Subject: WACO: Clinton press conference Date: Wed, 21 Apr 1993 02:13:01 GMT Here is a pres
Subject: WACO: Clinton press conference
Date: Wed, 21 Apr 1993 02:13:01 GMT
Here is a press release from the White House.
President Clinton's Remarks On Waco With Q/A
To: National Desk
Contact: White House Office of the Press Secretary, 202-456-2100
WASHINGTON, April 20 -- Following are remarks by President
Clinton in a question and answer session with the press:
1:36 P.M. EDT
THE PRESIDENT: On February the 28th, four federal
agents were killed in the line of duty trying to enforce the law
against the Branch Davidian compound, which had illegally stockpiled
weaponry and ammunition, and placed innocent children at risk.
Because the BATF operation had failed to meet its objective, a 51-day
The Federal Bureau of Investigation then made every
reasonable effort to bring this perilous situation to an end without
bloodshed and further loss of life. The Bureau's efforts were
ultimately unavailing because the individual with whom they were
dealing, David Koresh, was dangerous, irrational, and probably
He engaged in numerous activities which violated both
federal law and common standards of decency. He was, moreover,
responsible for the deaths and injuries which occurred during the
action against the compound in February. Given his inclination
towards violence and in an effort to protect his young hostages, no
provocative actions were taken for more than seven weeks by federal
agents against the compound.
This weekend I was briefed by Attorney General Reno on
an operation prepared by the FBI, designed to increase pressure on
Koresh and persuade those in the compound to surrender peacefully.
The plan included a decision to withhold the use of ammunition, even
in the face of fire, and instead to use tear gas that would not cause
permanent harm to health, but would, it was hoped, force the people
in the compound to come outside and to surrender.
I was informed of the plan to end the siege. I
discussed it with Attorney General Reno. I asked the questions I
thought it was appropriate for me to ask. I then told her to do what
she thought was right, and I take full responsibility for the
implementation of the decision.
Yesterday's action ended in a horrible human tragedy.
Mr. Koresh's response to the demands for his surrender by federal
agents was to destroy himself and murder the children who were his
captives, as well as all the other people who were there who did not
survive. He killed those he controlled, and he bears ultimate
responsibility for the carnage that ensued.
Now we must review the past with an eye towards the
future. I have directed the United Stated Departments of Justice and
Treasury to undertake a vigorous and thorough investigation to
uncover what happened and why, and whether anything could have been
dne differently. I have told the departments to involve independent
professional law enforcement officials in the investigation. I
expect to receive analysis and answers in whatever time is required
to complete the review. Finally, I have directed the departments to
cooperate fully with all congressional inquiries so that we can
continue to be fully accountable to the American people.
I want to express my appreciation to the Attorney
General, to the Justice Department, and to the federal agents on the
front lines who did the best job they could under deeply difficult
Again, I want to say as I did yesterday, I am very sorry
for the loss of life which occurred at the beginning and at the end
of this tragedy in Waco. I hope very much that others who will be
tempted to join cults and to become involved with people like David
Koresh will be deterred by the horrible scenes they have seen over
the last seven weeks. And I hope very much that the difficult
situations which federal agents confronted there and which they will
be doubtless required to confront in other contexts in the future
will be somewhat better handled and better understood because of what
has been learned now.
Q Mr. President, can you, first of all, tell us why,
after 51 days, you decided --
Q Mr. President, can you describe for us what it is
that Janet Reno outlined to you in your 15-minute phone conversation
THE PRESIDENT: I can't hear you both. If one will go
first and then the other.
Q Sorry. Can you describe what Janet Reno --
Q Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: I'll answer both your questions, but I
can't do it at once.
Q Can you describe what she told you on Sunday about
the nature of the operation and how much detail you knew about it?
THE PRESIDENT: Yes. I was told by the Attorney General
that the FBI strongly felt that the time had come to take another
step in trying to dislodge the people in the compound. And she
described generally what the operation would be -- that they wanted
to go in and use tear gas which had been tested not to cause
permanent damage to adults or to children, but which would make it
very difficult for people to stay inside the building. And it was
hoped that the tear gas would permit them to come outside.
I was further told that under no circumstances would our
people fire any shots at them even if fired upon. They were going to
shoot the tear gas from armored vehicles which would protect them and
there would be no exchange of fire. In fact, as you know, an awful
lot of shots were fired by the cult members at the federal officials.
There were no shots coming back from the government side.
