of the postwar letdown and the Army’s “drawdown” of personnel, and was particularly troubled by his comrades leaving the service. He quotes McVeigh as saying, “You can literally love your battle buddies more than anyone else in the world.” Hackworth adds: “When they shipped out he was devastated, wondering if he’d made a mistake by staying in the military. Losing your war buddies is like losing an arm or a leg—or a loved one. McVeigh may have been crushed by the amputation.”
From there, Hackworth writes, McVeigh “couldn’t adjust to civilian life,” and notes: “I’m no shrink, but I’ve seen this failure to adapt many times before. The rules change on you. You’re used to order—having a dear objective, knowing just how to get the job done. Then you’re on your own in a different world, with no structure and little exact sense of what you’re supposed to do.” None of this excuses or even explains the crimes McVeigh is accused of committing, he writes, and concludes: “The Timothy McVeigh I talked with didn’t seem like a baby killer. He was in high combat form, fully aware that his performance in the interview was almost a matter of life and death. If he’d been in combat, he’d have a medal for his coolness under fire. He might also be the most devious con man to ever come down the pike. At times McVeigh came across as the boy next door. But you might never want to let him into your house.” [Newsweek, 7/3/1995]
Hackworth’s column contains much the same information he gave PBS’s Charlie Rose in a recent interview. In a harsh critique of Hackworth’s military writing, Slate writers Charles Krohn and David Plotz will call his column on McVeigh “astonishingly sympathetic,” and will mock Hackworth’s “postwar hangover” explanation of McVeigh’s alleged bombing. [Slate, 11/28/1996]
Although the interview is dated July 3, the issue of Newsweek containing it appears on June 26.
August 10, 1995: Grand Jury Indicts McVeigh, Nichols in Oklahoma City Bomb Plot
A federal grand jury indicts Oklahoma City bombers Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols on 11 counts of murder and conspiracy. Neither McVeigh nor Nichols are present during the hearing. The grand jury is only empowered to bring federal charges; the eight murder charges are in regards to the eight federal agents slain in the bombing: Secret Service agents Mickey Maroney, Donald Leonard, Alan Whicher, and Cynthia Campbell-Brown; DEA agent Kenneth McCullough; Customs Service agents Paul Ice and Claude Madearis; and Paul Broxterman, an agent in the Office of the Inspector General at the Department of Housing and Urban Development. Both Nichols and McVeigh are expected to face 160 counts of murder brought by the state of Oklahoma; both will plead not guilty to all counts of the indictment. The indictment levels the following charges: on September 30, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols purchased 40 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate (2,000 pounds in total, or one ton) in McPherson, Kansas, under the alias “Mike Havens”; on October 1, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols stole explosives from a storage locker in Marion, Kansas (the actual date of the theft is October 3); on October 3-4, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols transported the stolen explosives to Kingman, Arizona, and stored them in a rented storage unit; on October 18, 1994, McVeigh and Nichols bought another ton of ammonium nitrate in McPherson, Kansas, again using the “Mike Havens” alias; in October 1994,
McVeigh and Nichols planned the robbery of a firearms dealer in Arkansas as a means to finance the bombing, and on November 5 they “caused” firearms, ammunition, coins, cash, precious metals, and other items to be stolen from gun dealer Roger Moore; on December 16, 1994, McVeigh drove with Michael Fortier to Oklahoma City and identified the Murrah Federal Building as the target of the upcoming bombing; in March 1995 McVeigh obtained a driver’s license in the name of “Robert Kling,” bearing a date of birth of April 19, 1972; on April 14, 1995, McVeigh bought a 1977 Mercury Marquis in Junction City, Kansas, called Nichols in Herington, Kansas, used the “Kling” alias to set up the rental of a Ryder truck capable of transporting 5,000 pounds of cargo, and rented a room in Junction City; on April 15, 1995, McVeigh put down a deposit on a rental truck under the name of “Robert Kling”; on April 17, 1995, McVeigh took possession of the rental truck in Junction City; on April 18, 1995, at Geary Lake State Park in Kansas, McVeigh and Nichols constructed the truck bomb using barrels filled with ammonium nitrate, fuel, and other explosives, and placed the cargo in the compartment of the Ryder truck; on April 19, 1995, McVeigh parked the truck bomb directly outside the Murrah Building during regular business hours; and on April 19, 1995, McVeigh “caused the truck bomb to explode”. The indictment accuses McVeigh and Nichols of plotting the bombing “with others unknown to the Grand Jury.”
