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I will spend most of this interview wondering if David Schippers is out of his mind. You remember David Schippers. He is the diehard Chicago Democrat hired by the Republicans to prosecute Bill Clinton’s impeachment.
He was the genial, grandfatherly man with the salt-and-pepper beard sitting at the witness table before the U.S. House Judiciary Committee, the lawyer barely concealing his contempt for the President, famously peering over his eyeglasses in a dramatic pause and then declaring, “Life was so much simpler before they found that dress, wasn’t it?”
Life was so much simpler before I interviewed David Schippers. He is sitting behind his desk in his corner office in his Loop law firm, Schippers & Bailey. He is unspooling a wild tale, the one that explains why he is currently a star in the world of right-wing radio, conspiracy theorists, and people who believe the government isn’t telling the truth about the 1995 bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, about the 1996 explosion of TWA Flight 800 off Long Island, and about supposed links between those tragedies and last year’s destruction of the World Trade Center.
“Out of the clear blue sky I get a letter from this woman down in Oklahoma City-‘Dear Mr. Schippers,’” he says. “And then it goes on and on and on about the Oklahoma City bombing.”
As he descends into the fuzzy world of dot-connecting on the fringes, I wonder, How did this come to be? Has he always been like this-or did the impeachment send him off the rails? After all, until then, he was known as a brilliant lawyer and staunchly loyal Democrat-his first cousins, with whom he grew up and remains close, include Joe Lyons, a Chicago Democrat in the state House, and Tom Lyons, chairman of the Cook County Democratic Central Committee. When he was named to the impeachment inquiry, Schippers was almost universally described as possessing “the utmost integrity.”
But in 2000, having voted for Clinton twice, he endorsed Republican rattlebrain Alan Keyes for President. He speaks with admiration of Indiana congressman Dan Burton, who once shot a pumpkin in his backyard to test his conspiracy theory about the suicide of Clinton White House aide Vincent Foster. He loves Ann Coulter, the strident right-wing pundit. And he’s now a “national adviser” to Larry Klayman, the litigious head of a Washington, D.C., watchdog group, Judicial Watch, which was among the fiercest, and strangest, of the Clinton-haters. Klayman once sued his own mother.
So maybe it was the impeachment drama that sent Schippers down loony lane.
This is what I’m thinking as his account moves on to how he met a Chicago FBI agent who says that, long before September 11th, his bosses shut down his investigation into terrorists who would later be found to have a link to Osama bin Laden. Perhaps this agent could have foiled the events of September 11th, Schippers says. He also tells me about his own efforts, based on intelligence he was receiving, to warn the federal government about the likelihood of a terrorist attack in Lower Manhattan months before the World Trade Center was destroyed. And he goes on and on and on about a former Oklahoma TV reporter who claims to have documented a link between September 11th and Oklahoma City, namely the role of bin Laden. This is the woman who in the spring of 2001 sent him the letter that got this story rolling.
“Well, you know, when I was out there in Washington for the impeachment, I heard this conspiracy stuff about Oklahoma City,” Schippers says. So when he got the Oklahoma woman’s letter, he says, “I thought, Here’s another nut. The same ones who will tell you that Bush had the towers pushed down. But she had some specifics in there. I called her. I said, ‘Do you have any evidence?’ And she said, ‘Yes, I’ve got affidavits.’ I’ve got this, I’ve got that.
“Now I’m starting to think, Either she’s nuts, and I’m gonna get a whole load of affidavits in crayon, or the woman’s got something.”
Good-he thought it was nutty, too.
“She was an investigative reporter, so I gave her a little credit. Then she mentions she had been working with the Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare.
“I said, ‘Why don’t you send me what you’ve got.’ She said, ‘I can’t send it. I’m afraid to put it in the mail.’ And I thought, OK, well, why don’t I turn on my radio and you just beam it up here?
“She says, ‘I’ll come up there and bring it to you.’ Now, remember, I was getting calls like this all the time-‘I’ve got information and it’s coming through my fillings,’ and all that. She and her husband turned up about two weeks later.”
“This woman is the best investigator I have ever seen,” he declares. He opens a bureau behind his desk and points to three fat black three-ring binders. “See these three volumes down here? This is what she brought.” The one he pulls out and hands to me says on the cover, “Oklahoma City Bombing, Investigative Evidence, Middle East Complicity, Volume One.”
