Additional searches for videos that Salt Lake City lawyer Jesse Trentadue believes are being withheld would be burdensome and fruitless, FBI attorney Kathryn Wyer argued during the first day of a bench trial.
Trentadue says the agency is refusing to release videos that show a second person was with Timothy McVeigh when he parked a truck outside the Oklahoma City federal building and detonated a bomb that killed 168 people. The government says McVeigh was alone.
The 30 video recordings the FBI has released don’t show the explosion or McVeigh’s arrival in a rental truck.
“The plaintiff has refused to accept that the 30 tapes he got are the only tapes,” Wyer said.
The FBI already has provided videos and paper documents that correspond with Trentadue’s Freedom of Information Act request, she said.
But unsatisfied by the FBI’s previous explanations and citing the public importance of the tapes, U.S. District Judge Clark Waddoups has ordered the agency to explain why it can’t find videos that are mentioned in evidence logs.
Linda Vernon, a longtime FBI employee who became the point person for the collection of evidence after the bombing, said she is “completely confident” the agency has found every video of the bombing that exists.
The trial continues Tuesday and will run at least through Wednesday before the judge makes a ruling. He could wait until a later date to decide.
If Trentadue wins at trial, he hopes to be able to search for the tapes himself rather than having to accept the FBI’s answer that they don’t exist.
Trentadue believes the presence of a second suspect explains why his brother, Kenneth Trentadue, was flown to Oklahoma several months after the bombing, where he died in a federal holding cell. Kenneth Trentadue bore a striking resemblance to a police sketch based on witness descriptions of the enigmatic suspect “John Doe No. 2,” who was never identified.
Trentadue is acting as his own attorney and tried to show that the FBI has not adequately followed up on information that could lead to the discovery of other videos.
He asked Monica Mitchell of the FBI about why the agency had not done more to search for a tape mentioned in a Secret Service log. It describes security video footage of suspects — in plural — exiting the truck three minutes before the bomb went off.
“Didn’t it come to your mind that that tape may exist?” Trentadue asked.
Mitchell said she didn’t know the authenticity of the Secret Service document and that Vernon told her she didn’t know of the existence of such a tape.
Trentadue asked if Mitchell had asked FBI headquarters about the tape, citing documents that show it had one tape and 300 pages of documents. She acknowledged she had not asked headquarters about those items as part of the FOIA request.
A Secret Service agent testified in 2004 that the log does exist, but its information was pulled from reports that were never verified, said Stacy A. Bauerschmidt, who was then the assistant to the special agent in charge of the FBI’s intelligence division.
Several investigators and prosecutors who worked the case told The Associated Press in 2004 they had never seen video like that described in the Secret Service log.
Mitchell and Vernon described how employees searched automated systems and by hand. Vernon said she spent 85 hours searching three computer databases created to track all the evidence.
Trentadue wasn’t the only one asking tough questions of FBI witnesses. The judge at one point asked Mitchell why the FBI never responded to a letter from Trentadue asking about a video that seemed to be incomplete.
“You basically did nothing?” Waddoups asked.
“We did nothing because we were confident in our search and what we located,” Mitchell said.
Later, he questioned why Vernon neglected to send several documents to Trentadue that mentioned videos, despite her previous claim that she erred on the side of inclusivity if she wasn’t sure whether something fell under his request.
Trentadue’s 44-year-old brother, who was a convicted bank robber and construction worker, was brought to the U.S. Bureau of Prisons’ Federal Transfer Center in Oklahoma City after being picked up for probation violations while coming back to the U.S. at the Mexican border, Jesse Trentadue said.
Kenneth Trentadue’s death was officially labeled a suicide. But his body had 41 wounds and bruises that his brother believes were the result of a beating. In 2008, a federal judge awarded the family $1.1 million for extreme emotional distress in the government’s handling of the death. The amount was reduced to $900,000 after an appeal.
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