Clear Ethical Standards Are a Must

A SCALDING pre-inaugural attack by President Bush's attorney general, William Barr, against Federal Bureau of Investigations director William Sessions hasn't created nearly the furor aroused in confirmation hearings for President Clinton's choice as his attorney general: corporate lawyer Zoe Baird. While it appears Ms. Baird is likely to weather the storm over her admission that she and her husband, Paul Gewirtz, hired two illegal aliens to work in their home, one of Mr. Clinton's first decisions will be

whether to discipline, perhaps discharge, the moderate Republican who has run the FBI since 1987.

Sessions, who was chief federal judge for the western district of Texas, was confirmed as director of the FBI with near-unanimity. Democrats heaped praise on him; Sen. Joseph Biden (D) of Delaware, chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said: "Judge Sessions has developed a reputation as a tough but fair jurist, a man of honor and integrity."

What has happened since 1987 to give rise to charges by Mr. Barr that the FBI director's "actions and inactions with respect to questions of propriety or the appearance of impropriety reveal a disturbing subordination of such considerations to the personal convenience of the director and his wife"?

Barr further charges that "the director did not obtain the necessary congressional approval required when he redecorated his office suite at a cost which exceeded by almost eight times the authorized limit of $5,000."

He adds, "We must conclude that the director was fully aware of the obligation to pay taxes on the value of his home-to-work transportation." There are other, similar accusations.

The harshness of the statement accusing Sessions is startling when compared with the handling of former White House Chief of Staff John Sununu's departure in very similar circumstances.

What the Sessions, Sununu, and Baird cases all seem to indicate is enough ambiguity in the myriad regulations governing the conduct of governmental officials to confuse even those who act with the best of intentions. While apparent misconduct should be thoroughly investigated, a fresh look at the rules might well be in order.

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