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The Rohrabacher Test 

Congressman questions Terry Nichols about Oklahoma City bombing

Thursday, Jul 7 2005
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After weeks of cancellations and rescheduling, a much-anticipated meeting between convicted Oklahoma City bomber Terry Nichols and Representative Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA) finally took place last week. Early Monday morning, Rohrabacher, accompanied by two staff aides, traveled from Orange County to Florence, Colorado, for his interview with Nichols at Florence ADMAX, a small federal super-maximum-security prison. Nichols’ court-appointed attorney for his 2004 trial on Oklahoma state murder charges, Brian Hermanson, was scheduled to be there as well, but he didn’t make the trip. The prison is located on a desolate stretch near the mountains, about 45 miles from Colorado Springs. Nichols is serving a life sentence without the possibility of parole for his role in the April 19, 1995, bombing. The meeting lasted two hours, and produced some intriguing new information about the bombing plot, Nichols’ relationship with Timothy McVeigh, and his involvement with Roger Moore, a gun dealer Nichols had claimed was a co-conspirator. Rohrabacher, as chairman of the congressional Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, has vowed to examine whether there was a wider conspiracy and Middle East connection to the bombing. The congressman says he was led to believe that Nichols would identify other co-conspirators, but that didn’t happen. “I went there expecting that I would come away with four or five specific names of people, who Nichols claimed were involved in the bombing. But he wouldn’t give me any. I got no names. It was disappointing.” Nichols, Rohrabacher says, appeared calm throughout the interview and willing to answer his questions. “Of course, that doesn’t mean he answered a lot of my questions with any substance.” Spurring Rohrabacher’s interest in the Oklahoma City bombing is The Third Terrorist, a book written by Jayna Davis, a former KFOR-TV reporter in Oklahoma City who investigated the bombing. Davis, who turned up possible witnesses and evidence of a Middle East and Philippines connection to McVeigh and Nichols, as well as the potential identity of the elusive John Doe No. 2, has provided information to Rohrabacher for his investigation. Rohrabacher said Nichols recalled hearing McVeigh talk about “Arabs or Middle Eastern people,” he was supposedly dealing with in Oklahoma City. “But he said he didn’t remember the context in which McVeigh mentioned them. He said that McVeigh used to talk about his connections when they were driving. That’s when he mostly heard McVeigh talk about the Middle Easterners,” he says. “But he also said he was kind of sleepy and not paying real close attention,” adds Rohrabacher. “He also says he never met any of those Arabs or Middle Easterners and he didn’t know their names.” Nichols said nothing to “discredit” the information and theory developed by Davis that Middle Eastern individuals in Oklahoma City were involved in the bombing. “He could have done that but he didn’t,” said Rohrabacher. At one point Nichols even said, “[Davis’] theory could be correct. But he offered no specifics.” Rohrabacher says that he knows Nichols might be hiding the truth. “I just don’t know what is true and what is a lie with him.” In the coming weeks, Rohrabacher will evaluate his information to see if he has enough to warrant convening a congressional hearing on the bombing. To do so, he’ll need the support of U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), the chairman of the House Committee on International Relations, to which Rohrabacher’s subcommittee reports. “He has to give hearings his OK,” adds Rohrabacher. “If my subcommittee has hearings, we will need evidence of foreign involvement like the material assembled by Davis.” During his interview, Rohrabacher said that Nichols admitted robbing Arkansas gun dealer Roger Moore of explosives. According to Rohrabacher, Nichols said he “stole the explosives from Roger Moore and put it there [the house he was renting in Kansas].” Press accounts of the March 31, 2005, FBI raid on Nichols’ former residence reported the explosives were found in a crawlspace of the house. Rohrabacher said Nichols said he was “sorry” he robbed Moore. The FBI recovered the explosives after being tipped off by Gregory Scarpa, a convicted Columbo family gangster, housed at the same prison as Nichols. Scarpa also reportedly claimed that Nichols wanted the explosives found because he feared another bombing. Nichols’ admission to Rohrabacher of stealing the explosives contradicts Nichols’ earlier claims that Moore, a friend of McVeigh’s, freely gave explosives to the executed killer for use in the Oklahoma City bombing. Nichols had included that charge in a letter he wrote to Kathy Sanders, who lost two grandchildren in the Oklahoma City attack. Previously, Nichols had also publicly claimed that Moore was a co-conspirator in the bombing, a charge Moore vehemently denied in a number of recent