Clinton set to dismiss FBI chief: Sessions looks likely to go despite denying allegations of wrongdoing

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The Independent Online
PRESSURE IS building on President Bill Clinton finally to force the departure of the FBI Director, William Sessions, almost six months after an internal Justice Department report accused him of fiddling his taxes and expense accounts.

There is now no expectation that Mr Sessions can survive at his post, even though he has been able to repudiate some of the allegations. However impatience is growing, particularly within the FBI, over the time it is taking for him and the administration to negotiate the terms of his departure.

There is particular concern that the FBI, led by Mr Sessions since 1987, is demoralised and rudderless at the very time when the country is apparently facing an unprecedented threat from international terrorism. For that reason alone, Mr Clinton can expect to face calls from all sides definitively to resolve the issue when he returns from this week's Toyko summit.

Dismissed by Mr Sessions as the work of officials plotting to unseat him, the Justice Department report listed an assortment of ethical lapses. It accused Mr Sessions, for instance, of constructing a 'sham' to avoid paying tax on his limousine transport to and from his Washington office, and of arranging 'official' trips to allow him to visit relations and friends at government expense.

The report also suggested that Mr Sessions had improperly used his position to secure a 'sweetheart' deal on his house mortgage and that he had used government funds to erect a security fence around his home, which in any case did not meet minimum security standards.

His denials of the charges notwithstanding, Mr Sessions is believed to have acknowledged privately to the Attorney-General, Janet Reno, that he can no longer stay in his position. However, he is said to be further frustrating the administration by insisting that he will not resign the post until the appointment of a successor is completed - a process likely to take months.

Mr Sessions' motives in wishing to hold on are apparently two-fold. Resigning before a replacement is at his desk might imply acceptance of the report's allegations. Also, it would allow his number two, Floyd Clarke, to take over as acting director. And it is Mr Clarke whom Mr Sessions most suspects of leading the plot to oust him.

For Mr Clinton - who has had trouble enough finding people for his administration, let alone firing anyone from it - the saga is awkward. He would doubtless be grateful for the opportunity to find someone of his own choosing for the FBI job - directors of the bureau are normally given a 10-year term - but he does not want to be seen to be rushing to remove a Republican appointee.

In any event, the task of finding a successor is reportely well under way, with a federal judge on the Brooklyn District Court, Louis Freeh, believed to be the favourite. A former FBI agent, Judge Freeh, 43, would have the strong advantage of being a popular choice within the bureau. Both Mr Sessions and his predecessor, William Webster, were outsiders.

Mr Sessions' wife, Alice, recently directly accused a small group of FBI veterans of plotting to discredit her husband because they could not bear to take orders from an outsider, and she identified Mr Clarke as one of their number. 'This whole thing has nothing to do with Bill Session's unethical practices,' she complained.

Whether or not Mr Sessions is guilty as charged - and he has repeatedly denied all the allegations - he has few allies willing to defend him as an effective leader of the FBI. What remains to be seen is whether the White House can still find an amicable way to dispatch him.