I asked a number of questions. The first question I
asked is, why now? We have waited seven weeks; why now? The reasons
I was given were the following:
Number one, that there was a limit to how long the
federal authorities could maintain with their limited resources the
quality and intensity of coverage by experts there. They might be
needed in other parts of the country.
Number two, that the people who had reviewed this had
never seen a case quite like this one before, and they were convinced
that no progress had been made recently and no progress was going to
be made through the normal means of getting Koresh and the other cult
members to come out.
Number three, that the danger of their doing something
to themselves or to others was likely to increase, not decrease, with
the passage of time.
And number four, that they had reason to believe that
the children who were still inside the compound were being abused
significantly, as well as being forced to live in unsanitary and
So for those reasons, they wanted to move at that time.
The second question I asked the Attorney General is whether they had
given consideration to all of the things that could go wrong and
evaluated them against what might happen that was good. She said
that the FBI personnel on the scene and those working with them were
convinced that the chances of bad things happening would only
increase with the passage of time.
The third question I asked was, has the military been
consulted? As soon as the initial tragedy came to light in Waco,
that's the first thing I asked to be done, because it was obvious
that this was not a typical law enforcement situation. Military
people were then brought in, helped to analyze the situation and some
of the problems that were presented by it. And so I asked if the
military had been consulted. The Attorney General said that they
had, and that they were in basic agreement that there was only one
minor tactical difference of opinion between the FBI and the military
-- something that both sides thought was not of overwhelming
Having asked those questions and gotten those answers, I
said that if she thought it was the right thing to do, that she
should proceed and that I would support it. And I stand by that
Q Mr. President --
THE PRESIDENT: Wait. Go ahead.
Q Can you address the widespread perception --
reported widely, television, radio and newspapers -- that you were
trying somehow to distance yourself from this disaster?
THE PRESIDENT: No, I'm bewildered by it. The only
reason I made no public statement yesterday -- let me say -- the only
reason I made no public statement yesterday is that I had nothing to
add to what was being said and I literally did not know until rather
late in the day whether anybody was still alive other than those who
had been actually seen and taken to the hospital or taken into
custody. It was purely and simply a question of waiting for events
There was -- I have -- I can't account for why people
speculated one way or the other, but I talked to the Attorney General
on the day before the action took place. I talked to her yesterday.
I called her again late last night after she appeared on the Larry
King Show, and I talked to her again this morning. A President -- it
is not possible for a President to distance himself from things that
happen when the federal government is in control.
I will say this, however. I was, frankly, surprised
would be a mild word, to say that anyone that would suggest that the
Attorney General should resign because some religious fanatics
murdered themselves. (Applause.)
I regret what happened, but it is not possible in this
life to control the behavior of others in every circumstance. These
people killed four federal officials in the line of duty. They were
heavily armed. They fired on federal officials yesterday repeatedly,
and they were never fired back on. We did everything we could to
avoid the loss of life. They made the decision to immolate
themselves. And I regret it terribly, and I feel awful about the
But in the end, the last comment I had from Janet Reno,
is when -- and I talked to her on Sunday -- I said, now, I want you
to tell me once more why you believe -- not why they believe -- why
you believe we should move now rather than wait some more. And she
said, it's because of the children. They have evidence that those
children are still being abused and that they're in increasingly
unsafe conditions, and that they don't think it will get any easier
with time -- with the passage of time. I have to take their word for
that. So that is where I think things stand.
Q Can we assume then that you don't think this was
mishandled in view of the outcome, that you didn't run out of
patience? And if you had it to do over again, would you really
decide that way?
THE PRESIDENT: No -- well, I think what you can assume
is just exactly what I announced today. This is a -- the FBI has
done a lot of things right for this country over a long period of
time. This is the same FBI that found the people that bombed the
World Trade Center in lickety-split, record time. We want an inquiry
to analyze the steps along the way. Is there something else we
should have known? Is there some other question they should have
asked? Is there some other question I should have asked? Can I say
for sure that no one -- that we could have done nothing else to make
the outcome come different? I don't know that. That's why I want
the inquiry and that's why I would like to make sure that we have
some independent law enforcement people, not political people, but
totally non-political, outside experts who can bring to bear the best
evidence we have.
There is, unfortunately, a rise in this sort of
fanaticism all across the world. And we may have to confront it
again. And I want to know whether there is anything we can do,
particularly when there are children involved. But I do think it is
important to recognize that the wrong-doers in this case were the
people who killed others and then killed themselves.
