White House is listing possible FBI nominees Embattled Sessions may be forced out

February 07, 1993|By New York Times News Service

WASHINGTON -- Confronted with near chaos in the top ranks of the FBI, the White House has taken preliminary steps to compile names of possible successors to William S. Sessions as FBI director, Clinton administration officials said yesterday.

Among those whose names have been circulated on Capitol Hill are Lee P. Brown, a former police commissioner in New York City; James R. Thompson, a former Republican governor of Illinois; and Lee Colwell, a former FBI official and an adviser to President Clinton when he was governor of Arkansas.

One person taking part in the discussions emphasized the preliminary and informal nature of the search, which appears to be designed to give the White House a head start if Mr. Clinton and his advisers decide to replace Mr. Sessions.

George Stephanopoulos, the White House spokesman, would not comment on a report in the Los Angeles Times that quoted a senior administration official as saying he hoped that Mr. Sessions would "see reality" and step down.

Some officials say the White House is far too distracted by its embarrassing search for an attorney general to focus clearly on the rancorous discord between Mr. Sessions and his top advisers that is splitting the agency.

But one official said that the White House was increasingly aware that the problems at the FBI are worsening and might force the administration to abandon its original plan of postponing a decision on Mr. Sessions until an attorney general is in office.

Officials in the White House counsel's office are said to be publicly committed to giving Mr. Sessions an opportunity to rebut the Justice Department report that was harshly critical of his conduct. But both in the White House and in Congress, officials are expressing the view that whether Mr. Sessions was fairly found to have violated the FBI's ethics rules, he has lost control of his agency.

Some congressional officials who like the affable Mr. Sessions on a personal basis and admire his efforts to advance minorities have said that the director should be eased into another job. They have mentioned an ambassadorial post or his former job as a federal judge in San Antonio.

They fear that Mr. Sessions is so fixed on trying to refute the charges against him and unwilling to consider a graceful departure that he will lose the option of resigning and be dismissed.

Mr. Sessions, now halfway through a 10-year term, has insisted that he will stay on to serve out his full term. He has attributed his problems to a handful of career officials in the FBI's old guard and conservative Republicans at the Justice Department.

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