It does not mention the person identified earlier as “John Doe No. 2”. The grand jury says it is confident others, as yet unidentified, also participated in the plot. Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler says: “The indictment mentions unknown co-conspirators. We will try to determine if there are others who aided and abetted this crime.” After the indictments are handed down, Attorney General Janet Reno says: “We will pursue every lead based on the evidence.… [M]ost of these leads have been pursued and exhausted.… [W]e have charged everyone involved that we have evidence of at this point.” Prosecutors say that while others may well have been involved, the plot was closely held between McVeigh and Nichols. US Attorney Patrick Ryan has already announced he will seek the death penalty against both McVeigh and Nichols, a decision supported by Reno. A third conspirator, Michael Fortier, has pled guilty to lesser crimes regarding his involvement; Fortier has testified against McVeigh and Nichols in return for the lesser charges, and defense lawyers are expected to assail Fortier’s credibility during the trials. Nichols’s lawyer Michael Tigar says, “Terry Nichols is not guilty of the allegations of which he is charged,” calls the case against his client “flimsy” and “irresponsible,” and accuses prosecutors of attempting to try his client “in the national media.”
Periodically, Tigar holds up hand-lettered signs reading, among other messages, “Terry Nichols Wasn’t There” and “A Fair Trial in a Fair Forum.” Prosecutors have dropped all charges against Nichols’s brother James Nichols, who was indicted on three related explosive charges. US Attorney Saul A. Green says that “additional investigation failed to corroborate some of the important evidence on which the government initially relied.” [Washington Post, 8/11/1995; New York Times, 8/11/1995; Stickney, 1996, pp. 189-191; Mickolus and Simmons, 6/1997, pp. 811; Washington Post, 12/24/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 245; Douglas O. Linder, 2001]
McVeigh’s lawyer, Stephen Jones, tells reporters after the hearing that he has been in contact with a man who, he says, told the government early in the fall of 1994 of plans to blow up federal buildings. This man, Jones says, was given a “letter of immunity” by the authorities in exchange for information involving a trip he had taken to Kingman, Arizona, Fortier’s hometown, and for information about his discussions with potential bombers whom, Jones says, the man had described as either “Latin American or Arab.” Jones refuses to identify the person to whom he is referring. [New York Times, 8/11/1995]
February 28 – March 4, 1997: Press Reports McVeigh Confesses; Defense Says Press Used Illegally Gained Documents, Denies Confession
According to reports by the Dallas Morning News, indicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh has confessed to planning the bombing and detonating a bomb in front of the Murrah Federal Building. [Douglas O. Linder, 2001; Indianapolis Star, 2003]
Reporter Pete Slover cites as his source “summaries of several 1995 interviews with a defense team member” [New York Times, 3/1/1997] , though he later admits in a court filing that he could not be sure the story was true before filing it. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 271]
Researchers will later learn that McVeigh suspects his lead attorney Stephen Jones of leaking his purported confession to the press. The leak is later shown to be from a member of Jones’s staff, who gave a computer disk containing FBI reports to Slover, apparently unaware that the McVeigh “confession” was also on the disk. [Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
However, this reported speculation is countered by an opinion advanced in 1998 by author Richard A. Serrano, who will write that the defense’s work to humanize McVeigh and “soften” his image “was blown apart” by the leaked information. [Serrano, 1998, pp. 271]
The Morning News prints the article on its Web site seven hours before its next print edition can be published, and later cites a desire to match the immediacy of television and to ensure its exclusive isn’t “scooped” by a competitor. Editors worried before publication that McVeigh’s lawyers might leak the story in one fashion or another to another media outlet. [New York Times, 3/3/1997]
Details of Bombing Plot, Involvement by Co-Conspirator Nichols, Denials of Wider Conspiracy – According to documents obtained by the Morning News, McVeigh’s defense lawyers wrote that McVeigh told one of them that his bombing of the Murrah Federal Building during working hours would leave a “body count” that would make a statement to the federal government. McVeigh also named his friend, alleged co-conspirator Terry Nichols, as being intimately involved with the bomb plot, but insisted he alone drove the Ryder truck containing the bomb that destroyed the Murrah Building. McVeigh also denied any involvement by Terry Nichols’s brother James Nichols. The Morning News describes the source of its reporting as summaries of several 1995 interviews with a member of the defense team’s staff, conducted between July and December 1995 at the El Reno Federal Corrections Center in Oklahoma, where McVeigh was held before his transfer to the Denver area in March 1996.