Q Mr. President, were there any other options
presented to you for resolving this situation at any point from
February 28th until yesterday?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, yes, I got regular reports all
along the way. There were lots of other options pursued. If you go
back -- you all covered it very well. The FBI -- you did a very good
job of it. I mean, the FBI and the other authorities there pursued
any number of other options all along the way, and a lot of them
early on seemed to be working. Some of the children got out, some of
the other people left. There was a -- at one point, there seemed to
be some lines of communication opening up between Koresh and the
authorities. And then he would say things and not do them and things
just began to spin downward.
Whether there were other -- in terms of what happened
yesterday, the conversation I had with the Attorney General did not
involve other options except whether we should take more time with
the present strategy we were pursuing -- because they said they
wanted to do this, because they thought this was the best way to get
people out of the compound quickly before they could kill themselves.
That's what they thought.
Q Did the government know that the children did not
have gas masks?
Q congressional hearings once the situation -- are
you in agreement with that?
THE PRESIDENT: That's up to the Congress. They can do
whatever they want. But I think it's very important that the
Treasury and Justice Departments launch this investigation and bring
in some outside experts. And as I said in my statement, if any
congressional committees want to look into it, we will fully
cooperate. There is nothing to hide here. This was probably the
most well-covered operation of its kind in the history of the
Go ahead, Sarah.
Q There are two questions I want to ask you. The
first is, I think that they knew very well that the children did not
have gas masks while the adults did, so the children had no chance
because this gas was very -- she said it was not lethal, but it was
very dangerous to the children and they could not have survived
without gas masks. And on February 28th -- let's go back -- didn't
those people have a right to practice their religion?
THE PRESIDENT: They were not just practicing their
religion, they were -- the Treasury Department believed that they had
violated federal laws, any number of them.
Q What federal laws --
THE PRESIDENT: Let me go back and answer -- I can't
answer the question about the gas masks, except to tell you that the
whole purpose of using the tear gas was that it had been tested; they
were convinced that it wouldn't kill either a child or an adult but
it would force anybody that breathed it to run outside. And one of
the things that I've heard -- I don't want to get into the details of
this because I don't know -- but one of the things that they were
speculating about today was that the wind was blowing so fast that
the windows might have been opened and some of the gas might have
escaped and that may be why it didn't have the desired effect.
They also knew, Sarah, that there was an underground
compound -- a bus buried underground where the children could be
sent. And they were -- I think they were hoping very much that if
the children were not released immediately outside that the humane
thing would be done and that the children would be sent someplace
where they could be protected.
In terms of the gas masks themselves, I learned
yesterday -- I did not ask this fact question before -- that the gas
was supposed to stay active in the compound longer than the gas masks
themselves were to work. So that it was thought that even if they
all had gas masks, that eventually the gas would force them out in a
nonviolent, nonshooting circumstance.
MS. MYERS: Last question.
Q Mr. President, why are you still saying that --
Q Could you tell us whether or not you ever asked
Janet Reno about the possibility of a mass suicide? And when you
learned about the actual fire and explosion what went through your
mind during those horrendous moments?
THE PRESIDENT: What I asked Janet Reno is if they had
considered all the worse things that could happen. And she said --
and, of course, the whole issue of suicide had been raised in the
public -- he had -- that had been debated anyway. And she said that
the people who were most knowledgeable about these kinds of issues
concluded that there was no greater risk of that now than there would
be tomorrow or the next day or the day after that or at anytime in
the future. That was the judgment they made. Whether they were
right or wrong, of course, we will never know.
What happened when I saw the fire, when I saw the
building burning? I was sick. I felt terrible. And my immediate
concern was whether the children had gotten out and whether they were
escaping or whether they were inside, trying to burn themselves up.
That's the first thing I wanted to know.
Q Mr. President, why are you still saying it was a
Janet Reno decision? Isn't it, in the end, your decision?
THE PRESIDENT: Well, what I'm saying is that I didn't
have a four- or five-hour, detailed briefing from the FBI. I didn't
go over every strategic part of it. It is a decision for which I
take responsibility. I'm the President of the United States and I
signed off on the general decision and giving her the authority to
make the last call. When I talked to her on Sunday, some time had
elapsed. She might have made a decision to change her mind. I said,
if you decide to go forward with this tomorrow, I will support you.
And I do support her.
She is not ultimately responsible to the American
people; I am. But I think she has conducted her duties in an
appropriate fashion and she has dealt with this situation I think as
well as she could have.
Thank you. (Applause.)
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