Sessions questions aide's loyalty in Justice probe

January 25, 1993|By Ronald J. Ostrow | Ronald J. Ostrow,Los Angeles Times

WASHINGTON -- Escalating his battle to save his job, FBI Director William S. Sessions yesterday questioned the loyalty of the bureau's No. 2 official, Floyd I. Clarke, for failing to warn him about Department of Justice findings that he abused his office.

Senior FBI officials were stunned by Mr. Sessions' comments on ABC-TV's "This Week with David Brinkley." They contended that Mr. Clarke, the deputy director, who runs the organization day to day, has never wavered in his loyalty to Mr. Sessions.

Mr. Sessions noted that Mr. Clarke had worked "very closely" with former Attorney General William P. Barr, who approved the highly critical department report on the FBI director, "but never gave me any indication of this at all."

Mr. Sessions, who has blamed the report on Mr. Barr's "animus" toward him, said that Mr. Clarke also failed to indicate "that there was actually some animus between Barr and myself."

The FBI director's criticism of Mr. Clarke, who is probably the most respected official inside the agency, seemed certain to intensify turmoil in the bureau. The FBI has not been wracked by such conflict at its upper management level since 1973, when former Acting Director L. Patrick Gray III resigned in disgrace after disclosing that he had burned Watergate-related evidence in his fireplace.

"This will cause him [Mr. Sessions] severe problems internally," one source said.

Mr. Sessions' criticism of the report as riddled with errors and distortions has already caused strain in the bureau because agents from the bureau's Office of Professional Responsibility conducted the scores of interviews under oath that led to the conclusions by its counterpart agency in the Department of Justice.

The report by the department's Office of Professional Responsibility, its internal watchdog unit, found that Mr. Sessions had taken part in a "sham" arrangement to avoid taxes on his use of a limousine, had taken personal trips on FBI aircraft that he sought to present as official travel, had refused to cooperate in an investigation of his home mortgage and had misused funds for a fence at his home that could not be justified on security grounds.

One source saw "irony" in Mr. Sessions' questioning Mr. Clarke's loyalty, because Mr. Sessions had directed that bureau officials establish strong working relationships with their counterparts at the Department of Justice, and Mr. Barr and Mr. Clarke came to know each other well while serving as deputies of their organizations.

Mr. Clarke could not be reached for comment. But a bureau source said that he would not comment because "he doesn't want to become a participant, prejudice the director or create a split between the director and top management."

Mr. Barr said that he did not want to be drawn into Mr. Sessions' efforts to "personalize" the findings of a pattern of abuses by him. But he did say that Mr. Clarke played no part in the investigation and had been "completely loyal to the bureau."

Mr. Sessions said yesterday that he had provided his "preliminary" response, attacking the report's findings to Bernard Nussbaum, counsel to President Clinton, on Saturday.

George Stephanopoulos, the White House communications director, appeared after Mr. Sessions on the ABC program yesterday and said that a decision on whether or not to remove the FBI director would be based on whether he did anything improper or illegal.

Although Mr. Sessions has served only five years of a 10-year term, he can be removed by the president.

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