I am not allowed to see the documents inside. Eventually he gives me the tables of contents for all the volumes, a total of 17 pages, with headings such as “Bodansky e-mails discussing Chicago terrorist training camp implicated in Oklahoma City bombing.” But that comes later. Right now, Schippers still has the binder in his hand.
“So I look at this and I think, Holy shit! You know? And I start paging through it and I see the [pre-September 11th] warning from the task force. I see these affidavits. And there’s stuff in there that nobody knows yet because if people found out, people would get dead.”
And now I’m thinking, Is he serious?
And I see that he is.
* * *
David Schippers is a true believer. Always has been. From his Catholic faith to his (conservative) Democratic politics to his strange cast of clients, Schippers believes. His cases become causes. He practices with the ferocity of a pugnacious defense lawyer and the righteous zeal of a hotshot prosecutor. He reveres law enforcement.
“He said he’d never cross-examine an officer as if he was a liar if he didn’t believe it,” says his son Thomas, a criminal prosecutor in the Illinois attorney general’s office.
And yet Schippers, 72, the religious law-and-order man, has represented a world-renowned porn star and a notorious serial killer. Most of his clients are federal agents or cops, but many of them come to him because they’ve gotten in trouble with their bosses or they’ve been accused of civil rights violations, such as sexual harassment. “I’m not politically correct,” he says.
Schippers is a puzzle. Consider the mix of his office décor, tokens from a strange constellation of people who perhaps would make up his ideal dinner party: signed photos from Robert F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, and plaques inscribed with quotes from Eugene Debs and Teddy Roosevelt. He is a North Side White Sox fan.
The threads in Schippers’s career could form the basis for a decent Oliver Stone flick. Before trying to remove a United States President from office and tying together September 11th, Oklahoma City, and Flight 800, Schippers put Chicago Mob boss Sam Giancana away for a year, and defended a drug enforcement agent who worked for Oliver North and was thus ensnared in the Iran-Contra scandal. Connect those dots.
“My wife always says to me, ‘Whenever anything happens, you’re in the middle of it. Why is that?’” Schippers says. “I have no idea.”
* * *
On September 11, 2001, Schippers was wrapping up his morning routine at the 125-year-old Northbrook home that he and his wife, Jackie, bought in 1964. He had decided to catch the 8:29 Metra train to the city, and was on his way out the door when Jackie called down to him from their upstairs bedroom.
“Dave, for God’s sake, turn on the TV!”
“And I said, ‘What?’” Schippers recalls.
“Just turn it on!” his wife commanded.
“And there’s the first building smoking. And while I watched, here comes the other [plane]. And I thought to myself, My God, this is no accident. And, of course, I knew. This should not have been a surprise.”
It wasn’t to Schippers. The Oklahoma TV reporter had warned him about a potential attack in New York City-a concern that meshed with the more general warnings he had been hearing from the Chicago FBI agent. Some of what they had to say came from intelligence sources; some came from their reading of the public record and their experience investigating terrorism. Schippers had also been gathering his own information. He spent much of the summer of 2001, he says, calling congressmen, the Justice Department, and friendly news outlets such as the Fox News Channel trying to get the word out, to little avail.
Of course, he wasn’t the only one trying to raise awareness of the terrorist threat. By now, we know all too well some of the dreadful truth about the intelligence failures leading up to the attacks. There were broad but serious warnings, such as that issued by former senators Gary Hart and Warren Rudman, cochairs of the United States Commission on National Security, in their final report on January 31, 2001: “Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.” And there were specifics: Minneapolis FBI agent Coleen Rowley trying in vain to get a search warrant for Zacarias Moussaoui’s laptop computer, and the memo from the FBI’s office in Phoenix suggesting that terrorists were training at U.S. flight schools.
But the claims of the Chicago FBI agent and the Oklahoma TV reporter-and Schippers’s efforts on their behalf-have gone largely unnoticed. There are reasons for that. Reporters-and politicians-simply don’t know whether to take them seriously. The Oklahoma TV reporter’s theory has compelling elements but is difficult to verify independently. The Chicago FBI agent refuses to violate FBI protocol by disclosing details of his pre-September 11th investigation, which makes his case difficult to state, much less understand. And the authorities vigorously deny improperly shutting down his investigation.
But even if few people seem to be listening, Schippers hasn’t stopped talking.