interviews. Moore told reporters he answered all the FBI’s questions and even passed two polygraph tests to prove his innocence. The FBI supports Moore’s denial. After Sanders released Nichols’ letter, an FBI press spokesperson told the media they had no information tying Moore to the bombing. Moore also testified against Nichols at his trial. Some of Davis’ witnesses, who were also interviewed by the Weekly, alleged that McVeigh had stayed at a motel near Oklahoma City the night before the bombing. They also said that McVeigh was accompanied by a number of Middle Eastern–looking men who left with him the morning of the bombing. Those people included one man who rode with McVeigh in the Ryder truck out of the motel’s parking lot. This allegedly was the elusive John Doe No. 2, who the FBI has since claimed never existed. Davis later zeroed in on Hussain Al-Hussaini, an Iraqi national living in Oklahoma City, who matched one of the FBI drawings of John Doe No. 2. These witnesses later identified Al-Hussaini’s picture as the man they saw with McVeigh. Rohrabacher said Nichols wouldn’t “speculate” about John Doe No. 2. But he added that Nichols did say, “He thought other people were involved. There’s at least somebody involved.” The congressman also said that Nichols claimed he didn’t know McVeigh was going to blow up a building and kill people. “He thought McVeigh might blow up an empty building to make a statement but not kill people.” Nichols, according to Rohrabacher, did nothing to shed light on the lingering mystery of where McVeigh spent the night before the bombing. The FBI was never able to confirm McVeigh’s whereabouts. There have also been long-standing allegations that Nichols learned bomb-making skills from Ramzi Yousef, a terrorist convicted of masterminding the bombing attack against the World Trade Center in 1993. That bomb was placed in a van that was parked in the building’s garage. Yousef, who’s currently being held at the same prison as Nichols, was based in the Philippines. He is a radical Islamist and an associate of Osama Bin Laden. The investigation of that attack and subsequent investigation of Nichols revealed that both men were in the Philippines at the same time. Richard Clarke, the terrorism expert who worked in the White House under Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush and later became a critic of the Bush administration, included this allegation in his book, Against All Enemies. Clarke wrote that the theory of Nichols getting training in the Philippines intrigued him because he could never disprove it. “We do know that Nichols’ bombs did not work before his Philippine stay and were deadly after he returned.” Stephen Jones, McVeigh’s defense attorney in his federal trial, also emphasized this point. “Tim couldn’t blow up a rock. Then Terry goes to the Philippines and Tim says he builds the bomb.” Clarke also writes that the government discovered that “Nichols continued to call Cebu [City] long after his wife returned to the United States.” And Clarke adds that al Qaeda operatives had attended a “radical Islamist conference a few years earlier in Oklahoma City.” Rohrabacher said Nichols denied any involvement with Yousef and al Qaeda. Nichols had traveled to the Philippines to find a wife and later married a Filipino woman. He told Rohrabacher his calls were only to her family. And he denied learning any bomb-making techniques there. This was all “baloney,” Rohrabacher reports Nichols saying. But Davis reports in her book that McVeigh’s attorney obtained a sworn statement from Daisy Legaspi, who served as Nichols’ tour guide in the Philippines, that Nichols made his desire to connect with bomb-makers well known to her. “Terry asked me if I knew someone who knows how to make bombs,” Legaspi stated. Legaspi said she rebuked him for asking her such a “stupid” question. And Nichols’ father-in-law, a Filipino police officer, also told Jones’ investigators that he found books on bomb-making and explosives in the luggage Nichols brought to the Philippines. Rohrabacher said an FBI agent accompanied his team during the visit. The agent, he says, sat behind them taking notes. “The prison made the presence of the FBI agent a condition of the visit,” explained Rohrabacher. “I didn’t see any problem with it, since I figured the prison was taping my phone conversation with Nichols anyway.” Rohrabacher, his aides and the agent crammed inside one of the small, glass-encased visiting rooms for the interview. Nichols, dressed in a khaki shirt and pants, was brought into the area. Rohrabacher says Nichols looked relatively healthy. “I guess as healthy as you can expect being a prisoner in that place,” he adds. Nichols, separated by three inches of bulletproof glass, sat across from Rohrabacher and the other visitors. “Nichols appears to be a very meek and timid kind of person, who was controlled by McVeigh, but I don’t think he’s as meek as he tried to appear to me. Either way he’s a mass murderer who was involved in a really horrendous crime. So I don’t have any sympathy for him,” says the congressman. Nichols’ mother, Joyce Wilt, appears to agree with the