The summaries, the Morning News says, validate much of the prosecution’s contention that McVeigh and Nichols committed robberies and burglary in the course of assembling money and materials for the bombing, even as it acknowledges that they could not be used by prosecutors in either man’s trial. One summary of a July 1995 interview has a staffer asking McVeigh if it would have been better to bomb the building at night when relatively few people would have been present. According to the staffer: “Mr. McVeigh looked directly into my eyes and told me: ‘That would not have gotten the point across to the government. We needed a body count to make our point.’”
According to the documents, McVeigh and Nichols used significantly more ammonium nitrate than federal investigators have estimated—some 5,400 pounds as compared to federal estimates of 4,800 pounds—and about $3,000 worth of high-powered racing fuel to make a lethal explosive combination. “Mr. McVeigh states that 108 50-pound bags of ammonium nitrate fertilizer were mixed with the nitro fuel purchased by Terry Nichols,” one summary reads. The summaries also have McVeigh admitting to his involvement in a 1994 robbery carried out by Nichols and himself to fund the bombing plot. “Mr. McVeigh stated that he laid out the plan and that Terry Nichols alone broke into [gun dealer Roger] Moore’s house and stole the weapons,” one summary reads.
The summary tallies closely with recent statements by McVeigh’s friend Michael Fortier, who pled guilty to helping transport the stolen weapons and is now helping the prosecution. Fortier has testified that he and McVeigh sold the weapons stolen from Moore in Arizona. McVeigh also detailed a burglary committed by himself and Nichols at a Kansas rock quarry. He also gave information about a third burglary carried out by himself and Fortier of a National Guard armory, where they attempted to steal welding tools but only made off with hand tools. According to the summaries, McVeigh denied being part of a larger conspiracy, and said the bomb plot was conceived and executed by himself and Nichols. He called a witness who claimed knowledge of a Middle Eastern or Islamist connection a “bullsh_t artist.” He also said that another conspiracy theory centered around right-wing activist Andreas Strassmeir is groundless. [Dallas Morning News, 3/1/1997; Washington Post, 3/1/1997]
Initially, McVeigh’s lead defense attorney Stephen Jones calls the documents “a hoax” and denies that McVeigh made any of those statements. The Dallas Morning News is trying to garner attention and subscriptions, Jones says, and implies that the Morning News’s source is “setting up” the paper: “They just bought the Brooklyn Bridge,” he says. The Morning News has informed Jones of the identity of the source that provided it with the documents. [Washington Post, 3/1/1997]
“This is about the most irresponsible form of journalism,” Jones says. He says that after McVeigh learned of the story, his client said, “There’s a practical joker every week.” [New York Times, 3/1/1997]
Defense Alleges Press Stole Documents – The Morning News denies a subsequent defense allegation that Slover stole thousands of computerized documents belonging to McVeigh’s defense lawyers, documents Jones says were used in the Morning News’s reporting. Jones says the documents acknowledge McVeigh’s responsibility for the bombing, but do not constitute a confession. The Morning News, Jones says, got the documents “by fraud, deception, misrepresentation, and theft” involving the defense’s computer files. Attorney Paul Watler, speaking for the Morning News, “categorically denies it committed any crime,” and says the documents were obtained through “routine news-gathering techniques.” The Morning News “did not hack into Mr. Jones’ computer system, and it did not assist anyone else in doing so,” Watler says. Jones says the documents are not, as some reports say, notes of a defense staffer’s conversations with McVeigh; defense lawyers have previously alleged that they produced a “fake confession” designed to persuade a witness to talk to defense investigators. Jones says any such false confessions, if they exist, would not be used during McVeigh’s trial. Jones says he may ask Judge Richard Matsch to delay the trial for 90 days to allow for a “cooling-off period” and allow “people to move on.” Watler says Jones is using the allegations to cloud the trial proceedings. [Dallas Morning News, 3/4/1997; New York Times, 3/4/1997]
Freelance journalist J.D. Cash, who writes for a far-right publication called The Jubilee and a small Oklahoma newspaper, the McCurtain Daily Gazette, denies reports that he is the source of the article. Cash says he is not “the intermediary who set up The Dallas Morning News,” but says he is familiar with the documents described in the newspaper’s accounts. The confession, Cash says, is “a mixture of fact and fantasy.”
