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Profile: William (“Bill”) Johnston
William (“Bill”) Johnston was a participant or observer in the following events:
Branch Davidian Livingstone Fagan leaves the besieged compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993). He is the last Davidian to leave before the final conflagration (see April 19, 1993). The FBI apparently believes that its “stress escalation measures” (see March 21, 1993 and March 22, 1993) are driving the Davidians out of the compound. That evening, the FBI shines floodlights into the compound and, over the loudspeakers, begins playing tapes of previous negotiations and messages from Davidians who have left the compound (see March 22, 1993). In the hours after midnight, agents begin playing exceedingly loud music (see March 21, 1993) and taped sound effects (including the sounds of rabbits being slaughtered), angering some of the Davidians inside the compound. Assistant US Attorney William Johnston of Waco writes a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, complaining about the methods the FBI is employing to resolve the siege. [Moore, 1995; Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Assistant US Attorney William Johnston writes a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno, stating that he believes Justice Department officials may have withheld information from her about the FBI’s use of incendiary tear-gas canisters during the assault on the Branch Davidian compound (see April 17-18, 1993 and August 25, 1999 and After). “I have formed the belief that facts may have been kept from you—and quite possibly are being kept from you even now, by components of the department,” he writes. Johnston is the Justice Department’s assistant US attorney in Waco, Texas. [New York Times, 9/14/1999] As recently as a month ago, Reno told reporters that she knew nothing of the use of incendiary devices during the assault (see July 29, 1999). Over a year later, Johnston will plead guilty to concealing such evidence himself (see November 9, 2000).
Former federal prosecutor William “Bill” Johnston is indicted for obstructing the investigation of special counsel John Danforth, who led a government probe into the Branch Davidian debacle near Waco, Texas (see April 19, 1993, September 7-8, 1999, and July 21, 2000). Johnston, a former US attorney in Waco, is accused of concealing information about the FBI’s use of pyrotechnic CS gas rounds during the final assault on the Davidian compound (see August 25, 1999 and After). Danforth, a former Republican senator, says he preferred to release the investigation report without prosecuting anyone, but says the charges against Johnston are too severe to ignore. “I couldn’t just shrug it off,” Danforth says. Johnston is accused of hiding his notes about the use of incendiary tear gas rounds from the Justice Department and Congress. He is also accused of later lying about the notes to Danforth’s investigators and to the grand jury. Johnston has admitted to hiding his notes, but also helped bring the information about the incendiary gas rounds to the public. “My actions were foolish, regrettable, and wrong, but they were not criminal,” Johnston says. “I can’t confess to concealing the pyrotechnics when I was the government employee most responsible for disclosing them. And I can’t take full blame when there is so much blame to be spread around.” Danforth’s report found no evidence of a widespread government conspiracy to cover up the use of the pyrotechnic gas rounds, but asserted that members of the Justice Department’s prosecution team had failed to give information about the rounds to Davidian defense lawyers during a criminal trial in 1994 (see January-February 1994). The report also criticized two FBI evidence technicians, Richard Crum and James Cadigan, who checked the crime scene for failing to keep notes and giving evasive statements on their findings. Johnston says he hid his notes to protect himself from “enemies” in the Justice Department. “Certain people leaked a memo to the news media making it appear—falsely—that I attended a 1993 meeting at which the term ‘pyrotechnic’ was used,” Johnston says. “In any event, when I uncovered the notes, only days after the memo was leaked, I panicked, because I had just been ordered to place all my trial material in the hands of the people behind the smear campaign. I should have turned those notes over anyway and suffered the consequences, but I didn’t.” Danforth says that two other prosecutors on the trial, Ray Jahns and LeRoy Jahns, knew about the pyrotechnic gas rounds but did not disclose their knowledge. However, Danforth says there is not enough “tangible” evidence against the two to file charges. “There is a difference between what I believe and conclude and what I can prove beyond a reasonable doubt,” he says. [St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/9/2000] Johnston will accept a plea-bargain deal that gives him two years’ probation and 200 hours of community service in return for an admission of guilt. He will tell the court: “Whatever my reason [for withholding his notes], it was wrong. It will never be right to withhold something in fear or panic or whatever reason.” [Associated Press, 6/7/2001] In August 1999, Johnston wrote to Attorney General Janet Reno that he believes unnamed Justice Department officials were concealing evidence from her (see August 30, 1999).
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