A Salt Lake City lawyer searching for the truth behind his brother’s death has uncovered a wealth of new information that could implicate the FBI in the Oklahoma City bombings. The documents he dug up suggest the FBI knew about the plot to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in advance but did little to prevent it. Jesse Trentadue’s brother Kenney Trentadue was found dead in his prison cell in Oklahoma City in August 1995. The FBI calls it a suicide, but Jesse maintains Kenney was beaten to death during an interrogation. Jesse believes the FBI mistook his brother for the missing second suspect in the Oklahoma City bombings–the so-called “John Doe #2.” His research also suggests that the bombing was not the work of one or two men, but involved a wider network connected to the far-right white supremacist movement. Jesse Trentadue joins us to talk about his struggle with the FBI in the 12 years since his brother’s death. We’re also joined by reporter James Ridgeway, author of a new Mother Jones article on this story. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: To most people, the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing is a closed case. Timothy McVeigh and his accomplice Terry Nichols were the two prime suspects accused. McVeigh was executed in 2001. Nichols is serving a life sentence. But a Salt Lake City lawyer, searching for the truth behind his brother’s death, has uncovered a wealth of new information that could implicate the FBI. The documents he dug up through countless Freedom of Information requests suggest the FBI knew about the plot to bomb the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in advance, but did little to prevent it.
Jesse Trentadue’s brother, Kenney Trentadue, was found dead in his prison cell in Oklahoma City in August 1995. The FBI calls it a suicide, but Jesse maintains Kenney was beaten to death during an interrogation. Jesse has spent the last 12 years battling the Department of Justice and FBI to find out why his brother was killed. He believes the FBI mistook his brother for the missing second suspect in the Oklahoma City bombings, the so-called “John Doe No. 2.” His research also suggests the bombing was not the work of one or two men, but involved a wider network connected to the far-right white supremacist movement.
Earlier this year, Jesse Trentadue’s theory of a wider plot was echoed by Danny Coulson, former deputy assistant director of the FBI, who was in charge of collecting evidence from the Murrah building in ’95. Coulson told the BBC in March of this year that he is calling for a federal grand jury investigation into the bombings, because he questions whether everyone involved was caught. He also says FBI headquarters prematurely shut down their investigation into the alleged links between a white supremacist community called Elohim City and the bombings.
This controversy is the subject of the latest investigation by our current guest, Jim Ridgeway. It’s the top story in the July-August issue of Mother Jones. It’s called “In Search of John Doe No. 2: The Story the Feds Never Told About the Oklahoma City Bombing.” James Ridgeway is still with us in Washington, D.C. And Jesse Trentadue joins us on the phone from Salt Lake City.
Jim, lay out the broader story here.
JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, from the point of the bombing, there was a very general suspicion and developing information that suggested that probably in addition to McVeigh and Nichols, other people were involved in this. I mean, and one of the reasons, one of the immediate reasons, was nobody could figure out how these two guys put together this huge bomb overnight. And there were various reports, you know, of other people in the vicinity where they were supposedly making the bomb, and so on and so forth.
So there was an effort by some citizens in Oklahoma City to put together their own, you know, investigation. And they then set out to pursue and figure out, you know, who might have been involved in a wider conspiracy. And what they came to and what came out of it was the fact that there were federal informants — at least one, and possibly three — who actually knew and were reporting on the possibility of an attack before the bombing took place.
One of these informants, Carol Howe, is well known. She was at this community called Elohim City — this is a far-right, you know, religious community in Oklahoma in the Ozarks — and she was there when they talked about bombing a federal building. She was there and actually participated in what appears to have been a kind of a reconnaissance of the building, you know, drove in a car up to Oklahoma City and stayed overnight with some of the people who were suspected of being involved. And she reported all this to her handler at the ATF, the federal ATF, and the handler testified about all this in a closed hearing in court. So it’s not like, you know, this is like some informant shooting their mouth off. This is the actual employee of the ATF, under oath, describing the activities of an informant before the bombing took place.