“What I’ve learned is, there are street agents out there doing the job, putting their life on the line,” he says. “Then you’ve got the politicians-[U.S. Attorney General John] Ashcroft, the President, people like that, who I think are genuinely interested in doing this stuff. And if they knew what was going on on the street, they’d be appalled. In between, you’ve got the bureaucracy. And their job is: ‘Don’t make waves.’”
* * *
Robert G. Wright Jr. is making waves. Wright, 39, joined the FBI in 1990, right out of Indiana University law school. In 1993, he was assigned to the Chicago Division Counter-Terrorism Task Force, which was investigating the Quranic Literacy Institute, a nonprofit research organization in south suburban Bridgeview that translates and publishes sacred Islamic texts. Authorities suspected the institute was funneling money to Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group.
According to court records, the investigation-which the FBI named Vulgar Betrayal-focused on Mohammad Salah, a naturalized American citizen and Chicago-area resident who told authorities he had begun working as a computer analyst for the institute in 1991. In 1993, Salah was arrested in Israel and charged with being a member of Hamas. In 1995, Salah pleaded guilty in an Israeli military court to a charge of transferring funds to Hamas through an account at the LaSalle Talman Bank in Chicago. (Salah later said he had been beaten by Israeli guards and pleaded guilty to avoid a life sentence.) The U.S. government put his name on a list of organizations and individuals believed to fund terrorism. Salah was sentenced to five years in an Israeli prison, but was released in 1997 and permitted to return to the United States.
Vulgar Betrayal was fruitful for the bureau. Though no criminal charges were ever filed, Wright dissected bank records and a complicated set of property transfers to compile a detailed 37-page affidavit that was at the heart of the government’s successful effort in 1998 to seize $1.4 million controlled by Salah and the institute. It was the first time the civil forfeiture laws had been used in an attempt to stop the flow of money to suspected terrorists. (Salah has never been charged with a crime in the United States; in 2001, the Washington Post reported that he still lived in Chicago and drove a taxi, an assertion neither the FBI nor Salah’s attorney would confirm.)
At the time, Wright appeared to be in good stead with the bureau. In a 1998 job review, a supervisor wrote, “Although far from being concluded, the success of this investigation so far has been entirely due to the foresight and perseverance of Agent Wright.” And the FBI today boasts that the Salah case launched its current effort against Hamas operatives who it suspects are participating in an elaborate chain of U.S. charities and businesses that are used as fundraising fronts.
Inside the bureau, however, Wright was fighting a losing battle with his bosses over the nature of the investigation. Wright wanted to forge ahead with criminal investigations-go in and get the bad guys once they committed a crime, like money laundering. He was particularly interested in expanding his criminal investigation into allegations that terrorist training sessions-bomb making, logistics-had been taking place at an undisclosed Chicago-area campsite since 1990. But the FBI often prefers to avoid criminal investigations in favor of intelligence investigations, operations designed to learn more about terrorist networks and their possible targets. Among other things, an intelligence investigation benefits from lower standards for evidence-gathering methods, such as court-approved wiretaps. A criminal investigation can often shut down the flow of information entirely.
Wright couldn’t persuade his bosses. Worried about disrupting a larger intelligence effort, the FBI shut Wright’s investigation down in August 1999.
Some current and former FBI officials say Wright couldn’t see the big picture. Earlier this year, the FBI released a statement that said, in part, “Agent Robert Wright was one of many agents and task force officers assigned to the criminal portion of a larger counter-terrorism investigation in the FBI’s Chicago field office. The collective Chicago efforts are part of a much larger, national counter-terrorism effort which is continuing.”
Though authorities traced some of the money seized in the Salah case to Yassin Kadi, a Saudi businessman who the federal government now says is a major financier of bin Laden, the bureau says that “no information has been uncovered, either before or after September 11th, that tied any of the 19 hijackers to the subjects and activities of the Chicago investigation that Agent Wright worked on.” (Kadi, who has denied supporting terrorism, once lived on Lake Shore Drive and worked as a student trainee at Chicago-based architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.)
Wright says his bosses botched the job. “I just think that if there’s a means to take down a known and suspected terrorist in this country, you do it,” he said on CNN last June. “To constantly and continually ignore the criminal activity that’s taking place in this country by many of these terrorist groups and the financial empires that they had built, is just not right.”
