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White House Furious with FBI

Sunday, 13 May 2001 12:00 AM

"The FBI doesn't tell us s---," fumed one administration official to Newsweek. "I mean, this is only the biggest case in the world."

But Newsweek has learned that top legal officials in the administration also failed to give the information top priority, delaying for another day the moment that President Bush was informed.

Acting Deputy Attorney General Robert Mueller was leaving a meeting in the office of White House Counsel Alex Gonzales about the logistics of the McVeigh execution when he mentioned, almost as an aside, "There's a problem that has come up involving some documents that weren't turned over," according to a report in the current issue of Newsweek.

Mueller had just learned about it a few hours earlier in a conversation with a Justice Department press officer. He had not yet reported it to Attorney General John Ashcroft and didn't tell his boss until the next day, report Assistant Managing Editor Evan Thomas and Investigative Correspondent Michael Isikoff.

Gonzales didn't inform President Bush or top White House aides. Instead, he flew home to Austin to see the swearing-in of his successor on the Texas Supreme Court, Newsweek reports.

Mueller explained that he didn't have all the facts about the missing documents when he talked to Gonzales, and that he apologized to Ashcroft for keeping him in the dark for a day.

Gonzales told Newsweek: "I was left with a clear impression that [Mueller] didn't believe this would be a problem -- that it had absolutely nothing to do with the guilt or innocence of Timothy McVeigh." As for not telling Bush, Gonzales noted that any decision about McVeigh's fate was Ashcroft's to make, not Bush's. "We're very sensitive to wasting the president's time."

Some Justice Department officials were immediately skeptical about the suggestion that the FBI headquarters found out about the problem only a few days before it exploded on the evening news. Telling Newsweek that Justice had only "sketchy" information about what really went on in the FBI, one official wryly added, "Volumes of documents don't assemble themselves."

An FBI official told Newsweek that Danny Defenbaugh, head of the FBI's Dallas office, became aware of the problem in April and asked to start reviewing documents. "We were not going to turn these over blindly. We're a law-enforcement agency. We needed to know what was in those documents," said the official. Most of the 3,000 pages are "totally irrelevant to the case," said this official. "There is nothing there that would be remotely exculpatory."

The report about the Oklahoma City documents and the McVeigh case is part of the May 21 Newsweek cover package "Evil: What Makes People Go Wrong?" (on newsstands Monday, May 14). The cover story explores the scientific research into the psychology that produces the worst of human behavior.

While the enormity of McVeigh's crime sets him apart from others, the belief among scholars from fields as diverse as sociology, psychology, philosophy and theology is that most people have the capacity for unspeakable acts. Senior Editor Sharon Begley reports in the cover story that researchers continue to study why, if the roots of evil are within everyone, it only becomes a reality in some people.

The explanations are biological, as well as cultural. Studies of sociopaths have found that abuse during childhood can leave a physical trace on the developing brain, assaulting it with a constant barrage of stress hormones, Begley reports. The result is that a child can become inured to stress and, indeed, to most feeling, leaving him unable to perceive another's distress -- a key factor in many acts of apparently inhuman violence. Neuroscientists who have studied violent felons have found patterns of abnormalities in the regions of their brains that control mood, temper and judgment.

Those who have grown up amidst violence and cruelty are more susceptible to ideologies that dehumanize others in favor of the self, a precursor for complicity in acts of brutality against whole groups of hated people, Begley reports.

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The FBI doesn't tell us s---, fumed one administration official to Newsweek. I mean, this is only the biggest case in the world. But Newsweek has learned that top legal officials in the administration also failed to give the information top priority, delaying for...
Sunday, 13 May 2001 12:00 AM
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