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Sessions to Meet Reno Today; Dismissal Likely

July 17, 1993|RONALD J. OSTROW | TIMES STAFF WRITER

WASHINGTON — FBI Director William S. Sessions has been summoned to a meeting today with Atty. Gen. Janet Reno for discussions expected to end in his dismissal, Administration sources said Friday.

Sessions unexpectedly left a two-day meeting in Chicago of the FBI Agents Assn. and returned to Washington Friday night as reports circulated that the Administration had decided to end his stewardship of the agency.

Sessions' meeting with Reno comes one day after President Clinton met at the White House with U.S. District Judge Louis J. Freeh of New York. Administration sources said Freeh is the leading contender to replace the embattled FBI director.

Sessions' future at the FBI has been clouded since late last year, after the Justice Department's internal watchdog unit reported that Sessions had abused his office in a number of ways. Then Atty. Gen. William P. Barr, on his last day in office, severely criticized Sessions in a letter and ordered him to take remedial action, leaving the question of his tenure up to the new Administration.

The report by the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility found that Sessions had engaged in a "sham" to avoid paying taxes on his personal use of the FBI's limousine, had scheduled business trips to coincide with family visits and had refused to cooperate in a probe of whether he had a sweetheart deal on his home mortgage.

After taking office, Clinton said he would await a recommendation from Reno before deciding on Sessions' status. Reno and the White House counsel's office reviewed the Justice Department report, which Sessions has argued was motivated by "animus" toward him by Barr and disgruntled FBI agents.

Reno then asked Deputy Atty. Gen. Philip B. Heymann, who has had long experience in dealing with the FBI, to handle the matter for her.

Reno and others, however, concluded late last spring that Sessions should be replaced, even though he is just halfway through his 10-year term as director. The FBI director serves at the pleasure of the President.

Sessions and his two lawyers have been in discussions with Heymann over the terms of his departure for more than a month, with the director reportedly holding out for an agreement that would allow him to remain in office until his replacement is confirmed by the Senate.

But Administration officials have tired of the maneuvering, sources said. The Associated Press also quoted a senior Clinton Administration official Friday night as saying that the President had decided to replace Sessions.

Sources told The Times that Reno, in particular, is mindful of a pledge she made at her confirmation hearing in March to make the Sessions matter one of her priorities. Instead, in contrast to the decisiveness that has won her wide public acclaim, she has had to allow the Sessions' future to remain an open question.

Government sources said Reno wanted a showdown with Sessions to occur before Clinton left for the Tokyo economic summit with leaders of industrial powers earlier this month. But White House officials barred the confrontation on grounds that they did not want any domestic developments to detract from Clinton's performance at the summit, the sources said.

The act of summoning Sessions from the Chicago meeting was in itself taken as an unmistakable sign about his future. He had been scheduled to speak to the agents' association at noon today and to deliver the keynote address at dinner tonight, concluding his remarks by taking questions from the floor from members of the association, which represents about 8,000 of the agency's 10,000 rank-and-file agents.

That session was regarded as especially important because morale has plummeted in the agency as allegations about the director's misconduct gave rise to a belief that a double standard exists in the highly structured bureau.

Judge Freeh came to national prominence when he headed the investigation of the mail bomber who killed a federal appellate judge in Alabama and a leading civil rights lawyer in Georgia.

Freeh was chosen to lead the investigation while working as the associate U.S. attorney in New York. He also served as an FBI agent in New York, heading a major labor-racketeering case involving the so-called "pizza-connection" probe, a Mafia-narcotics prosecution.

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