WASHINGTON - The FBI should discipline the employees who ignored repeated requests to turn over every document related to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing investigation, a senior Senate Democrat told FBI Director Louis J. Freeh yesterday.
Sen. Ernest F. Hollings expressed disbelief that 46 of the FBI's 56 field offices failed to turn over required documents to Timothy J. McVeigh's defense team - despite 16 directives to do so during a six-year period.
"Some heads ought to roll," the South Carolina Democrat said.
Facing a second day of congressional inquiry over the document debacle, which caused Attorney General John Ashcroft to postpone McVeigh's execution until June 11, Freeh again blamed the problem on human error.
"It was a grievous error and one that should not have occurred given the number of requests that were made," Freeh told the Senate appropriations subcommittee that funds his agency.
"The only context in which to place it is the context of volume, in terms of the millions and millions of records that were part of the discovery agreement."
The FBI, which belatedly provided 3,135 pages to McVeigh's lawyers last week and followed that with seven more documents, continued yesterday to review a third batch uncovered this week.
FBI officials refuse to discuss the scope of the latest find while they determine whether the documents should have been turned over to the defense under an unusually broad evidence-sharing agreement struck by prosecutors and the defense before the 1997 trials of McVeigh and co-conspirator Terry L. Nichols.
FBI Special Agent Danny Defenbaugh, who headed the Oklahoma City investigation and notified headquarters last week about the mishandled evidence, has been in Washington briefing officials and working with them to address the latest controversy to buffet the bureau.
McVeigh's lawyers, who are reviewing the documents and consulting with their client, have not announced whether they will head back into court to seek further execution delays or appeals.
Nichols' attorneys have turned to the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing that the failure to provide the documents merits a reconsideration of his conviction for involuntary manslaughter and conspiracy.
The director, whose agency has been rattled by the February arrest of a senior agent on espionage charges and other recent embarrassments, has received little personal criticism over the bungled document production.
One of those corrective measures being taken by Freeh, hiring a records management expert, was dismissed by Hollings.
"Don't hire anybody. Fire some people," the senator said. "Until you do that, they'll play the game."