Attorney General Janet Reno immediately recognised the catastrophic failure of the FBI operation, and offered her resignation to President Bill Clinton, but he refused to accept it, just “because some religious fanatics murdered themselves.”
Over the next six months, a number of official investigations were conducted into the events surrounding the siege at Waco, with most concluding that the ATF, the FBI and other agencies had acted within the bounds of their authority. It appeared that the evidence about arms manufacture, upon which the initial warrants had been sought, was sound, and there was no clear understanding why Koresh, who had offered access to ATF officials readily in July 1992, had reacted so violently to the attempt to search the premises in February 1993.
These investigations were played out endlessly in the media, and the public were largely divided about which side had precipitated the chain of catastrophic events.
During the criminal trials of 11 surviving Davidians, on charges of conspiring to commit the murder of the ATF agents, which commenced on 10th January 1994, their defence team argued successfully that the Davidians were acting in self-defence. When returning their verdict on 26th February 1994, the jury acquitted four of the eleven completely, finding the others guilty of far less serious charges. The media hailed this as a public indictment of the government’s mishandling of the affair, whilst Reno maintained that it vindicated the official version of events, but there is little doubt that the failure to make the charges stick was an embarrassment to both the Justice Department and the ATF.
On 21st March 1994, the surviving Davidians, and relatives of the deceased, launched a $100 million wrongful death suit against the federal government.
On 17th June 1994 the Branch Davidians who had been found guilty in February were given severe prison sentences by U.S. District Court Judge, Walter Smith, despite the jury’s inclination towards leniency, receiving sentences of up to 40 years in prison.
By the time of a public enquiry by The House of Representatives, during July and August 1995, Janet Reno’s testimony held Koresh entirely responsible for the deadly events of 19th April, despite her previous admission that the attack by the authorities had been a mistake, accompanied by her offer to resign. The investigating committee found her decision to approve the tank assault was “premature, wrong and highly irresponsible”. She continued to serve as Attorney General.
On 18th January 1997 the film ‘Waco: The Rules of Engagement’, was released at the Sundance Film Festival, and the technical expert filmed claimed that an analysis of Infra Red images showed clearly that numerous gunshots were fired at the complex, on the morning of 19th April, despite FBI claims that only teargas was fired by the assembled agents.
On 9th September 1999, amidst continuing ongoing public unease about whether the FBI, the ATF and the Department of Justice had deliberately suppressed evidence about the Waco massacre, Attorney General Reno appointed a former Missouri senator, John C. Danforth, as a special prosecutor. He was tasked with investigating whether the federal government had engaged in misconduct at Waco, and then tried to cover up its actions.
In the meantime, the wrongful death suit brought by the Davidian survivors in March 1994 was delayed at every turn, with the FBI and ATF delaying the release of information pertinent to the case. After a federal judge ruled that neither the FBI nor ATF had deliberately destroyed evidence, it finally came to court on 18th June 2000, but the jury were unconvinced by the claims of the defendants. They ruled, on 14th July 2000, that federal officials were not responsible for the Mt. Carmel deaths. The case was officially dismissed on 20th September 2000.
Despite unearthing evidence that the FBI had definitely known about Koresh’s intention to start fires, which they had earlier denied, and evidence that showed conclusively that the FBI had fired gunshots on the day, also denied previously, and a host of procedural errors and cover-ups, Danforth’s February 2001 report essentially exonerated the federal government of any wrongdoing. The only person prosecuted by Danforth’s enquiry was a federal prosecutor, Bill Johnson, who was charged with concealing information relating to the use of pyrotechnic devices on 19th April 1993.
Subsequent unofficial analyses indicate that the Danforth enquiry had been less than scrupulous in pursuing a full and frank enquiry, perhaps in the interests of maintaining the public’s faith in the federal government. The Danforth enquiry, which had been set up to quell public fears of a federal conspiracy, came to be viewed as part of the conspiracy, by sections of the media and a significant proportion of the American public.
The debate was effectively silenced by the departure of the Democratic Party from power, in early 2001.