congressman’s take on her son’s personality. She told the Weekly that her son cooperated with McVeigh because he was “scared to death.” She said that McVeigh, whom she called a “worthless freeloader,” was always “threatening to kill him and his family if he didn’t do what he told him. Terry told me he was always flashing a gun at him.” Wilt also said that on April 1, 2005, the day after they found the hidden explosives, two FBI agents turned up on her doorstep and questioned her other sons about the hidden explosives. “They accused James of being involved, an innocent man.” Then, a few days before the April 19 anniversary, the FBI turned up again, she said. This time agents told her that Terry and all his family members were being threatened by inmates at the prison because they believed Terry was a snitch. “They said they were here to protest us and stayed outside about three days. Then they left because nothing happened. But I don’t know if that was true,” she said. Wilt lays the blame for any threats against Terry and his family, if they are real, on the FBI. On June 9, Nichols was subpoenaed by a federal grand jury reportedly looking into the hidden explosives. His appearance caused the cancellation of one of the meetings, scheduled with Rohrabacher on June 10. Nichols declined to testify before the grand jury. So why would Nichols finally agree to meet with Rohrabacher? The answer is not clear. Wilt says her son wants to cooperate with Rohrabacher because “he wants an independent investigation to get to the truth.” And he believes telling what he knows will help protect him and his family. Nichols has expressed similar sentiments in letters he’s recently written. He’s also claimed to have found Jesus and publicly apologized in the Oklahoma courtroom for his role in the attack. Nichols also declined to appeal his sentence in Oklahoma. As for Rohrabacher, he said he has always been bothered by the questions surrounding an alleged wider conspiracy. “A lot of things don’t smell right. I’m just following the stench.” He also insists he’s doing this with an open mind. “I only want to find out what’s true, and I will follow the evidence wherever it leads me. I may be calling hearings if we have enough evidence.” Rohrabacher went public with his questions on the Oklahoma City bombing on April 19, the 10th anniversary of the attack. In a speech on the House floor, he demanded to know if the bombing was an “active investigation or not.” He also asked how this could be an open case if the government let McVeigh, the “primary witness,” be executed. The congressman also railed against the refusal of the Justice Department to release nearly two dozen surveillance tapes taken from cameras on buildings near the Murrah Federal Building if the case was closed. Rohrabacher then detailed some of the findings of Davis’ investigation and the alleged Middle East connection. And he cited several of Davis’ witnesses he interviewed and said they seemed very credible. “I think they have some information that needs to be followed up, so we can discover whether it’s true, or mistaken information from well-meaning people,” he told the Weekly. The Weekly confirmed with two of Davis’ witnesses — a motel owner and a bartender — that Rohrabacher had in fact interviewed them. According to the bartender, who previously hasn’t spoken to any reporters but Davis, Rohrabacher asked her to tell him about the night a few days before the bombing when McVeigh came into her bar. She told the congressman that a man she later identified as McVeigh came in, accompanied by a second man who appeared to her to sound and look Middle Eastern. They stayed about three hours. She said McVeigh talked to her and “the dancers,” and that the other guy didn’t say much until the two men were leaving, at which point he asked her if she was married. FBI agents questioned the bartender during a door-to-door search for witnesses a couple days after the bombing. During questioning, she identified McVeigh from a photograph and also said a sketch of John Doe No. 2 looked like the man who was at the bar with McVeigh. After his Nichols interview, Rohrabacher told the Weekly that he had sent a letter to the FBI director and received a response. “The FBI has assigned a liaison team to work with me and answer my questions,” said Rohrabacher. Rohrabacher also approached former CIA director James Woolsey for his opinion of Davis’ witnesses. In a phone interview with the Weekly, Woolsey said he told Rohrabacher that he found the witness statements accumulated by Davis to be credible. “I made two points to [Rohrabacher]. Look at the multiple natures of the interviewees. And secondly, these people have no motive to lie. They’re not trying to become famous or get rich,” Woolsey said. “I grew up in Oklahoma. And these people [witnesses] seem like the normal, down-to-earth folks I grew up with.” Rohrabacher reiterated to the Weekly that his investigation is still ongoing. “I will continue to pursue this until I hit a stone wall or get [my questions] answered. I haven’t made any decisions on hearings yet.”

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