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web posted July 3, 2000

Judge denies Waco suit dismissal

The "ground was dancing" from the bullets that whizzed from the Branch Davidian compound as agents tried to approach it for the first time, 51 days before the compound was destroyed in a deadly fire, a federal agent testified June 29 in a wrongful death case against the government.

"I heard a loud boom and I fell face forward and had been shot in my chest. I thought, 'You need to get up, these guys are shooting bullets at you ... this isn't a game,"' said Eric Evers, an agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.

Evers was among the first witnesses called by government attorneys as they began presenting their defense in the $675 million wrongful death case filed by raid survivors and Davidian family members.

Plaintiffs' attorneys wrapped up their case earlier that day.

Evers, who was shot in the forearm and whose bulletproof vest blocked the two shots to his chest, testified he never pulled the gun from his holster as he lay bleeding in a ditch near the compound for two hours on Feb. 28, 1993.

"I was too scared to move from where I was," he said. "The ground was dancing and bullets whizzed by."

Eventually, sect members and the government reached a cease-fire. Once the cease-fire had been called, Evers, still laying injured, said he remembered hearing someone yell: "Leave our women and children alone! You got four minutes to get out or else!"

Four agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms and six Davidians died in the raid designed to serve search and arrest warrants on sect leader David Koresh.

Government attorney Marie Hagen then questioned ATF agent Kris Mayfield, who testified he saw Koresh standing unarmed at a door of the complex as agents approached the building.

Seconds later, Koresh entered the building, closed the double doors behind him and gunfire broke out, Mayfield said.

Hagen showed jurors the left side of the battered door which was riddled with 13 bullet holes. Nine holes were from outgoing and four were from incoming shots, she said.

Earlier, a military official testified that three surveillance helicopters were shot at as they approached the compound during the raid.

"One of the pilots made a call that he was taking fire and started to turn away from the compound," testified Air Force Col. William G. Petit, who was a passenger in one of the helicopters. "It took me by surprise because we were not anticipating any fire from the compound."

Government lawyers presented jurors with a gashed metal panel from the rear of Petit's helicopter that supposedly was caused by a bullet shot from the compound.

Under cross-examination Petit conceded he could not tell whether the gunfire came from sect members or from friendly fire from other agents.

Plaintiffs claim that during the initial raid federal agents fired indiscriminately.

They also allege that on the day the siege ended, federal agents violated an approved plan when they had tanks punch holes in the building to spray tear gas, contributed to or caused at least some of the three fires that engulfed the compound, and failed to have firefighting equipment at the scene.

After plaintiffs rested their case, U.S. district Judge Walter Smith without comment denied government attorneys' request to dismiss the case.

U.S. Attorney Michael Bradford claimed that evidence presented since June 19 when the trial began failed to prove the government shares responsibility for the deaths of more than 80 people killed in the raid and seven weeks later on the final day of the sect's standoff with the government.

Bradford estimated the government could wrap up its case in two weeks.

A five-member jury will act only as an advisory panel to Smith, who will deliver the verdict. Separately, Smith will consider the question of whether federal agents shot at Davidians during the siege's fiery end.

Senators move to open up 'stealth PACS' with lopsided vote

The Senate voted overwhelmingly on June 29 to require full disclosure by those anonymous, tax-exempt political groups known as "527s," acting perhaps in time to affect the November elections.

The measure passed the Senate by a 92-6 vote, and would be the first overhaul of federal campaign finance law in more than two decades.

The bill would require such groups to disclose the identities of their officers to the Internal Revenue Service; report all campaign-related spending in excess of $500; and disclose the names of people who contribute more than $200 to the organization. President Clinton has said he will sign the bill, and supporters urged that it be sent immediately to the White House for his signature.

The legislation's Senate backers included Arizona Republican John McCain, Connecticut Democrat Joseph Lieberman and Wisconsin Democrat Russell Feingold, sponsors of a wider-ranging campaign finance bill that has been stymied in the upper chamber. McCain said the 527 bill was a first step toward broader reforms.

"This bill will not solve what is wrong with our campaign finance system," he said. "It will not do away with the millions of soft money dollars that are polluting our elections. We must yet undertake the task of doing away with soft money and make our government more accountable to the people we represent."

The bill passed the House of Representatives the day before by a 385-39 vote.

Many Republicans who oppose campaign finance limits on First Amendment grounds support disclosure of contributors. Others, such as House Majority Whip Tom DeLay, R-Texas, who has his own "527" organization, argue that a disclosure requirement violates the First Amendment because it intimidates tax-exempt groups.

Sen. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the Republicans' chief critic of campaign finance laws, called the measure an unconstitutional restriction of free speech and downplayed its affect.

