SAN ANTONIO (AP) — William S. Sessions, a former federal judge appointed by President Ronald Reagan to head the FBI and fired years later by President Bill Clinton, died Friday at his San Antonio home. He was 90.
Sessions died of natural causes not related to the novel coronavirus, said his daughter, Sara Sessions Naughton.
Sessions was a career Justice Department attorney and federal judge until Reagan appointed him FBI director in 1987. He modernized the bureau’s technology, overhauled the FBI’s fingerprint files, reassigned 325 counterintelligence agents after the end of the Cold War and focused the bureau’s efforts on violent crime.
His most enduring legacy may have been his commitment to affirmative action at a bureau that historically was dominated by white men. Sessions refused to fight a federal judge’s ruling that favored Hispanic agents, settled a civil rights lawsuit brought by black agent Donald Rochon, who was harassed by white agents, and settled a threatened suit by black agents.
All of which placed him at odds with some FBI traditionalists. Clinton eventually fired him in 1993, saying Sessions could “no longer effectively lead the bureau.” He was accused of being a weak administrator who gave his wife, Alice, too much influence on bureau affairs.
Alice Sessions spoke out publicly in support of her husband, leading many of his backers to plead with her to stop naming longtime FBI officials she believed were plotting against her husband.
Sessions resisted Clinton’s pressure for him to resign until the president finally fired him. Sessions said he refused to step down because he wanted to ensure the bureau was not politicized. An example of politicization, he said, is that the dissatisfaction of 10 employees can be translated into “so-called ethical problems.”
Alice Sessions said some agents fed misinformation to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which issued a report that undercut her husband’s position. The report accused him of using government vehicles for personal trips, avoiding taxes on chauffeured travel, having a taxpayer-funded fence improperly built at his home and using his position to receive a “sweetheart” deal on his home mortgage.
He denied any misdeeds. FBI morale plummeted, however, and he became increasingly isolated from bureau employees.
Alice Sessions died last year. Survivors other than Naughton include sons Pete Sessions, a former Republican congressman from North Texas, as well as William L. Sessions and Mark Sessions.