Possible Negative Impact on Jury – Observers worry that the story may prejudice a potential jury. “It’s a worst-case scenario,” says legal studies professor Jeffrey Abramson. “At the witching hour, but before people have been isolated from pretrial publicity, you get explosive evidence, exactly the kind of thing that makes it very difficult for a defendant to think he hasn’t already been tried in the press.” Law professor Rita J. Simon says the article could make a fair trial very difficult. “The jurors will know there was some report about a confession,” she says. “I can’t imagine, no matter where you hold the trial, that the jurors will not hear about it. As soon as the trial gets under way, the story will come out afresh.” [New York Times, 3/2/1997]
Second Purported Confession – Days later, a second confession from McVeigh is reported, this time published by Playboy magazine. The article containing the purported confession is written by freelance reporter Ben Fenwick, and is apparently based on an internal summary of the case compiled by the McVeigh defense team. Fenwick had obtained the document in 1996, he later says, and had kept it under wraps in the hopes of eventually writing a book about the case. He quickly wrote an article based on the document and sold it to Playboy after Slover’s article hit the press.
According to Fenwick’s article, McVeigh says he detonated the bomb when he was a block away from the Murrah Building, and admitted to the bombing during a lie detector test administered by his lawyers. Other details in the article contradict physical evidence already presented in open court. Jones says: “These escalating reports of alleged statements by Mr. McVeigh are corrupting the heart of the jury system. The American ideals of justice are being held hostage to sensationalism.” Fenwick is soon hired by ABC News as a legal consultant, an arrangement that allows ABC to quote extensively from the article in a special broadcast aired shortly before the trial begins. Fenwick will later admit that he did not authenticate the document before using it. The document and the article will lead the FBI to discover McVeigh’s purchase of racing fuel from an Ennis, Texas, dealer. [New York Times, 3/14/1997; New York Times, 3/18/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 271]
March 31, 1997 and After: McVeigh Jury Begins Selection; Questions Surround Knowledge, Capabilities of Potential Jurors
Jury selection begins in the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Judge Richard Matsch has denied defense attempts to delay the trial after a brief controversy erupted over media reports using defense documents. “I have full confidence that a fair-minded jury can and will be impaneled and that those selected will return a just verdict based on the law and evidence presented to them,” Matsch wrote on March 17. Jurors’ identities are kept hidden from the press. One potential juror, asked by US Attorney Patrick Ryan, “Did you watch a lot of the coverage?” answers: “It was unavoidable. In Oklahoma, it was wall to wall and floor to ceiling.” Another potential juror says he worries about his safety in regards to what he will learn in the course of the trial: “It would seem this case goes further, wider, and deeper in many ways. A juror is going to be an insider on information he might just as soon not know.” [Washington Post, 3/18/1997; New York Times, 4/1/1997; Douglas O. Linder, 2001]
The pressure of this being a death-penalty trial, and the prospect of potentially confusing forensic evidence countered by the raw emotions of the bombing itself and of the conspiracy theories surrounding the proceedings, raises oft-asked questions about the competence of 12 jurors to find the truth in such a complex situation. The difference between an open-minded juror and one who is ignorant or intellectually challenged is difficult for lawyers and observers to assess. New York Times reporter Laura Mansnerus reflects on the trial of Lieutenant Colonel Oliver North, charged with crimes relating to the Iran-Contra scandal, in which, she writes: “When the jury was selected for the 1989 trial of Oliver North, a search went out for 12 people who knew nothing about Oliver North, which produced, well, 12 people who knew nothing about Oliver North. One person who qualified for service said she had seen him on television, but added, ‘It was just like I was focusing on the Three Stooges or something.’” That ill-informed jury proved remarkably pliable to North’s theatrics, Mansnerus writes, and many believe McVeigh’s defense team hopes for a similar jury pool that may be willing to set aside scientific evidence in favor of conspiracy theories and emotional pleas. Jury expert Jeffrey Abramson of Brandeis University tells Mansnerus: “In a case that’s heavy on scientific, forensic evidence, the defense is going to favor people who are less sophisticated about scientific matters and who are prone to conspiracy theories. That’s the classic defense approach.”