After he was shut down-and transferred to Tinley Park to investigate white-collar crime-a deeply disgruntled Wright decided to write a book, “to legally expose the FBI’s incompetence and dereliction of duty in the terrorism arena,” he would say later. He began turning out a manuscript that would eventually grow to 500 single-spaced pages. In it, he outlined, as he would say later, “the FBI’s intentional, at times, failures to pursue the terrorists and thereby to prevent terrorist attacks.” It does not, at present, have a publisher. He titled it “Fatal Betrayals of the Intelligence Mission.”
And then he went to Schippers for help.
* * *
Not long after he heard from Wright, Schippers was contacted by Jayna Davis, a former investigative reporter for KFOR-TV, the NBC affiliate in Oklahoma City. KFOR was Davis’s fourth stop on the local news circuit. After earning her bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism from the University of Texas in 1986, Davis, now 38, worked at stations in Sherman, Texas; Tyler, Texas; and Sacramento.
She had been at KFOR in Oklahoma City for two years when the Alfred P. Murrah Building there was blown up, in 1995. Davis’s bosses assigned her to track suspected perpetrators. In the course of her reporting, she came to believe that the bombing was not just the work of homegrown angry white men-Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols-but the result of a larger conspiracy with links to bin Laden.
More troubling-if you believe-is that the government had ample warning that a federal building in the heartland was targeted for an attack. A month before the bombing, according to Davis, Israeli intelligence warned U.S. authorities of an “Islamic militant” terror campaign that would be fronted by Lily Whites, spy slang for people without criminal records or exposed ties who therefore were not likely to be suspected as terrorists. More damning, she says, is a confidential 1995 memo she unearthed from the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Terrorism and Unconventional Warfare.
The memo, issued by task force chief Yossef Bodansky to law enforcement agencies two months before the bombing, warned of an impending terrorist strike on U.S. soil by Islamic militants. Less than a week later it was amended to warn that the heartland, not Washington, D.C., was the target. (The task force, established in 1989 by a group of Republican congressmen, has no policymaking or official law enforcement role. Its director, Bodansky, is an international relations expert and author of several books, including 1999’s Bin Laden: The Man Who Declared War on America. Bodansky has been quoted in the mainstream press as a legitimate expert, but has also been described as an alarmist who sees Iran behind every nefarious deed, or even as a propagandist for Mossad, Israel’s intelligence agency.)
During the course of her reporting, Davis found a number of people who said they could identify Middle Eastern men-most of them former Iraqi soldiers, she says-who were associated with McVeigh and Nichols. According to court records, several of those witnesses said they could link a man named al-Hussaini Hussain to McVeigh, the Ryder truck he used, or the getaway vehicle.
Although she never named al-Hussaini in her weekly TV reports, she did report some details about the mysterious figure known as John Doe 2, a man purportedly seen with McVeigh moments before the Oklahoma City explosion (but whom authorities later rejected as a possible accomplice). Al-Hussaini eventually came forward and identified himself as the man Davis was describing. He demanded a retraction and sued Davis and the station for defamation, an action that was dismissed both in state court and again in federal court when it was refiled. (The dismissal is now before the U.S. Court of Appeals in Denver.)
The New York Times Company bought the station in 1996, and new management “didn’t want to put money” into the story, Davis says. She quit a few months later, in 1997.
At first, Davis shared her information with the FBI. But eventually the FBI lost interest. And, of course, federal prosecutors eventually concluded that McVeigh and Nichols had acted without the help of foreign agents; McVeigh denied that there had been any such help, and an Oklahoma City grand jury impaneled to investigate conspiracy theories about the bombing said it was an act “perpetrated by Americans on Americans.”
Still, there are those besides Davis who think the evidence hasn’t been thoroughly examined.
Davis had been impressed with Schippers during the presidential impeachment hearings and deemed him to be a no-nonsense nonpartisan. One day while watching the proceedings, she recalls, she turned to her husband and said, “Now, that’s a real lawyer.”
Later, after reading Sellout, Schippers’s 2000 book about the impeachment, and after seeing a few of Schippers’s ensuing TV interviews, she wrote a fan letter-though she also had an agenda. “I thought he could get me in the door with Ashcroft,” she says.
Davis confirms Schippers’s initial impression. “At first he thought I was a crackpot, another nut case,” she says.
