The Feds Under Fire

WHEN THE RICHARD JEWELL CASE finally collapsed in a sad, ugly heap last week, FBI Director Louis Freeh announced two investigations into the mess. One probe will explore what role, if any, agents had in leaking Jewell's name after the July 27 pipe bombing. But the second one could boomerang back to Freeh himself. Under extraordinary pressure from agency officials in Washington, Atlanta agents lured Jewell to its local headquarters three days after the explosion under the pretense that they wanted help with a training video. What they really wanted, according to Jewell's lawyers, was to interview him without spooking him into calling his lawyer. Was this a questionable tactic? Perhaps. Was it illegal? No one is sure.

What is clear is that Freeh himself played an extraordinary hands-on role in the entire Jewell investigation. NEWSWEEK has learned that top FBI executives even monitored the phony interview from the command center in the Hoover building and funneled questions while it was in progress. A senior FBI official says that ""this was a significant case, and Freeh keeps close tabs on all significant cases.'' No one has asserted that Freeh actually knew about the plan to trick Jewell out of his rights. But he may have a difficult time wiping his fingerprints from what one FBI agent called ""an unhealthy investigative environment.''

Freeh was once the Clinton administration's golden boy, a ""law-enforcement legend,'' in the president's words. But in recent months, that legend has been tarnished. From the Jewell case to Filegate to the inconclusive TWA Flight 800 investigation, Freeh's FBI has been under siege. Earlier this month, he was reduced to sending teletypes to the bureau's 56 field offices to counter rumors he'd soon be out of a job. If that wasn't bad enough, last week a top FBI official pleaded guilty to obstructing justice in the infamous 1992 Ruby Ridge case. Freeh has had plenty of success. Oklahoma City, the bloodless Freemen standoff and the World Trade Center prosecutions have made him popular with politicians; rank-and-file investigators are still impressed by his celebrated record as an FBI ""brick agent.'' But the recent controversies cast long shadows.

The most serious incident may be last week's guilty plea by E. Michael Kahoe, a top FBI supervisor who admitted shredding internal documents critical of the agency's handling of the Ruby Ridge case. Kahoe is expected to implicate more colleagues as he cooperates with the Justice Department probe. Ruby Ridge occurred before Freeh took over, but it continues to haunt him. NEWSWEEK has learned that investigators spent seven hours last week questioning Eugene Glenn, one of two agents who fingered Freeh's friend Larry Potts as the person who approved the controversial shoot-to-kill order that resulted in the death of Randy Weaver's wife. Congressional sources say that Sen. Arlen Specter will hold Ruby Ridge hearings after the election.

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Freeh may get a boost from next year's trials of the alleged Oklahoma City bombers. It's an opportunity for the FBI to showcase its investigative prowess and ability to catch criminals while adhering to the law. Yet even that case could be marred by allegations of FBI misconduct. NEWSWEEK sources say that another Justice Department review will likely criticize misleading and biased statements made by an FBI explosives expert in the World Trade Center case. If the allegations prove true, the investigator--who also conducted key tests in Oklahoma City--may become too controversial to be called as a government witness in the upcoming trial. That might send Freeh to the teletype all over again.

The Feds Under Fire | News