Philadelphia prosecutor Jack McMahon warned in a well-known 1986 instructional video of the pitfalls that can result in letting “smart people” on the jury, saying: “Smart people will analyze the hell out of your case. They have a higher standard. They take those words ‘reasonable doubt’ and they actually try to think about them. You don’t want those people.” Moreover, people with jobs requiring any real level of responsibility are routinely excused from jury service; this case is no exception, leaving a pool of jurors with little or no steady employment, spotty educational status, and somtimes limited intellectual capabilities to judge McVeigh’s innocence or guilt. [New York Times, 4/6/1997]
April 24, 1997: McVeigh Trial Opens
Opening statements are presented in the trial of accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. Heavy Security – Security in and around the Byron Rogers Federal Building and Courthouse in Denver, where the trial is being held, is tight. Roads and sidewalks approaching the building are blocked off. Special credentials are needed to walk around certain areas inside the courthouse. Pedestrian traffic in and out of the federal office next door is constrained with a heavy police presence. Federal officers look under the hoods of cars and check beneath vehicles with mirrors on the streets surrounding the building. Concrete barriers prevent vehicles from getting too close to the building. Even the nearby manhole covers are sealed shut. [CNN, 4/17/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 274]
Jury Makeup – The jury is composed of seven men and five women; their identities and personal information have been shielded so they can avoid being sequestered. Six alternate jurors—three men and three women—are also available. The jurors include a retired teacher, a registered nurse, an auto mechanic, a real estate manager, and a store manager who served in the Air Force. Several are military veterans. One said during jury selection that he hopes the trial will not turn McVeigh into another victim: “I believe there have been enough victims. We don’t need another one.” James Osgood, the jury foreman and store manager, believes in mandatory gun ownership. (Like the other members of the jury, Osgood’s identity will not be revealed until after the trial is concluded.) Several expressed their doubts and worry about being able to impose the death penalty if McVeigh is convicted. Some 100 potential jurors were screened to create this jury of 12 members and six alternates. As the trial commences, McVeigh greets the jury by saying, “Good morning.” He will not speak to them again during the trial. Judge Richard P. Matsch begins by saying: “We start the trial, as we are today, with no evidence against Timothy McVeigh. The presumption of innocence applies.” [Washington Post, 4/23/1997; New York Times, 4/23/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 275; Douglas O. Linder, 2001]
Prosecution: McVeigh a Cold, Calculating Terrorist – Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler begins with an emotional evocation of the bombing and the story of one of the victims, Tevin Garrett, a 16-month-old child who cried when his mother Helena Garrett left him at the Murrah Building’s day care center. The mothers could wave at their children through the day care’s glass windows, Hartzler says. “It was almost as if you could reach up and touch the children. None of those parents ever touched their children again while they were alive.” He says of Tevin Garrett’s mother, “She remembers this morning [the morning of the bombing] because it was the last morning of [Tevin’s] life. Hartzler wastes little time in slamming McVeigh as a “twisted,” calculating terrorist who murdered 168 people in the hope of starting a mass uprising against the US government. McVeigh, Hartzler says, “chose to take their innocent lives to serve his own twisted purposes.… In plain and simple terms, it was an act of terror and violence, intended to serve a selfish political purpose. The man who committed this act is sitting in this courtroom behind me. He is the one who committed those murders.”
Hartzler says that McVeigh blew up a federal building in Oklahoma City to avenge the federal assault on the Branch Davidian religious compound outside Waco, Texas. “Across the street, the Ryder truck was there to resolve a grievance,” Hartzler says. “The truck was there to impose the will of Timothy McVeigh on the rest of America and to do so by premeditated violence and terror, by murdering innocent men, women, and children, in hopes of seeing blood flow in the streets of America.” He notes that McVeigh carried an excerpt from the violently racist novel The Turner Diaries that depicts the bombing of FBI headquarters in Washington. Hartzler reads the following line from the excerpt: “The real value of our attack lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties.” Hartzler also notes the T-shirt McVeigh wore when he was arrested, a shirt that Hartzler says “broadcast his intentions.” On the front was a likeness of Abraham Lincoln and on the back a quote from Thomas Jefferson: “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Drops of scarlet blood dripped from a picture of a tree. Investigators found traces of residue on McVeigh’s shirt, in his pants pockets, and on a set of earplugs found in his pocket. Hartzler reads from a document McVeigh had written on a computer belonging to his sister, Jennifer.