But he listened. So in the spring of 2001, she came to Chicago to meet him, with 1,500 pages of documents in hand.
Schippers invited another man to their meeting but didn’t identify him to Davis. “I just said, ‘This is a friend of mine; I’d like him to hear what you have to say,’” Schippers says.
It was Special Agent Robert Wright.
“I said to Bob before she came in, ‘Don’t say a word,’” Schippers recalls. “‘Just listen, because I want to see if this woman is flying low, or if she’s really got something.’ So Bob’s sitting there, and she’s quoting Bodansky; she’s talking about the [terrorist] school in Chicago and everything else. Finally she says, ‘You know, back in 1998 there was an FBI agent up here in Chicago who was right on this thing,’ and he was this and he was that, and he found the investigative stuff-‘The task force told me about this guy, and the FBI shot him down.’ Well, I look at Bob and Bob is kind of getting white because she’s talking about him. And she didn’t know it. She had no conception of who he was.”
Schippers was hooked.
* * *
On the morning of January 14, 1998, Schippers walked into his office to find a message on his desk from an old friend, Henry Hyde (R-Ill.), chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee. Schippers had met Hyde about 30 years before, when Hyde was a state representative and they both sat on a legislative crime commission.
Hyde was looking for a lawyer to conduct a review of the Justice Department, which was up for reauthorization by Congress for the first time since 1979. Specifically, Hyde was looking for a Democratic lawyer to provide nonpartisan cover should the review turn ugly. As head of Hyde’s one-man search committee, Schippers nominated himself and was hired.
A week later, the Monica Lewinsky story broke. Within days, Hyde told Schippers to be prepared to handle an impeachment inquiry. Schippers’s would soon become a household face.
Democrats praised Hyde’s choice as fair and nonpartisan. But Schippers’s disgust with Clinton would become so visceral, and his prosecution so aggressive, that the 13 Republican “House managers"-the team of representatives that directed the impeachment-couldn’t help but wonder if Schippers really was a Democrat.
“Bill Jenkins from Tennessee, every night he would look at me and say, ‘Dave, are you still a Democrat?’” Schippers recalls. “And I’d say, ‘Yes, Bill, I’m still a Democrat. But I’m what is known as a Chicago Democrat.’ He’d say, ‘What’s the difference?’ I said, ‘Chicago Democrats are probably the most conservative Democrats in the country, when it comes to the economy, and certainly in the social aspect of it.’ I said, ‘You know, I’m not as far away from you guys as you think.’”
In the end, Schippers was embittered by his impeachment experience. “Lies, cowardice, hypocrisy, cynicism, amorality, butt-covering-these were the squalid political body parts that, squeezed through the political processor, combined to make a mockery of the impeachment process,” he wrote in Sellout. He still feels that way.
Schippers’s mistake was to take the events in Washington at face value, instead of as a form of political make-believe. In the beginning, the House managers never expected to get impeachment articles out of the Judiciary Committee, much less the House. Once the case was sent to the U.S. Senate, the specter of removing a President from office because he had lied about a sexual affair with an intern and probably obstructed justice to conceal it was too much, even for Republicans.
Schippers was shocked, he wrote, to discover that the outcome in the Senate was decided ahead of time. He says that at the House managers’ first meeting with the Senate majority leader, Trent Lott, Lott said to Hyde, “Henry, you’re not going to dump this garbage on us.” Later, Lott told the managers, “We don’t want to spend weeks on this,” according to Schippers. (Lott has never publicly disputed Schippers’s account.) Schippers also quotes Ted Stevens, the Republican senator from Alaska, as telling Hyde, “Henry, I don’t care if you prove he raped a woman and then stood up and shot her dead-you are not going to get 67 votes.”
Schippers likened the entire debacle to a First Ward election of yore: “Rigged all the way.”
Sellout was a New York Times bestseller for eight weeks but was not well received by most critics, if received at all. (The book was written with the help of Alan Henry, a former newspaperman who is now the spokesman for Democratic state comptroller Dan Hynes. It was published by Regnery, a right-wing publishing house.) The book was more a prosecutorial brief than an insider account, and Schippers offers no apology for his bias. “I made certain that I did not in any way touch any of the people that I liked in Washington,” Schippers says. “I mean, except to compliment them. There were some things that aren’t in the book because they might have been embarrassing. I just ignored them.”
