Copyright (c) 1996, Roanoke Times

DATE: Wednesday, October 23, 1996            TAG: 9610230062
SOURCE: The Washington Post


Federal prosecutors charged a former high-ranking FBI official Tuesday with obstructing justice in the Ruby Ridge case by destroying an internal critique of the deadly Idaho siege and ordering a subordinate to make it appear the document ``never existed.''

The accusations were leveled in a criminal information filed in U.S. District Court here against E. Michael Kahoe, an FBI headquarters official who helped supervise the bloody 1992 standoff and was subsequently assigned to critique the agency's performance. The case represents the first action by a special federal prosecutor who has been investigating allegations of a high-level cover-up within the FBI of its conduct in one of the worst law enforcement debacles in recent years.

The filing of an information is often the prelude to a guilty plea, but U.S. Attorney Michael R. Stiles declined to comment on whether Kahoe has entered a cooperation agreement with the government or what might come next.

``We are continuing to work hard and carefully on this matter,'' Stiles said. But he said he could not predict when the inquiry would be concluded.

The charge carries a top penalty of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine. No court date was set. FBI spokesman Bill Carter had no comment. Kahoe could not immediately be reached.

Still under investigation in connection with a possible cover-up, and like Kahoe suspended with pay, are the FBI's former No. 2 official, Larry Potts, who was promoted by FBI Director Louis Freeh despite concerns about his role in the Ruby Ridge affair; Danny Coulson, former FBI deputy assistant director for the criminal division, and Gale Richard Evans, a former chief of the violent crimes unit under Kahoe, also remain under scrutiny.

All were in the FBI's chain of command in Washington, D.C., on Aug. 19, 1992, when the confrontation began with a gunfight with federal marshals about a half-mile from white separatist Randy Weaver's mountainside cabin. A federal marshal, William Degan, and Weaver's 14-year-old son Sammy were killed.

The next day, an FBI sniper, acting under permissive ``rules of engagement,'' killed Randy Weaver's wife, Vicki, as she stood in the cabin doorway with her baby in her arms.

Randy Weaver and a family friend, Kevin Harris, were subsequently tried on federal murder charges for Degan's death and were acquitted by a jury convinced that the government was the culprit. Most jurors agreed that the marshals fired first, killing the Weavers' dog and provoking the gunbattle.

A special Justice Department task force concluded after the trial that the FBI failed to turn over needed documents to prosecutors and thus impaired the case against Weaver and Harris.

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