"How many significant pieces of legislation have passed the Congress, the Senate, 92-6?" he said after the vote. "I rest my case."

McConnell had urged his colleagues to vote for the bill, saying a 'no' vote would be difficult to defend to constituents. He predicted that it would be challenged in court and eventually struck down.

"I do not think this is a spear worth falling on, shall I say, four months in advance of an election," he said.

The Senate still must vote again on the measure for procedural reasons.

Arkansas Supreme Court committee files suit to disbar Clinton

In a disciplinary action never before taken against a sitting U.S. president, a Arkansas Supreme Court panel filed suit to strip Bill Clinton of his license to practice law

"The conduct of Mr. Clinton ... was motivated by a desire to protect himself from the embarrassment of his own conduct," the Arkansas State Supreme Court Committee on Professional Conduct declared in its five-page lawsuit, filed on June 30 at about 3:45 p.m. (4:45 p.m. EDT) with the Pulaski County Circuit Court clerk in Little Rock.

Clinton has 30 days to respond.

The committee recommended in May that Clinton's Arkansas law license be withdrawn, in the wake of accusations he gave misleading testimony under oath in the Paula Jones case.

That deposition, made January 17, 1998, became the basis of an independent counsel investigation, and the president's impeachment.

The president's attorneys said they plan to fight the disbarment.

"We fundamentally disagree with the complaint filed today and will vigorously defend against it," said Clinton's attorney, David E. Kendall.

The case has been randomly assigned to Circuit Court Judge John Ward. Unless he recuses himself, he will decide when to schedule the case.

Judge Ward is a former Democratic state representative who was in office while Clinton was Arkansas governor. Ward is expected to schedule a hearing this week.

Marie-Bernarde Miller, a lawyer and former nun who this year successfully argued to remove a sitting judge from office, was selected to handle the state's case.

This is the first time an effort has been made to disbar a sitting president. New York pulled Richard Nixon's law license, but that came after he resigned the presidency August 9, 1974, during the Watergate scandal.

One Arkansas legal expert believes the state Supreme Court's Committee of Professional Conduct intends to make an example of Clinton by taking such an unusually harsh step.

In the past, the committee has sought to disbar only those attorneys who were convicted of serious offenses such as drug-related matters and fraud, said John DiPippa, who teaches at the University of Arkansas Law School in Little Rock.

"It may simply be that the committee considered ... disbarment necessary to send a message," DiPippa said.

DiPippa said that in Arkansas anyone can file a complaint with the state Supreme Court panel.

Most complaints are screened by the panel's executive director, who has "a lot of discretion to push complaints forward or even settle," DiPippa said. He said the punishment ranges from a private letter of caution to disbarment.

When the professional conduct committee met May 19, eight of the panel's 14 regular and auxiliary members recused themselves -- five citing ties to Clinton or the Democratic Party -- and the remaining six members said Clinton should no longer carry an Arkansas law license.

Clinton said his lawyers had told him that if he were to be treated like other lawyers, there would be "no way in the world" that he could lose his license.

Perot will not seek Reform Party presidential nomination

Ross Perot will not run for the Reform Party's nomination for president in 2000, his political strategist said June 30.

Instead, Perot is asking the nominating committee to put the term "no endorsement" in lieu of his name, strategist Russ Verney said. That would allow Reform Party members to endorse no one.

Conservative commentator Pat Buchanan is the front-runner for the party's nomination.

Verney said the Texas billionaire decided against running in the primary because he had no intention of actually competing for the White House against Republican George W. Bush and Democrat Al Gore.

In a June 30 letter to Michael Farris, chairman of the party's presidential nominations committee, Perot said, "If the Reform Party nominates me, I cannot appear on enough general election ballots to have a chance to be elected president.

"If your committee determines that my candidacy can be listed on the nomination ballot as 'No Endorsement' to allow a meaningful vote to members of the party who believe the other qualified candidates do not represent the Principles of Reform, I agree to be a candidate," Perot said in the letter.

"A 'No Endorsement' vote would mean there is no national nominee of the Reform Party," Perot added. "If your committee determines that the rules do not allow my candidacy to be listed as 'No Endorsement', I decline the opportunity to seek the Reform Party's presidential nomination."

Perot has been the Reform Party's presidential standard bearer for the past two elections.

Elian returned but marches continue

Fidel Castro defiantly warned the next U.S. president July 1 not to try to defeat his socialist revolution, as the Cuban government launched a new series of mass demonstrations after Elian Gonzalez's return.

