WASHINGTON -- One of the eager conservative Republicans who swept into Washington on an anti-government tide last fall has been caught up in the far-reaching fallout surrounding the Oklahoma City bombing.
Freshman Rep. Steve Stockman of Texas has been thrust into the limelight to explain how he received an anonymous fax about the bombing as well as his own links to anti-government militia groups.
Mr. Stockman, a vehement opponent of gun control who used the issue to unseat Jack Brooks, the formidable chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, last fall, staged news conferences in Washington and his home state yesterday to explain what he did with a cryptic note his office received around the time of the bombing.
Mr. Stockman and his staff denied that they had delayed passing the note, which seemed to convey information about the Oklahoma blast, to the FBI.
But they faced troublesome questions about why Mr. Stockman's staff also gave the note to the National Rifle Association and why Mr. Stockman wrote in March to the Justice Department objecting to what he said was an impending federal raid on "citizen militia" groups, apparently akin to the kinds of anti-government groups that seem to figure in the background of suspects in the Oklahoma bombing.
On March 22, Mr. Stockman sent a letter to Attorney General Janet Reno inquiring about a raid against "citizens militias groups" that he had been told was planned for March 25 or 26.
"A paramilitary-style attack against Americans who pose no risk to others even if violations of criminal law might be imputed to them would run the risk of an irreparable breech between the federal government and the public, especially if it turned out to be an ill-considered, poorly planned but bloody fiasco like Waco," Mr. Stockman wrote, alluding to the 1993 face-off between the Branch Davidians and federal officials.
In Washington, Jeff Fisher, Mr. Stockman's chief of staff, called it an "oh-by-the-way" letter written to the Justice Department in response to a request by a constituent. But in a separate news conference in Beaumont, Texas, Mr. Stockman said he wrote the letter at the request of "the NRA and other groups."
Initial reports about Mr. Stockman's receipt of information about the Oklahoma bombing had suggested that he received the fax before the bombing, had delayed sending it to the FBI and shared it with the NRA first.
"There has been some confusion in the media over when my office received this fax and when we turned it over to the FBI," Mr. Stockman said. "There has been no confusion in my office. We turned it over right away."
The cryptic fax read: "First update. Bldg 7 to 10 floors only. Military people on scene -- BATF/FBI. Bomb threat received last week. Perpetrator unknown at this time. Oklahoma."