Nonetheless, Sellout got Schippers on talk radio and a few news programs. It prompted Jayna Davis to write her fan letter. And when he needed help getting out the stories of Davis and Wright in the spring and summer of 2001, Schippers turned to his old friends from the impeachment, the House managers.
* * *
At first, Schippers didn’t see the connection between the stories Wright and Davis were telling. Sure, Davis seemed to know something about Wright’s Chicago investigation, but so what? Schippers’s objectives in the spring of 2001 were simple: He wanted to persuade the bureau to reassess its antiterrorism strategy while protecting Wright’s job and gaining permission for Wright to publish his manuscript. He also hoped to get Davis’s documents into the hands of federal investigators and spark a new inquiry into Oklahoma City.
First, Schippers sought out Henry Hyde’s help because Hyde was friendly with FBI director Louis Freeh. Hyde offered to schedule a meeting between Wright and Freeh. “One-on-one, no bullshit,” Schippers says Hyde told him. But by then, Wright had been reassigned to Tinley Park and he thought the posting was retaliation for challenging his bosses. Talking to Freeh, Wright believed, could only make matters worse. “He says, ‘The first thing Freeh will do is go back and call the people who have been doing it to me and say, What’s going on? and I’ll be toast,’” Schippers says. “So I had to tell Hyde that he couldn’t do it.”
Then he sent Wright to Larry Klayman because Judicial Watch had far more resources at its disposal to take on the FBI.
Schippers had been captivated enough by his first meeting with Davis to end it by calling Fox News’s Bill O’Reilly and imploring him to put Davis on his show. O’Reilly put Davis on the following night. O’Reilly told Schippers that the Davis show resulted in calls from 25 congressional staffers wanting more information. Schippers, who didn’t want to fool around with staffers, called two former House managers, Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina, and Bob Barr, of Georgia. Barr’s interest was piqued, and Schippers consented to having Davis interviewed by some of Barr’s aides.
As spring turned to summer, Schippers says, he came to believe that he was in the middle of something bigger than he had thought. Davis said her intelligence sources began making more frequent warnings of a possible terrorist act in the making; Schippers says he started to receive the same kind of information from his friends in the government. The message they were getting was that the final part of a three-pronged terror campaign would soon be committed. The first two were a strike at the heartland (Oklahoma City) and the downing of a commercial airliner (which Schippers believes was Flight 800). The last piece was an attack on Lower Manhattan, possibly a suitcase bomb.
Another purported piece came into the puzzle when Schippers discovered, through Davis, that Wright was not the only one interested in the purported training school in Chicago. Bodansky, the inscrutable terrorism task force chief, was also telling Davis about such a school. In an e-mail Bodansky sent to Davis, labeled “most sensitive,” Bodansky said that, in Chicago in 1990, 30 Lily Whites were trained in Chicago. At least two, Bodansky wrote, came from Oklahoma City. Those Lily Whites, Bodansky and Davis believed, were not McVeigh and Nichols (who were not in Oklahoma City at the time), but resettled Iraqis from Saddam Hussein’s army who purportedly would have helped carry out the plot.
Schippers had come full circle. His theory: A Hamas front had trained Iraqis for participation in the Oklahoma City bombing. The path of Wright’s investigation had been converging with Davis’s all along. And bin Laden was behind the entire mess. Worse still, sources were saying the same conspirators were going to strike again.
Schippers shifted gears into warning mode. Repeatedly, he tried to reach Ashcroft, even using a mutual friend as intermediary. That friend happened to be Phyllis Schlafly, the anti-women’s-lib warrior. At one point, Schippers says, Schlafly told him that Ashcroft would be calling him the next day. Instead, he says, an Ashcroft underling called and told him, “You know, we don’t start investigations at the top.”
“I couldn’t get to the Attorney General,” says Schippers. “Obviously I couldn’t get to the President, although I was hoping I could.”
* * *
Even after September 11th, Schippers has had only middling success. On September 12, 2001, Schippers called Wright and said, “‘Bob, you’ve gotta go public on this.’ He said, ‘You know what? When I came in to work this morning, I had a message that ordered me to have nothing whatsoever to do with the investigation of the 9/11 attack.’ I said, ‘My God, Bob, you’re the guy! They need your affidavit to go after bin Laden!’ He said, ‘Well, I’ve been told not to do anything.’”
