Mr Sessions had refused to step down when asked to do so at the weekend by the Attorney-General, Janet Reno. The reason for his dismissal, Mr Clinton said, was that 'he can no longer lead the bureau and the law enforcement community'. Ms Reno denied there was a vendetta against Mr Sessions, saying he was unable to refute allegations of misconduct in a Justice Department report.
Although wholly isolated the FBI director earlier said he would only go if the President told him directly to leave. 'It's a matter of principle,' Mr Sessions said. 'It's a matter of being certain that everybody understands across the world and across the nation that this director is not guilty of unethical or improper conduct.'
Mr Sessions has served just 4 1/2 years of his 10-year term. A federal judge from San Antonio, Texas, he was originally appointed by President Reagan but gained a reputation for being more liberal than is customary for the director of the FBI and was increasingly under attack from Republicans during the last years of George Bush's presidency. Almost the last act of the Republican administration earlier this year was to release a Justice Department investigation of Mr Sessions accusing him of misusing his position by making excessive use of official perks.
The allegations, almost all trivial and described at great length in the Justice Department report, were denounced by Mr Sessions as politically motivated character assassination. He said his efforts to eliminate racism and other legacies of the J Edgar Hoover era at the FBI had attracted attacks from those in the organisation opposed to reform.
By staying on, at least until his successor was confirmed by Congress, Mr Sessions hoped to thwart the appointment of Floyd Clarke, the FBI's deputy director, whom he blames for many of his problems, as his temporary successor.