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Ashcroft, senators offer plans to investigate FBI

By From Terry Freiden
CNN Washington Bureau

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft Wednesday called for a single extensive Justice Department investigation of FBI practices by top Department officials, which would include an FBI management examination by an outside firm.

Ashcroft's action came as two key lawmakers introduced legislation that would create an outside blue ribbon panel to examine the FBI, and as the Senate Judiciary Committee was launching a review of the FBI's problems.

In a memo to his deputy Larry Thompson, Ashcroft said the "Strategic Management Council" made up of several top Justice officials should make recommendations to him on FBI improvements by the end of this year, and be able to use results of other investigations already in progress.


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Ashcroft called for his Council, which will include the new FBI Director, to commission the FBI management study by a private firm which would have to be completed by November 1.

In an effort to consolidate the growing examination of the FBI, Ashcroft called for the investigation by William Webster on counterintelligence matters and the Inspector General's probe of the Hanssen case and McVeigh document debacle, also to be wrapped up by November 1.

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The internal Justice "Strategic Management Council" which would make the final recommendations by January 1, is made up of the Deputy Attorney General, Associate Attorney General, Assistant Attorney General for Administration, Director of the Bureau of Prisons, the heads of the FBI, DEA, and INS, and the Attorney General's Chief of Staff.

Ashcroft's memo came less than an hour after two Senators, a Democrat and a Republican introduced legislation calling for a "blue ribbon" commission of top law enforcement experts to conduct a thorough review of the problem-plagued FBI.

Senators Charles Schumer, D-New York, and Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, introduced a bill calling for a one-year "top-to-bottom review" of the FBI by a ten-member panel appointed by Congress and the President.

The proposal comes in the wake of criticism stemming from the FBI's failure to provide all of the documents from the Oklahoma City bombing investigation to lawyers.

The FBI's record-keeping and data retrieval problems would be among the areas the commission would examine, the senators said.

The inquiry would also include a review of accountability of FBI agents, how the FBI conducts investigations, how it interacts with other law enforcement agencies, and whether the FBI's structure and organization need to be changed.

"The truth is it's high time for a top to bottom review," Schumer told reporters at a Capitol Hill press conference. "We have to treat the disease, not just the symptoms," he said.

Schumer said the commission would attempt to look forward, not backward, but acknowledged it will have to determine why the FBI was repeatedly under fire for the Oklahoma bombing documents, the Wen Ho Lee investigation, the Robert Hanssen spy case, crime lab problems, along with the raids at Waco and Ruby Ridge.

"We cannot let our respect for the FBI blind us from the fact the FBI has sometimes come up short of our expectations," Hatch said.

The lawmakers praised outgoing FBI Director Louis Freeh who is stepping down from his post this week. They declined comment on the expected nomination of U.S. Attorney Robert Mueller to head the FBI, but said the commission's work should be helpful "to whoever the new Director is".

The lawmakers said the commission would be able to conduct a far more detailed investigation than they plan to conduct. The Senate Judiciary Committee is holding the first of a series of hearings to look into how the FBI polices itself, and its troubled document production practices today.

Among those scheduled to testify is William Webster who has already assembled an outside team to examine the FBI's counter-intelligence practices in the wake of the Hanssen spy case.

The senators said the Justice Department and FBI had "indicated a willingness to explore this proposal" for a blue ribbon commission.

However, the Justice Department's hurried release of the Ashcroft memo just minutes before the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing indicated the Justice Department and the Senators favor significantly different approaches to investigating FBI practices.


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