A federal judge has ordered the FBI to investigate allegations the agency intimidated a witness into not testifying at a recent Freedom of Information trial related to evidence in the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168 people.
This new court order, issued Aug. 26 by U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups, marks the second time in a month Waddoups has instructed the FBI to investigate itself over allegations of witness tampering in the case brought by Salt Lake City lawyer Jesse Trentadue.
Waddoups has now scheduled a Nov. 13 hearing on the matter, in which Trentadue accuses the FBI of threatening to eliminate a former undercover agent’s health benefits if the agent took the stand to testify against the government.
The former agent, John Matthews, reportedly met convicted bomber Timothy McVeigh while working undercover for 10 years in the FBI’s Operation PATCON, which focused on infiltrating rightwing militia groups during the 1990s.
Trentadue had lined up Matthews to testify during last month’s trial in the Freedom of Information suit he filed against the FBI in 2008. He alleges in the suit that the agency has not turned over all of the videotapes it has of the events leading up to and including the detonation of the bomb on April 19, 1995, that killed 168 people in the Alfred P. Murrah federal building.
But at the last minute, Matthews, a Vietnam veteran who is terminally ill with cancer, backed out.
“He was told he should take a vacation and that if he did testify he should suffer from a case of the ‘I don’t remembers,’” Trentadue told the judge back in July.
Trentadue said Matthews was threatened by the FBI with the loss of his disability and other veteran benefits if he took the stand and testified honestly.
The FBI disputes this and claims that Matthews contacted them, asking how he could get out of his commitment to testify.
According to court documents, Matthews planned to testify that he believed the FBI was monitoring bomber Timothy McVeigh in the days and weeks leading up to the bombing — information that Trentadue believes the agency wants to suppress. He believes the videos will show a second man in the truck with McVeigh and that second man could have been an undercover government agent.
“Mr. Matthews also told me that exposing the fact that he had been threatened by the FBI would be ‘good insurance’ against any future retaliation against him from the bureau,” Trentadue said in a sworn statement filed at the federal court in Salt Lake City.
Trentadue’s sworn statement continues:
“During that conversation, Mr. Matthews related to me the events leading up to his refusal to testify, including the name of the FBI agent who had contacted him, Adam Quirk. Mr. Matthews told me that he was first contacted by Agent Quirk after the Court denied defendants’ Motion in Limine designed to keep Mr. Matthews from testifying. According to Mr. Matthews, Agent Quirk had called him several times, telling him that it would be best for everyone if he did not testify. Agent Quirk told Mr. Matthews to take a vacation so that he could not be subpoenaed, and if he was subpoenaed that Mr. Matthews should answer questions put to him about PATCON with ‘I don’t recall.'”
FBI attorney Kathryn Wyer told Waddoups at Monday’s hearing that Trentadue’s allegations have no basis in fact, dismissing them as “another one of [his] conspiracy theories.”
But Waddoups, in his Aug. 26 court order obtained by WND, was not ready to dismiss Trentadue’s allegations.
“The court agrees that, with the information provided in the two sworn Declarations provided by Plaintiff (Trentadue), one of which by Plaintiff himself as an officer of the court, the current record at least permits a reasonable inference of wrongdoing by Defendant (the FBI) or its agents in influencing Mr. Matthews not to testify.”
Waddoups cited possible violations of a federal rule of evidence which serves as “a prophylactic rule to deal with abhorrent behavior ‘which strikes at the heart of the system of justice itself.'”
Waddoups further stated in the court record that if Trentadue’s allegations of witness tampering are proven to have merit under cross examination at the Nov. 13 hearing, then the bench trial that was held last month could be reopened with Matthews ordered to appear on the witness stand.
“This would have implications for Plaintiff’s proffer of Mr. Matthews’s testimony in the bench trial – possibly requiring, as Plaintiff has requested, the reopening of the bench trial for the limited purpose of allowing Plaintiff to put into evidence his proffer as to what Matthews told him about PATCON.”
Waddoups said that any attempt by a defendant, in this case the FBI, “to persuade a witness not to testify is properly admissible against him as an indication of his own belief that his claim is weak or unfounded or false.”
Trentadue sued the FBI for alleged violations of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act, claiming the agency has videotapes it failed to turn over that show McVeigh had another man with him in the Ryder truck that pulled up to the Alfred P. Murrah federal building on April, 19, 1995, packed with explosives. This “John Doe No. 2” was spotted by more than 20 witnesses as being with McVeigh in the days leading up to the bombing, and at least half-a-dozen witnesses claim to have seen the two together on April 19, before the bomb was detonated.
The government claims McVeigh acted alone.
Trentadue could not be reached for comment this week about the new court order and the upcoming November hearing and was unresponsive to emails.
The last time he spoke with WND was on Aug. 18 when he said he understood why Matthews would not want to testify after talking with the FBI.
“I understand, he is in bad health and very vulnerable. He is a very brave guy,” Trentadue said. “To do what he did for 10 years he had to be brave. I don’t blame John (for backing out). He said he had to look out for himself.”
Trentadue says he began investigating the bombing to seek justice for his brother, Kenneth Trentadue, 44, who was found hanged in his cell at the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City. He believes his brother, a convicted bank robber who was picked up for parole violations, was mistaken for a suspected co-conspirator in the bombing and died in an FBI interrogation that went awry and was covered up by prison officials.
Trentadue is asking the federal court in Salt Lake City to allow him to search FBI evidence rooms himself for the missing video, as reported earlier by WND.