In a letter addressed to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, McVeigh wrote: “All you tyrannical [expletive], you’ll swing in the wind one day for your treasonous attacks against the Constitution of the United States.… Die, you spineless, cowardice [sic] b_stards”. Hartzler says the trial has nothing to do with McVeigh’s beliefs or his freedoms of expression: “We aren’t prosecuting him because we don’t like his thoughts. We’re prosecuting him because his hatred boiled into violence.” Of the innocent victims, Hartzler tells the jury that McVeigh “compared them to the storm troopers in [the popular science fiction movie] Star Wars. Even if they are innocent, they work for an evil system and have to be killed.” Hartzler moves to preempt expected defense attacks on the prosecution’s star witness, Michael Fortier, on reports that evidence was mishandled by an FBI crime lab, and the failure to identify or apprehend the now-infamous “John Doe No. 2”.
Hartzler concludes: “Timothy McVeigh liked to consider himself a patriot, as someone who could start a second American revolution. Ladies and gentlemen, statements from our forefathers can never be twisted to justify warfare against women and children. Our forefathers didn’t fight British women and children. They fought other soldiers, they fought them face to face, hand to hand. They didn’t plant bombs and then run away wearing earplugs” Hartzler returns to the prosecutors’ table; Matsch calls a brief recess.
Defense: McVeigh Innocent, Framed by Lies – McVeigh’s attorney, Stephen Jones, tells the jury that McVeigh is innocent, and says that McVeigh’s views fall within the “political and social mainstream.” Like Hartzler, he begins with the story of a mother who lost one of her two children in the bombing, saying that the mother saw someone other than McVeigh outside the Murrah Building before the bomb went off. “I have waited two years for this moment,” Jones says, and says he will prove that other people, not McVeigh, committed the bombing. Jones sketches McVeigh’s biography, focusing on his exemplary military service and the bitter disappointment he suffered in not being accepted in the Army’s Special Forces. It was after he left the Army, Jones says, that McVeigh began to steep himself in political ideology. But far from being an extremist, Jones says, McVeigh began to study the Constitution. The shirt he wore when he was arrested bore the motto “Sic Semper Tyrannis,” but that is not merely a revolutionary slogan, Jones notes: it is the motto of the State of Virginia. McVeigh was “extremely upset” over what he viewed as government abuses of individual liberty, Jones admits, but says it was no different from how “millions of people fear and distrust the government.”
McVeigh’s statement that “something big was going to happen” had nothing to do with the bombing, Jones says, but was merely a reflection of the increasing anxiety and concern he was seeing among his friends and fellow political activists, all of whom believed “that the federal government was about to initiate another Waco raid, except this time on a different scale”. “[B]eing outraged is no more an excuse for blowing up a federal building than being against the government means that you did it.” Jones spends much of his time attacking Fortier’s credibility as well as the consistency of other prosecution witnesses, saying that they will give “tailored testimony” crafted by the government to bolster its case, and focuses on the reports of crime lab mishandling of key evidence: “The individuals responsible for the evidence… contaminated it… manipulated it, and then they engaged in forensic prostitution,” he says. After the case is done, Jones says, the jury will see that the evidence shows, “not just reasonable doubt, but that my client is innocent.” He closes by reminding the jury, “Every pancake has two sides.” [Washington Post, 4/25/1997; New York Times, 4/25/1997; Serrano, 1998, pp. 275-280; Douglas O. Linder, 2006]
June 2, 1997: McVeigh Convicted in Oklahoma City Bombing
Timothy McVeigh sits in the courtroom during his trial. [Source: India Times] Accused Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh is convicted on all 11 counts of murder and conspiracy. [University of Missouri-Kansas City School of Law, 6/2/1997; Douglas O. Linder, 2001]
The jury deliberates for over 23 hours, spread over four days (including a weekend), before announcing it has a verdict. McVeigh, who enters the courtroom with a smile on his face, shows no emotion when the guilty verdicts are read aloud by US District Judge Richard Matsch; Matsch polls the 12 jurors to ensure that they are indeed unanimous in their verdict. McVeigh is convicted of first-degree murder in the deaths of eight law enforcement agents who died in the blast, one count of conspiracy to use a weapon of mass destruction, one count of using a weapon of mass destruction, and one count of destruction of a federal building.