Last November, Wright filed a 38-page complaint with the inspector general of the Justice Department, an internal watchdog. The complaint charges “dereliction of duty by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, failing to investigate and prosecute terrorism, and obstruction of justice in retaliating against Special Agent Robert Wright Jr.” The inspector general’s office, citing lack of resources to investigate the complaint, has referred Wright to Congress. Wright says he has been barred from that route. The FBI counters merely that Wright may not disclose classified information.
In February, Wright filed a 118-page whistleblowing complaint with the inspector general, “though we knew that wasn’t going anywhere,” Schippers says. And last May, Wright filed a lawsuit in federal court in Washington, D.C., accusing the FBI of violating his First Amendment rights by not allowing him to publish his manuscript and go public with his complaints. (The suit argues that Wright’s urgent need for free speech trumps the confidentiality agreement all agents make when going into service.)
Two weeks later, on the day after Ashcroft announced a reorganization of the FBI, Wright appeared at a news conference (carried by C-SPAN) in Washington, D.C., and stated, “Despite the unqualified success of the investigation of the Middle Eastern terrorists, FBI management failed to take seriously the threat of terrorism in the United States. Specifically, FBI management intentionally and repeatedly thwarted and obstructed my attempts to launch a more comprehensive investigation to identify and to neutralize terrorists.”
Because it is not clear whether Wright is a hero stifled or an agent gone awry, and because there isn’t a distinct line connecting Wright’s investigation to September 11th like, say, Coleen Rowley’s Moussaoui memo, he has picked up only a smattering of attention in the mainstream press-short articles about the filing of his lawsuit in The New York Times and the Washington Post. Locally, there had been just brief mentions in the papers until late August, when a Chicago Tribune story mentioned his complaints as a possible spur to a renewed federal investigation into Hamas fundraising in the Chicago area. A report noting that Wright was considered “smart, but bull-headed” aired on National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered.” And while he has appeared on Fox News and CNN’s “Crossfire,” he has mostly avoided commenting to the media.
Meanwhile, Schippers almost got the attention of Dennis Hastert, the Illinois congressman who is the Speaker of the House. An aide to Hastert heard Schippers making his case on a Pittsburgh radio station and called him for more information. They talked briefly and the aide told Schippers he would be in touch. “But nobody ever called back,” Schippers says.
Davis has had more luck. Last February, Dan Burton decided that the House Government Reform Committee, which he chairs, would investigate Oklahoma City. Davis has met with Burton and some lawyers working for the committee, and has turned over her documents. Burton asked Schippers-twice-to head up the inquiry. Schippers declined. A repeat trip to Washington doesn’t appeal to him.
Also, a joint congressional intelligence panel studying the events of September 11th has been authorized to review terrorism in the United States going back to 1993, including Oklahoma City. Davis, however, has not been contacted by the panel. She did give documents to Pennsylvania’s Arlen Specter, of the Senate Judiciary Committee, after they were both guests on the same Philadelphia radio show.
Davis has appeared several times on Fox News, including “The O’Reilly Factor,” “The Big Story with John Gibson,” and “On the Record with Greta Van Susteren.” Writers from LA Weekly and the Indianapolis Star have also shown particular interest in her story.
“It’s building a lot of steam,” she says. “I’m actually encouraged that we might finally get to the bottom of this.”
* * *
I have not gotten to the bottom of this. I probably haven’t even gotten to the middle. But it is clear to me that Schippers is right about at least one thing: Jayna Davis has done her homework. I am sitting in a Schippers & Bailey conference room, having finally gained access to those big black binders that first attracted Schippers to the case. I am seeing for myself that the documents in question really exist-and they’re not in crayon.
That’s not to say that the conclusions Davis and Schippers have drawn are inevitable. But Davis does seem to have assembled a plausible chain of evidence: psychiatric reports, employment records, surveillance photos, affidavits, even the official APB for John Doe 2, all neatly cataloged.
So, what to think?
I return the binders to Schippers in his office, and again express wonderment at his diverse roster of clients. He tells me that a judge once asked him if he had any normal clients. And a security guard in his building once said, “If a midget with a duck on his head walked in, I’d say, ‘Thirty-sixth floor.’”
That, of course, is where Schippers’s office is. But despite all the craziness that has walked though his doors, he isn’t nuts. He just has faith in the evidence of things unseen-and in the kind that comes in big black binders.