Then there was an informant in Cincinnati who was reporting to the FBI about another group of people who were converging on Elohim City, who were thought to have been involved, or possibly involved, in this.
And there was a third informant, and that informant was the head of Elohim City, a Pastor Millar. Pastor Millar was basically playing footsy with the FBI, trading information with them, because he was afraid his community was going to become another Waco. And his lawyer — he’s now dead, but his lawyer told me recently that Millar, in effect, was trading information with the FBI about a lot of this stuff.
Then there’s a fourth informant, and this informant is not well known. This informant apparently reported through a nonprofit group, which in turn passed information on to the federal government. So there were four informants involved, in one way or another, in this situation, and they were all reporting before — not afterwards, before — this bombing took place.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Jesse Trentadue into the conversation, the Salt Lake City attorney whose brother Kenney Trentadue was killed in prison in August 1995. You spent time with Nichols in January. Can you talk about what you learned and also — there you are in Salt Lake City — what Utah has to do with this?
JESSE TRENTADUE: Well, Ms. Goodman, I got in to see Terry Nichols in January and spent a day and a half with him. He told me that after his state conviction — and he received the life sentence instead of the death penalty, and he couldn’t be retried — that he had written Attorney General, then-Attorney General Ashcroft, and offered to tell him the whole story about everyone involved and how, as far as Nichols knew, it came down. Not only did Ashcroft not go and see him or send anyone to talk to him, but apparently issued an order barring Nichols from all media contact.
What Nichols has is just his part of the story. I mean, he was involved in part of this, not the whole operation. And he talks about receiving the high-energy explosives used as a detonator from an FBI informant. And basically, as Mr. Ridgeway said, this was a much bigger operation with many more people involved.
And what it has to do with Salt Lake City is, I had the good fortune to have leaked to me two teletypes from the FBI headquarters sent by Director Louis Freeh in 1996, and they talk about this operation, and they even report one of the informants — the informant had reported that Elohim City, that two days or three days before the bombing, McVeigh had actually called asking for more help to carry out the attack.
So I filed a FOIA request mirrored on these two documents. I mean, you couldn’t ignore it. I mean, if you didn’t have searched like you should under the law, you have to come up with at least these two documents. I did that because I knew that the FBI, given a choice, will always lie. And so, they came into court and told the judge that there were no such documents. I filed the documents in court. I knew they’d come back and say they were fake. I had an affidavit from a retired FBI agent, who said, no, they were real.
This federal judge then ordered the FBI to do a search and to come back with all documents linking the Southern Poverty Law Center and the FBI to a failed sting operation at Elohim City connected to McVeigh and the bombing. They came back with about 150 pages — I’m sure that it had many, many more, but 150 pages of documents. They were heavily redacted. They go to the judge, and they say, “Your honor, don’t make us turn these over, because we had at least four informants who had been promised anonymity, and under the law you can’t release that information.” And what the judge did is said to them, “Black out the names and turn over the documents.”
And these documents, just as Mr. Ridgeway said, reveal a widespread informant operation, at least in the fall of ’94, leading up to and through the bombing, where the FBI and the ATF knew well in advance of April of 1995 that there was a bombing in place and/or planning, who was involved, and did nothing to stop it.
And so, where we are now is I have motion before the same judge now to take the depositions of Terry Nichols and David Paul Hammer. Now, Hammer is an inmate on death row, federal death row in Indiana, who spent two years with McVeigh. During those two years, McVeigh told him literally everything about the plot, those involved, and how it was carried out. And the government is fighting me very hard to keep that from happening.
AMY GOODMAN: Jesse Trentadue, explain what happened to Kenney, your brother, killed in prison a few months after the April 19, 1995, bombing of the Oklahoma City building.