McVeigh awaits a trial in Oklahoma, where he will face 160 counts of murdering the civilians who died in the bombing; Oklahoma City district attorney Bob Macy says he will file state charges that will bring both McVeigh and fellow conspirator Terry Nichols to court to face the death penalty. Many family members break down in tears as the verdicts are read; one woman shouts, “We got him!” Lead prosecutor Joseph Hartzler accepts an ovation from the gallery, and later says: “We’re obviously very pleased with the verdict. We always had confidence in our evidence. Now maybe everyone else will have confidence in our evidence.” Defense attorney Stephen Jones says he will prepare his client for the sentencing phase, where many feel McVeigh will be sentenced to death. (Both sets of attorneys are under a judicial gag order preventing them from discussing the details of the case.) Jannie Coverdale, who lost her grandchildren in the blast, says she has mixed emotions: “This is bittersweet.
After all, this is a young man who has wasted his life. I’m glad they found him guilty, but I’m sad for him, too. I feel sorry for him. He had so much to offer his country.… I want him to get the death penalty, but not out of revenge. It’s necessary. I haven’t seen any remorse from Timothy McVeigh. If he ever walked the streets, he would murder again. I don’t want to see that.” Asked if the verdict will bring her closure, she says: “I don’t think there will ever be closure. Too many people are missing.” Sharon Ice, whose brother Paul Douglas Ice was one of the federal agents killed in the bombing, calls McVeigh a “monster.” Former judge Durant Davidson says he supports the verdict: “I don’t have any question about that. There was a time before the trial started that I didn’t know. [But] after having followed it, there would not have been any question in my mind.” In Washington, President Clinton refuses to comment directly on the verdict, citing the judge’s gag order, but says: “This is a very important and long overdue day for the survivors and families of those who died in Oklahoma City.… I say to the families of the victims, no single verdict can bring an end to your anguish. But your courage has been an inspiration to all Americans. Our prayers are with you.” [Denver Post, 6/3/1997; New York Times, 6/3/1997; Washington Post, 6/3/1997; Associated Press, 1/11/1998]
McVeigh’s father William and his sister Jennifer release a statement from their Pendleton, New York, home that reads in part: “Even though the jury has found Tim guilty, we still love him very much and intend to stand by him no matter what happens. We would like to ask everyone to pray for Tim in this difficult time.” [Washington Post, 6/3/1997]
Later, a juror says he and his fellows grew more convinced of McVeigh’s guilt with each day that the trial continued. “There is no justification for that kind of action,” juror Tony Stedman will say. [Associated Press, 1/11/1998]
As the prosecution leaves the courthouse, a weeping woman pushes her way towards lead attorney Joseph Hartzler, throws her arms around him, and says, “Dear God, thank you for what you have done.” [Serrano, 1998, pp. 292]
June 4, 1997: McVeigh Trial Failed to Capture Nation’s Attention, Analysts Say
Legal and media analysts say the trial of convicted Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh never captured the public’s attention the way some other trials have in recent years. “Maybe it was the absence of cameras in the courtroom,” writes the New York Times’s Bill Dedman. “Maybe the outcome never seemed in doubt. Maybe it was the numerousness of the victims or the nobodyness of the defendant or the mind-numbing horror of the event.” Dedman compares the public interest in the McVeigh trial to the far more sensational, media-saturated trials of acquitted murder suspect O.J. Simpson and the Los Angeles police officers acquitted of beating motorist Rodney King. The McVeigh trial did not attract anywhere near the media and public interest of those two trials, Dedman asserts, based on numerous polls and focus group studies. The McVeigh trial did not even garner the same level of interest as the Oliver North Iran-Contra trial. Jeffrey Toobin, a legal analyst for ABC News who wrote a best-selling book on the Simpson case, says: “It’s not that people are uninterested in this story. It’s just that it’s just another story. I’m certainly not writing a book about the McVeigh case.”
Polls show that 30 percent of Americans followed the McVeigh case “very closely,” a number not significantly higher than the interest showed in most big news stories, and far lower than the public interest in the Simpson and King trials. Andrew Kohut, director of the Pew Center, says: “There is not the manic interest there was in O.J. at certain points in time. I don’t think people are swept up in the emotion of this. That’s for sure.” Merrill Brown of MSNBC’s Internet news service calls the McVeigh trial one of “the top half-dozen” stories he could recall in the network’s Internet news coverage. “It has not changed people’s lives, like the Simpson case,” Brown says. “It has not reached into the nation’s consciousness like Rodney King or William Kennedy Smith [a member of the Kennedy family accused of rape] or any trial that received national notoriety as a result of cameras.” Most media news outlets covered the McVeigh trial steadily, but with few pre-emptions and special reports.
