In what some on Capitol Hill are calling a surprising decision, Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., has given the nod for hearings into the long-debated question of whether those responsible for the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building had help from any foreign source.
Spurred to action by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., Hyde has given Rohrabacher’s Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee of the House International Relations Committee the wide-ranging authority to conduct interviews and subpoena documents related to the April 19, 1995, terrorist attack that left 168 dead, 19 of them children.
Interviewed Wednesday, Rohrabacher confirmed that his nearly two-year-long personal investigation into the Oklahoma City tragedy had finally received the necessary support for an official congressional investigation.
“Congressman Hyde has approved my request for hearings into the OKC bombing. The congressional investigation will be limited to our area of focus, which is whether there was a foreign connection to the conspiracy,” Rohrabacher explained.
“I think we know what we’re looking for and I expect complete cooperation from the witnesses we call and the agencies we look to for documents.”
Rohrabacher then emphasized his office would keep the public informed about the level of cooperation his subcommittee receives during the official phase of the investigation.
“I must be able to assure the families of the victims of this horrible crime that their government cooperated with our investigation,” the congressman said. “That is very important to our oversight responsibilities.”
Arab terrorist link?
Forecasting the areas of particular interest the congressional investigation could take, Rohrabacher promised to look carefully for any evidence linking the cabal to Arab terrorists and or to a German national in this country illegally in 1995, Andreas Carl Strassmeir.
In his letter seeking authority for hearings, Rohrabacher wrote: “It is highly likely that the Arab connection and/or the Strassmeir connection played a significant role in the planning and execution of the murderous bombing of the OKC federal building. In both possible scenarios, the official investigation fell short and further investigation has been discouraged ever since.”
Specifically, Rohrabacher said that Terry Nichols’ trips to the Philippines would be examined for links to a theory that he was actually meeting with Middle East radicals who were providing him with support.
“I also will call witnesses who say they saw (convicted conspirator Timothy) McVeigh with Arabs in Oklahoma City,” he told this newspaper.
Elohim City connection
Rohrabacher also noted that much of the investigation would focus on a spate of documents recently unearthed during a Freedom of Information lawsuit in Salt Lake City, Utah.
While attempting to piece together evidence in the mysterious death of his inmate-brother in August of 1995 at the Oklahoma City Federal Transfer Center, attorney Jesse Trentadue has sued the Oklahoma City FBI office for documents that might shed light on the inmate’s bizarre demise while locked up in a suicide-proof cell.
While the documents obtained in the suit have been heavily redacted, they do appear to link Strassmeir to a foiled “sting operation” involving the federal government, McVeigh, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Oklahoma City bombing conspiracy.
In possession of those documents as well, Rohrabacher said he and his staff are convinced there are important facts about the bombing hidden under by the FBI’s redactions and he wants un-redacted copies for his staff to examine.
Among the witnesses the committee intends to call is Danny Coulson.
Coulson was one of five FBI commanders assigned the original investigation into the bombing. Only a few weeks into the case, though, all five suddenly were removed to make room for Danny Defenbaugh.
Still harboring doubts about the FBI’s official version of the bombing case, that only McVeigh and Nichols were largely responsible for the crime, Coulson said today, “I’m very much in favor of this investigation by Congress. We need to look very closely at why the five FBI commanders originally assigned the case were pulled off.”
“The FBI needs to answer to the Congress why they shut down their own investigation into Strassmeir and Elohim City. Why did their total investigation into Strasssmeir consist of two ASUSAs (assistant United States Attorneys) calling Strassmeir’s flat in Berlin a couple of times? He never should have been allowed to leave here without a more thorough series of interviews, face-to-face, by FBI agents trained in those skills.”
Long a subject of interest by this paper, Strassmeir’s name only began to circulate in the media months after the bombing, when this newspaper discovered that he was the person McVeigh was calling at a terrorist training camp in eastern Oklahoma, called Elohim City.
Months later, the newspaper reported the former German military officer was being closely monitored by the Tulsa office of Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
Only weeks before the bombing, the BATF had learned Strassmeir was working with others on a plot to bomb a federal building in Oklahoma City. However, the FBI stepped in to thwart his arrest when the BATF sought an arrest warrant from the Tulsa U.S. attorney’s office.