JESSE TRENTADUE: Well, I think, you know, the claim that this was a suicide would make a cat laugh, and a cat doesn’t have a sense of humor. He had been beaten head to toe, front to back, throat slashed. The government tried twice to have him cremated. I had to fight like hell to get his body released. When he came home, he was heavily made up so you couldn’t see the wounds. And we stripped off the makeup and found how badly he was beaten.
From that point on, it has been a nightmare fighting them, the government. I mean, they’ve tried twice to indict me. They’ve destroyed evidence. They’ve threatened witnesses. It’s the FBI has just literally run amok in this case.
But what it all — how it came into play, and it had come into play with — into place with my Oklahoma City connection, it didn’t happen, Ms. Goodman, all at once. It happened gradually. And it happened — the beginning was probably January of 1996, when I received an anonymous call. And I used to get a lot of calls about my brother, and I would take all of them, and a lot of them were crank calls, but you never know, so you have to take every one seriously. This caller said that my brother had been killed, it was a mistake, and that it was an interrogation that went badly, that he fit a profile of a group who were robbing banks to fund a tax on the federal government. And I blew that off as a nut call.
And then, in June or July of '96, I read an article in the Los Angeles Times about a man named Richard Lee Guthrie, and Guthrie was a member of a group called the Midwest Bank Robbery Gang, who were with the Aryan Republican Army, who were robbing banks to fund a tax on the federal government, a white supremacist neo-Nazi militia-type group. I thought that was — that piqued my curiosity, but they didn't have a picture of Guthrie or a description of him.
So then, shortly before he was executed, I received a message from Tim McVeigh, who told me that when he saw my brother’s photograph and heard what happened to him, that he knew Kenney had been killed by the FBI, because they thought he was Richard Lee Guthrie, who was John Doe 2.
And then, after that, I was contacted by J.D. Cash, who probably knows or knew more about the bombing than anybody but the people who carried it out, who connected the dots for me about the connection between my brother and Guthrie, in terms of description. Largest manhunt in American history at that time my brother was picked up and killed was for John Doe 2. Guthrie and my brother were a perfect match. They not only looked alike, they both had a dragon tattoo on the left forearm.
AMY GOODMAN: Where is Guthrie today?
JESSE TRENTADUE: They found Guthrie hanging in his cell in federal custody the day before he was supposed to give an interview on the Oklahoma City bombing. And I had one eyewitness, a federal inmate named Alden Gillis Baker, and a month before our trial was to start, they found Baker hanging in his cell in federal custody.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Ridgeway, Mother Jones has put all of these documents on the website. Explain what they are, the significance of them, and the — what do you think the chances are of reopening this case?
JAMES RIDGEWAY: Well, this is actually incredible. I’ve never been involved with a publication which did this. I mean, thanks to the staff on Mother Jones — I mean, Celia Perry and Elizabeth Gettelman, particularly — I mean, they put, I mean, I think just literally hundreds of documents.
So, for your listeners, you know, you don’t have to depend upon what Jesse says or what I say or agree with the article. You can go look at the pictures of Kenney. There’s pictures of Kenney in the coffin. There’s pictures of Kenney when he was taken down — taken out of the prison. You can look at all this stuff. And you can also look at all these different documents that the FBI claimed didn’t exist. You don’t have to depend upon us. And, you know, the FBI says first that these documents didn’t exist. Then they finally produce them. Well, they’re all there on the Mother Jones website, every single one of them.
The only thing that’s not there, as far as I know, is this big huge report that was done by the Office of Inspector General of the Justice Department, which has been kept secret for reasons I don’t get, but, I mean, I’d love to see some politician who had the guts of Mike Gravel, for example, during the Pentagon Papers, take this report, this big thick secret report and dump it into public domain in the Congress.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you very much for being with us, James Ridgeway, Washington bureau chief of Mother Jones — we’ll link to Mother Jones’s website, our site is democracynow.org. — and Jesse Trentadue, Salt Lake City attorney. His brother Kenney Trentadue was killed in prison a few months after the Oklahoma City bombing in August of 1995. Thank you both for being with us.