WASHINGTON — As official Washington rushed to begin full-scale investigations into the violent end of the Branch Davidian cultists, President Clinton Tuesday said there was no need for his attorney general or anyone else to resign ''because some religious fanatics murdered themselves.''
David Koresh ''killed those he controlled, and he bears ultimate responsibility for the carnage that ensued,'' Clinton said in his first public remarks about the fiery end on Monday to the 51-day standoff near Waco, Texas.
Clinton said that he had felt sick and terrible as he watched the television pictures of the blaze that killed more than 80 cult members, including children.
Clinton said that he had been informed in advance about the general strategy for ending the siege and that he accepted ''full responsibility'' for implementing the decision to move on the compound with tear gas and armored vehicles but without using gunfire.
He said he was ordering a vigorous federal review of the government's actions in the case by the Justice and Treasury departments with the help of outside experts ''to uncover what happened and why and whether anything could have been done differently.''
On Capitol Hill, House Judiciary Chairman Jack Brooks, D-Texas, announced that his full committee would open hearings April 28 into the matter and invited Attorney General Janet Reno to be the first speaker. Clinton pledged full cooperation with congressional investigations.
Clinton revealed some of his decision-making process in the hours before the conflagration in Waco. In a telephone conversation with the attorney general on Sunday, he said he asked ''a number of questions'' beginning with: ''We have waited seven weeks. Why now?''
He said that Reno laid out the case for moving now, including FBI concerns about tying up a highly specialized team of hostage rescuers indefinitely and beliefs that the chance of violence was ''likely to increase, not decrease, with the passage of time.''
Adding that experts had concluded there was no greater risk of mass suicide one day or another, he said that the FBI decided it was time to move.
''Whether they were right or wrong, of course, we will never know,'' Clinton said.
Clinton made remarks and answered questions amid some criticism that he was staying in the background while Reno took the public heat for the tragic ending to the standoff.
Clinton issued only a brief written statement in the immediate aftermath as Reno went from press conference to interview to television talk shows to answer questions.
Clinton told reporters he was bewildered by charges that he was trying to distance himself from the actions in Waco.
''The only reason I made no public statement yesterday is that I had nothing to add to what was being said,'' Clinton said.
He said that he had been ''waiting for events to unfold.''