"Whoever may be the new president of the United States should know that Cuba is and will be here with its ideas, its example, and the unbendable rebellion of its people," Castro wrote in a letter read before hundreds of thousands of people gathered to protest U.S. policies. "All aggression and attempts to asphyxiate us and reduce us to our knees will be conquered."

Led by Gen. Raul Castro, head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces and Fidel Castro's younger brother, a sea of people vigorously waved small red, white and blue Cuban flags.

"Those who think we are ending should know that we are beginning!" Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told the Cubans who massed in this southeastern coastal city for the first large rally organized since Elian's low-key homecoming a few days earlier.

Perez Roque congratulated Cuban citizens on their success in the return of Elian and his father to the communist country, eliciting a huge cheer from the crowd, which the government estimated at more than 300,000. "It is a victory of the people!" he declared.

The government has promised repeatedly in recent months that once the boy returned, the marches, rallies and televised round-table discussions would go on.

This time, though, the events will focus not on the 6-year-old, but on U.S. immigration policies and trade sanctions that the Cuban government says harm its people.

Castro also wrote that Cubans don't care who wins the coming presidential elections in the United States and said that candidates are wasting their time trying to win the Cuban-American vote.

"It is useless to invest unnecessary time in the declarations and promises made against Cuba to obtain the vote of just a few people who have no country of their own, who even dare to step on and burn the American flag," Castro said. He was referring to the angry actions of some Cuban exiles in Miami after the federal raid that reunited Elian with his father in April.

In rare comments to reporters afterward, Raul Castro said that media coverage of the battle over Elian had helped Americans better understand Cuba and its people. Because of that increased understanding, "the second chapter will also be a triumph," he said.

"More and more there are thousands of American tourists coming to Cuba," said Raul Castro, first in the line of succession after his brother. He also noted increased American interest in doing business with Cuba.

Cuba organized more than 100 such rallies in the seven months that Elian was in the United States, calling out hundreds of thousands of Cubans from around the country to show popular support for bringing the boy home.

The gatherings have been used occasionally as a showcase for Americans sympathetic to Cuba. On Saturday, the son of death-row inmate Mumia Abu-Jamal, Mazi Jamal, thanked Cubans for supporting his father's attempts to obtain a new trial.

Abu-Jamal was convicted of murder in the 1981 shooting death of a Philadelphia police officer, but maintains his innocence and the case is under appeal. "With that support I know my father will one day be free as your child Elian is free," Jamal said.

Elian and his family remained out of public view during the protest. They are staying at a specially prepared boarding school in Havana, where they will live for two or three weeks along with Elian's classmates and teachers. Later, they will return to their hometown, a small port city east of Havana.

Cuba blames a U.S. law called the Cuban Adjustment Act for the international custody battle over Elian. After he was hospitalized following his rescue from the Atlantic Ocean in late November, Elian was allowed to stay in the United States under the 1966 law, which allows Cubans who reach American soil to seek permanent residency.

Cuba maintains the policy encourages Cubans to make risky voyages across the Florida Straits, such as the one that Elian embarked on with his mother and 12 others.

Flight tests show Iraq has resumed a missile program

Iraq has restarted its missile program and has conducted flight tests of a short-range ballistic missile, The New York Times reported July 1.

The tests -- eight since as early as May 1999, including one on June 27 -- have involved Al Samoud, a liquid-fueled ballistic missile that could carry conventional explosives or the chemical and biological weapons that Iraq is still suspected of hiding, according to Clinton administration and military officials cited by the newspaper.

"We're starting to see things up and functioning," Gen. Anthony C. Zinni, the commander of American forces in the Persian Gulf region.

The tests come eight months after American and British warplanes badly damaged Iraqi President Saddam Hussein's missile factories after Iraq halted all cooperation with international inspectors searching for nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and the missiles that can carry them. Iraq had agreed to forsake those weapons as a condition for the United States and its allies ending the Persian Gulf war in 1991.

The new missile's range, shorter than that of the Russian-made Scud missiles fired at Israel and Saudi Arabia during the war, does not pose a significant threat to Iraq's neighbors or American forces in the region, officials said. But those officials view the testing as evidence that Iraq is still working to perfect its ballistic missile technology, which could be adapted to longer-range missiles, the Times said.

"What he (Hussein) learns from these tests, the technological developments and the other things he picks up, are transferable to longer-range missiles," said Zinni.

With a range under 95 miles, the new missile does not violate United Nations restrictions.

Officials told the Times the new missile did not appear to be ready for deployment, adding that American satellites, radar and aircraft monitoring the test flights had found significant problems with Al Samoud -- which in Arabic means resistance.

"They can't get the guidance to work right. They can't get the engines to work right. It's not close to going into production, but they are persistent," said one unnamed official cited by the newspaper.

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