Several months ago a judge in Salt Lake City ordered the FBI to turn over to Trentadue documents indicating there were informants at Elohim City at the time of the bombing that worked for a private charity – the Southern Poverty Law Center, or SPLC.
According to those teletypes, SPLC informants were present at Elohim City April 17 when McVeigh contacted the compound, looking for additional help in the bomb plot.
However, the FBI blacked out much of the person’s name with whom then-FBI Director Louis Freeh said McVeigh was closely associated. In the past, the FBI vehemently has denied McVeigh had any close associates at the camp.
Strassmeir was the compound’s paramilitary instructor from 1993 until August of 1995.
Since the bombing, over a half-dozen of Strassmeir’s associates at Elohim City have gone to prison for bank robbery, conspiracy to overthrow the government and murder. None, however, were ever charged in the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City.
Strassmeir left the United States in early 1996. In one of the teletypes issued by Freeh, the director appeared to know where Strassmeir was staying in the U.S. and of plans Strassmeir was making to return to Germany through Mexico.
Days after Freeh’s memo was issued, Strassmeir did indeed cross the Mexican border and make his way to Berlin with the assistance of former CIA pilot Dave Holloway.
Neither Holloway nor his associate, attorney Kirk Lyons of North Carolina – who paid for the pair’s trip – were ever charged with aiding Strassmeir’s flight. At the time of Strassmeir’s escape, he was listed as an illegal overstay by the INS and wanted by the ATF for illegally carrying a firearm in the U.S.
Believing him to be “armed and dangerous” at the time, the OKBOMB task force even contacted the INS and asked that Strassmeir be stopped at the border and held for questioning in the bombing case. This was the same week Freeh told several offices Strassmeir was staying in North Carolina with Lyons.
Safely back in Germany for many weeks, it was only after Strassmeir’s name was linked to McVeigh by this newspaper and others that two Justice Department lawyers in Denver called Strassmeir in Berlin, twice, to ask about any contacts he may have had with McVeigh and the bombing.
During those brief interviews, Strassmeir admitted over the phone that he may have met McVeigh at a gun show in Tulsa once, but he also assured prosecutors he did not help with the bomb plot.
In the wake of the tragedy, the FBI had available several well-qualified commanders with extensive experience in major case investigations to lead and complete the investigation.
However, a man with much less investigative experience, Danny Defenbaugh, replaced the original five experienced FBI commanders who initially had been assigned to the case.
With the original five commanders off the OKBOMB case, considerable criticism has since been leveled at the job Defenbaugh did while heading up the FBI’s most expensive investigation in U.S. history.
In spite of two dozen eyewitnesses that placed McVeigh with others in downtown Oklahoma City that day and $85 million that was spent putting together a case that sent two men to jail and one to the death chamber, only McVeigh and army buddy Terry Nichols were charged. Also imprisoned, Michael Fortier admitted his involvement in the conspiracy and agreed to cooperate with the FBI in return for a lighter sentence.
Jurors in both cases in Denver, plus a grand jury in Oklahoma City, said they doubted the FBI had gotten everyone involved.
In 2001, more than 4,000 pages of FBI interviews and other evidence never shown the defense teams for McVeigh or Nichols were discovered on the eve of McVeigh’s execution.
The discovery caused McVeigh’s execution to be put on hold and the fiasco quickly led to the sudden resignation of Defenbaugh.
Beyond a congressional investigation, Coulson believes the magnitude of the tragic attack that left 168 dead and 500 injured also warrants the appointment of an experienced federal prosecutor to look into all of the evidence and the use of a federal grand jury to facilitate the investigation.
“Based upon my investigation following the bombing of the Murrah building on April 19, 1995, and these new documents from the FBI turned up in the Utah case, it’s clear to me further investigation is required,” he said.
Referring to the documents uncovered during the FOIA lawsuit and the large number of witnesses the FBI interviewed after the bombing that placed McVeigh in the company of others at key points in the conspiracy, Coulson observed, “The totality of this information very strongly indicates there are others involved and not charged who were involved at least in conspiratorial acts.
“Families of victims and the American people deserve answers to many unanswered questions,” he said.
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