WASHINGTON — Judge William Steele Sessions, unanimously praised by senators today on his nomination to head the FBI, promised he would closely examine any request to the bureau before complying and would take his objections to the President, if necessary.
Sessions, sharing the overwhelming feeling of the panel that he is the right man for the job, also told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he would not resign if ordered to do something he objected to.
"I do not intend to resign, to seek the shelter of a resignation," he said.
Instead, the tough Texas conservative chosen by President Reagan to head the FBI said, he first would "seek guidance," even from the appropriate congressional oversight committees, before approaching Atty. Gen. Edwin Meese III and Reagan, if necessary.
"I am a rule person. I believe in rules," Sessions said. If asked to do something unsavory or politically motivated, "a person of a judicial background simply has to say, 'I can't do it.' "
Sessions responded to questions provoked by the recent Iran- contra scandal, and some senators pressed the federal judge on recent actions by his predecessor and Meese.
Speaking moments after each senator on the panel praised him as a fair-minded, tough jurist and unanimously predicted an easy confirmation, Sessions carefully sidestepped any direct criticism of Meese's actions during the early stages of Iran-contra's unfolding.
He stressed he was not fully aware of the details of the initial "fact-finding inquiry" conducted by Meese and a few key aides, during which Lt. Col. Oliver L. North, the National Security Council aide fired for his role in the secret arms sales and diversion of profits to Nicaraguan rebels, said he destroyed critical documents.
Sessions said only, "I think it would be appropriate to seek the advice of the FBI . . . once you step outside your agency."
Meese did not call the FBI into the case until several days later.