WASHINGTON — THE Federal Bureau of Investigation may be getting accolades for its handling of the World Trade Center bombing in New York and the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas, but it appears these pluses may not be sufficient to help FBI Director William Sessions keep his job.
Director Sessions was cited for ethics violations in a report released by outgoing Attorney General William Barr during the last days of the Bush administration. The charges included the misuse of government aircraft and cars, failure to pay income taxes on his chauffeured rides to and from work, and billing the government for a fence at his home that did not meet security standards.
Mr. Sessions has termed the charges "political shenanigans in an attempt to taint my reputation." But shenanigans or not, the charges have put Sessions' future very much in doubt.
President Clinton said Tuesday that Attorney General Janet Reno is reviewing the issue. If her review finds these alleged ethical lapses both serious and true, it could be sufficient cause to dismiss the FBI director.
Working in Sessions' favor is the fact that he has attracted the support of many liberal Democrats, ranging from Rep. Don Edwards (D) of California to Coretta Scott King, widow of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. They credit the FBI chief with efforts to hire more minorities.
"Regardless of the campaign to discredit you," Mrs. King told the FBI director during an appearance at the bureau's headquarters here, "history will show that you stood firm for a more-democratic and inclusive FBI."
SOME Democrats also suggest that Sessions has been the victim of a campaign to discredit him because of his efforts to investigate the involvement of Bush administration officials in securing United States-insured loans for Iraq before the Gulf war.
Vice President Al Gore Jr. said in a television interview last month that Sessions announced an investigation of then-Attorney General Barr "and then 24 hours later, the attorney general announced that `OK, you're going to do that, we're going to launch an investigation of you.' At least, that's the way it appeared."
But support for Sessions has worn thin in recent months. Many on Capitol Hill have heard increasing reports that the FBI chief has become unpopular within his agency and that his presence is disrupting the bureau's work.
Other reports are circulating that call Sessions' judgment into question. One story that made the rounds on Capitol Hill - and eventually appeared in The New York Times - indicated that the director wanted to go to Waco, Texas, where he once practiced law, and negotiate personally with cult leader David Koresh in an effort to end the standoff, "Texan to Texan."
With Sessions' reputation in rapid decline, many observers believe that President Clinton would have to expend a great deal of political capital to keep the director on the job. "It's easier to start with a clean slate," says Steven Saltzburg, a former Justice Department official under Presidents Reagan and Bush.
Some close to the issue on Capitol Hill indicate that an amicable and face-saving resignation by Sessions appears to be in the works. But with the FBI involved in such high-profile cases as the Branch Davidian standoff and the World Trade Center bombing, the FBI director is not expected to step down for several weeks.
Ms. Reno said Tuesday that no successor to Sessions has been selected. "I haven't chosen him, and the president hasn't chosen him, and I don't know who else would choose him," she said.
Even so, names of potential successors are now circulating on Capitol Hill. The current favorite appears to be Massachusetts Superior Court Judge Richard Stearns. He attended Oxford University with Clinton in the late 1960s as a Rhodes Scholar. Other possible replacements include former New York City Police Commissioner Lee Brown and former FBI associate director William Lee Colwell.