Hillary Clinton and the Chain of Command at Waco

Many politicians have a skeleton in their closet. Hillary Clinton has a cemetery, with a sign reading “Waco.”

The 1993 Waco showdown began when federal authorities rushed the communal home of a religious group, killing six of them, and losing four agents in return. The FBI then besieged the place with tanks and other armored vehicles, and ended up with the armored vehicles punching holes in the building, and injecting massive quantities of CS “tear gas.” When that didn’t work, the tanks began to demolish the building, eventually smashing about a quarter of it and damaging the remainder. A fire broke out and 74 people died in the flames, including twenty-one children. It was the deadliest law enforcement operation in American history.

After the tragic debacle, the Clinton administration claimed that Attorney General Janet Reno had been solely responsible for the final assault. There had been no White House input during the siege, and at the end, President Clinton only acquiesced in a decision Reno had made.

Twenty-three years later, there are substantial reasons to doubt the truth of these claims. The evidence is strong that the Clinton White House was calling the shots, and that Hillary played a prominent role.

The first evidence of this came when Vincent Foster, Deputy Counsel to the president and close friend of both Clintons, was found dead in Fort Marcy Park, outside D.C. The cause was attributed to suicide. When the FBI asked Mrs. Foster what might have most stressed her husband, she cited the travel office scandal and Waco. The FBI 302 report noted “LISA FOSTER believes that FOSTER was horrified when the Branch Davidian complex burned. FOSTER believed that everything was his fault.”

But why would Foster have felt guilty -- let alone to the point of despair -- over a decision Janet Reno had made without White House input? How could he have thought “everything was his fault”?

A second piece of information surfaced after a FOIA lawsuit forced release of a videotape made during the siege. In it, an FBI supervisor tells his men that critical decisions are being “made in the White House,” and passed through “that guy Hubbell, Hummel, whatever his name is.”

Webster “Webb” Hubbell had been Hillary Clinton’s law partner back in Arkansas. Bill Clinton had just appointed him Associate Attorney General, the number three man at Justice. But the FBI supervisor is quite specific: Hubbell is not calling the shots, but relaying decisions “made in the White House.” Who in the White House was giving Hubbell his marching orders?

Linda Tripp, White House secretary and Foster associate, described the real Waco chain of command in an on Larry King Live: “[Vincent] Foster, Mrs. Clinton, Webb Hubbell, Janet Reno” – and she described their reaction to the fire and the fiery deaths of 21 children:

L. TRIPP: [A] special bulletin came on [CNN] showing the atrocity at Waco and the children. And his face, his whole body slumped, and his face turned white, and he was absolutely crushed knowing, knowing the part he had played. And he had played the part at Mrs. Clinton's direction.

Her reaction, on the other hand, was heartless. And I can only tell you what I saw.

Foster had a special Waco file. Deborah Gorham, his personal secretary, said that he had a cabinet reserved for his most sensitive files: “There were two. One was Sean Hadden [a White House staffer], and the other was Waco.”

After his death, Foster’s Waco file somehow vanished. Secret Service Agent Henry O’Neil later testified before a Congressional committee that on the night of Foster’s death he encountered Maggie Williams leaving Foster’s office with two handfuls of folders. Williams denied removing any files, and when called upon to explain her presence in Foster’s office that night, claimed she had gone “in the irrational hope that she would find her colleague still alive there.”

Did Hillary call the shots at Waco? If she did, it would explain another great mystery.

By his second term, Clinton had absolutely no use for Janet Reno. Journalist Taylor Branch wrote that Clinton “fairly howled” when describing Reno’s actions, and “said he had not been able to trust her for four years.” (Clinton’s primary upsets were Reno’s appointment of independent counsel to investigate his administration’s many scandals -- the firing and framing of the White House travel office staff, the Whitewater investment scandal, the death of Vincent Foster, the abuse of FBI files, Waco, and Clinton’s sexual affair with Monica Lewinski. It would never occur to Clinton to blame himself for creating the scandals, rather than Reno for dealing with them.). Yet Clinton said he “felt stuck with Reno, despite his resentments…”

Stuck with her? He was the president, and just re-elected. One phone call could have removed her. Presidents commonly change cabinet members, especially at the end of a first term. In his eight years, Clinton had two Secretaries of State, three Secretaries of the Treasury and of Defense, and four Secretaries of Commerce.

But the cabinet official Clinton most resented and distrusted became the longest-serving Attorney General in 150 years. (She is topped only by William Wirt, who served 1817-1829.)

Dick Morris, then Bill Clinton’s advisor, felt that Reno had kept her job by threatening to tell the truth about Waco. But who could the truth then have damaged? By Clinton’s second term, Foster was dead and Hubbell in prison for fraud. Of the chain of command Ms. Tripp described, only one person was left, and vulnerable:

Hillary Clinton.

David T. Hardy is an attorney who blogs at www.armsandthelaw.com. He and the late Mike McNulty played major roles in reopening the Waco controversy in 2000.

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