Vindictive internal report put the knife into Sessions: The FBI went to extraordinary lengths to harry its own boss, writes Patrick Cockburn in Washington

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The Independent Online
WILLIAM SESSIONS, head of the FBI for four-and-a-half years, was fired because of an internal report which accused him of avoiding taxes and misusing his office for personal advantage. Even by the standards of the FBI it is a document of extraordinary venom which reveals as much about the organisation that produced it as it does about Mr Sessions' failings.

The publication of the report on 15 January was almost the last act of the Bush administration. Mr Sessions held that to have quit immediately would be to admit the allegations. He stayed on, an isolated and lonely figure, reduced to taking commercial flights because he was no longer allowed to use an FBI plane.

He would have departed earlier if President Clinton had not faced such trouble in appointing his law enforcement team. Two of his nominees as Attorney General, Zoe Baird and Kimba Wood, had to withdraw before Janet Reno was given the job of running the Justice Department.

The attacks against Mr Sessions began under the Republicans who appointed him, but why William Barr, the last Republican Attorney General, should have pursued him with such vindictiveness remains unclear. It is widely thought that Mr Barr objected to Mr Sessions investigating the Justice Department's involvement in the BNL scandal in Atlanta.

Mr Sessions said last autumn that the FBI was looking into allegations that the Justice Department had interfered in the trial in Atlanta of a BNL employee who said the Italian bank for which he worked had known all about dollars 3bn (pounds 2bn) loans to Iraq. Two days later, the Department leaked the news that Mr Sessions was being investigated for ethical misconduct. Belief by the Democrats that Mr Sessions was targeted by the Republicans for causing them electoral embarrassment helped him survive.

He said he was undermined by the FBI establishment, notably the Deputy Director Floyd Clarke, who controls the FBI's 56 field offices and 11,000 agents. He said his efforts to combat racism within the bureau had provoked a conservative reaction. Mr Sessions clung to his job partly to prevent Mr Clarke even temporarily taking over.

Immense resources were poured into investigating Mr Sessions' failings. For instance, he had failed to pay income tax on the limousine which took him to and from work, arguing that as a law enforcement officer he needed protection and kept a gun in the boot of the car. The FBI discovered the gun was not loaded and said 'you refused to take the training required by FBI regulations for those carrying firearms'. Keeping the gun in the car was described as a 'sham arrangement' to avoid tax.

On numerous occasions he took his wife, Alice, on air trips. In theory Mr Sessions should have paid back the government for her presence on an official plane.

Then there was the dollars 10,000 fence around the Sessions' home in Washington, which the FBI director argued he needed for security. The Justice Department said this was not an FBI-approved fence and the money must be paid back. Mr Sessions was accused of 'failure to account for 120,000 miles of frequent-flyer mileage earned on official travel.'

Mr Clinton and Ms Reno decided that Mr Sessions had to go, but the way he was removed will not enhance the FBI's reputation.