Defiant FBI director resists calls to quit: A fighter against organised crime is set to take over, writes Rupert Cornwell

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A DEFIANT - and now physically injured - William Sessions was yesterday continuing to resist administration demands that he step down as director of the FBI. But every sign is that his removal is imminent. If Mr Sessions, who has two broken bones, refuses to go voluntarily, President Bill Clinton is expected to dismiss him this week, and possibly as early as today.

The clear front-runner to replace him is Louis Freeh, a hard-bitten federal judge from New Jersey, whose previous 10 years as a New York prosecutor earned him the reputation of being one of the country's toughest and most implacable fighters of organised crime.

Mr Freeh met Mr Clinton for two hours on Friday night, in what White House aides said yesterday was a final step before the seemingly inevitable sacking of Mr Sessions.

The Sessions affair has been dragging on for almost six months, since an internal Justice Department report claimed he had abused the powers of his office. His alleged offences include improper use of FBI limousines and planes for family trips, and the use of government money to build a dollars 10,000 ( pounds 6,700) fence around his home. But despite internal feuding and sagging morale at the FBI, the director has obstinately refused to resign, even at a frosty 30-minute meeting on Saturday with his titular boss, the Attorney-General, Janet Reno. During the meeting, attended also by other Justice Department officials, Ms Reno told Mr Sessions to resign or face the sack, a government source said.

Mr Sessions and Ms Reno later declined to comment. Asked on his way to the meeting what he thought the outcome would be, the FBI director said: 'I think it's probably no secret.'

Adding injury to insult, Mr Sessions fell on the pavement outside the Justice Department immediately afterwards, breaking two bones in his elbow.

With his arm in plaster, he was kept in hospital overnight for observation. Optimistically, an FBI spokesman said Mr Sessions would 'return to a normal schedule' today, despite the gathering indications that today could be the wretched finale to almost six years in charge of the US's most powerful and celebrated law-enforcement agency.

The exact timing appears to depend on Mr Clinton, whose proneness to 11th-hour procrastination is celebrated. Although Mr Freeh's is the only name mentioned as a possible successor, White House officials stress the choice is not yet final.

Mr Freeh's credentials, however, would be hard to match. Only 43, he has a record which men two decades his senior might envy. He spent five years as an FBI agent in New York, specialising in labour racketeering, before his stint as a prosecutor during which he cracked the notorious 'pizza connection' drug ring. He has worked with Italian officials in the increasingly successful efforts to break the Sicilian Mafia and its ties with US organised crime.

No endorsement has been more glowing than that of the legendary former New York federal prosecutor Rudolph Giuliani, under whom Mr Freeh long worked. 'This is the best person to run the FBI,' Mr Giuliani - now a candidate for mayor of the city - told Newsday newspaper.

'He knows the bureau from the ground up, he has extraordinary integrity, a great mind and he's a great leader.'

If so, his talents will be sorely needed. Still smarting from the Waco disaster, in which more than 80 Branch Davidian followers of the cult leader David Koresh died in an inferno after an FBI assault in April, the Bureau is riven by internal divisions. Mr Sessions claims he is victim of a campaign by resentful subordinates, not least because of his attempts to open up the Bureau to more women and minority officers.

(Photograph omitted)