Neither Time nor Newsweek featured the trial as a cover story, and supermarket tabloids paid little attention to the trial. The most obvious reason for the relative lack of media coverage is the lack of cameras in the courtroom. Dedman writes: “As a result, people never got to scrutinize the witnesses’ demeanor, study the prosecutor’s hair style and wardrobe, hear the judge’s voice, watch the lawyers bicker, see the defendant react—all those things that… turned the Simpson case from a trial into a drama.” Media psychology professor Stuart Fischoff says: “I think America has very quickly adapted to a sense of judicial activities as entertainment. [Americans now] expect to see their trials on television” so they can become “hooked.”
The trial also lacked the salacious and controversial elements of other trials: unlike the Simpson case, there was virtually no sexual content, nor was there the overt racism that permeated the King trial. And unlike Simpson and Smith, no celebrities or wealthy persons were involved. Fischoff says of McVeigh: “There’s nothing particularly interesting about him. He’s not particularly handsome, he’s not particularly verbal, he’s not particularly horrible. He’s not [convicted serial killer and cannibal] Jeffrey Dahmer; you really can’t love to hate this guy. There’s no Darth Vader quotient.” And though the victims evoked considerable sympathy among Americans, they did not evoke fascination such as the victims in the Simpson murders. Observers such as CNN’s Greta van Susteren have said the victims’ stories were just too painful to contemplate for long; others have said there were too many victims for Americans to focus upon. [New York Times, 6/4/1997]
November 3, 1999: Justice Department and State Governments File NSR Lawsuits Against 32 Power Plants
The Justice Department, on behalf of the Environmental Protection Agency, files lawsuits against 32 power plants in 10 mid-west and southeast states for failing to install state-of-the-art pollution controls—as required by the New Source Review (NSR) section of the Clean Air Act—when companies made major modifications to their coal-fired plants. The suits say that the companies’ violations of NSR has resulted in illegal emissions of tens of millions of tons of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, and particulate matter into the air. [US Department of Justice, 11/3/1999]
Some of these companies have been releasing these illegal emissions for 20 years or more. [New York Times Magazine, 4/4/2004]
Six months after coming to office, the Bush administration will put all of these investigations on hold, causing some companies to abandon settlements or pull out of their negotiations with the Justice Department.
After November 3, 1999: Industry Asks Congress to Deny Funding for NSR Lawsuits against Power Plants
The energy and utility industries lobby Congress to attach a rider to a pending appropriations bill that would deny the Environmental Protection Agency and Justice Department funding to pursue litigation against a group of mid-western and southern utility companies for violations of the New Source Review (NSR) section of the Clean Air Act. In letters to Congress, the groups insist that failing to pass the rider “could have severe implications for [electric] supply reliability in the near future.… [U]nits covered by the enforcement action could potentially be shut down.” Environmental groups counter that passing the rider would make enforcement of NSR impossible. Congress does not pass the rider. [Washington Post, 11/15/1999]
December 3, 1999: NJ Governor Whitman Joins the NSR Power Plant Lawsuits
Governor of New Jersey Christine Todd Whitman announces that her state has joined the federal government’s lawsuits against several mid-west and southeast utility companies for allegedly releasing tens of millions of illegal emissions in violation of the New Source Review section of the Clean Air Act. Governor Whitman says: “We’ve done much here in New Jersey to ensure that our residents can breathe clean air. All of our efforts are fruitless, however, if New Jerseyans must breathe the dirty air coming into our state from mid-west coal-burning power plants. This legal action will require that these power plants clean up their emissions and stop polluting our air.” [New Jersey, 12/3/1999; Reuters, 12/6/1999]
December 21, 2000: Cinergy Settles NSR Lawsuit with Justice Department
Cinergy Corp., a Cincinnati-based electric utility, agrees to settle a Justice Department lawsuit over its alleged violation of the New Source Review section of the Clean Air Act. As part of the agreement, Cinergy will spend $1.4 billion to install state-of-the-art pollution controls at 10 coal-fired power plants in Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky. It is estimated that the plant upgrades will reduce the company’s annual sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide emissions by 400,000 tons and 100,000 tons, respectively. The company also agrees to pay an $8.5 million fine and complete $21 million in environmental projects. [Cinergy Corp., 12/21/2000; Environmental Protection Agency, 12/21/2000; Associated Press, 12/21/2000]