A former FBI headquarters manager was accused Tuesday of obstructing justice by destroying all traces of an internal critique.
The apparent plea bargain with E. Michael Kahoe might lead to coverup charges against some of the four other suspended FBI officials who remain under investigation for their role in shootings at the remote cabin of white separatist Randy Weaver. These include former Deputy Director Larry Potts, who supervised the case from headquarters.
A one-count felony information was filed by federal prosecutors here against Kahoe, who headed the FBI’s violent crimes section at the time of the standoff. The charge carries a top penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine.
The filing of a criminal information rather than a grand jury indictment usually means the defendant has agreed to plead guilty and cooperate with investigators. A Justice Department official, requesting anonymity, could not offer any reason for this case to depart from that practice.
No court date was set immediately.
FBI spokesman Bill Carter had no comment. Kahoe could not immediately be reached.
During the FBI’s August 1992 standoff with Weaver, a bureau sniper shot and killed Weaver’s wife, Vicki, and wounded Weaver and a friend, Kevin L. Harris. The FBI got involved after Weaver’s son, Samuel, and a deputy U.S. marshal, William F. Degan, were killed in gunfire Aug. 21 as marshals scouted for a way to arrest the elder Weaver for failing to appear in court on gun-sale charges.
“The government needs to prosecute those who issued the rules of engagement that resulted in the death of these people,” said Weaver’s lawyer, Gerry Spence. “The federal government is good at diverting our attention away from the real case” and toward a coverup case.
The government charged that between January and April 1993, Kahoe destroyed a written FBI “after action critique” so that it would not be available to prosecutors when Weaver and Harris were tried on charges of killing Degan. They were later acquitted.
The Constitution requires prosecutors to give the defense any government information that might help clear defendants, in this case, Weaver and Harris.
The government charged that Kahoe not only destroyed his copies of the report but ordered an unidentified subordinate at FBI headquarters “to destroy all copies of the Ruby Ridge after action critique and to make it appear as if the Ruby Ridge after action critique never existed.”
A key issue is who approved the controversial “shoot on sight” policy for snipers at the siege. Potts and the FBI’s field commander at Ruby Ridge, Eugene Glenn, have disagreed under oath over whether Potts approved it. Glenn claimed Potts ordered that agents “could and should” shoot to kill any armed adult male spotted in the open, but Potts denied saying “should.”
Later, FBI Director Louis Freeh — who took office a year after the shootings — concluded the FBI sniper was not following this order. But he nevertheless revised FBI weapons policies to preclude shooting except where necessary to prevent harm or injury.
Potts attorney, Dan Webb, said, “Potts never saw the after action report and had nothing to do with preparing or destroying it. Kahoe has no information harmful to Potts.”
Kahoe was in charge of gathering the main FBI participants in the standoff at a headquarters review conference on Nov. 2, 1992. He ordered the preparation of a written critique based on comments at the conference, and he helped edit it, the government said.
The government said Kahoe and other FBI executives refused to give federal prosecutors copies of FBI documents about the case in early until the Justice Department ordered them to do so. But Kahoe then withheld the after action critique from the material turned over, the government charged.
Kahoe and five other top FBI officials were suspended, when the case was referred to prosecutors. By then, Kahoe was head of the FBI office in Jacksonville, Fla.
Last June, one of the suspended agents, Anthony A. Betz, was cleared and returned to duty as assistant chief of the Baltimore FBI office. During the Ruby Ridge standoff, Betz was a unit chief in the criminal investigative division at headquarters.
The others still suspended with full pay are:
–Danny O. Coulson, Potts’ deputy during the siege.
–Gale Richard Evans, a violent crimes unit chief at headquarters at the time.
–George Michael “Mike” Baird, an inspector’s aide on a team that conducted an internal investigation of the incident in 1993-94.