Atty. Gen. Janet Reno said Wednesday that a decision on the fate of FBI Director William S. Sessions--under fire for alleged ethical shortcomings--will await Senate confirmation of Philip B. Heymann as deputy attorney general.
Heymann, a Harvard law professor whose Senate Judiciary Committee hearing is Tuesday, has had extensive involvement with the FBI. He served as head of the Justice Department's criminal division during the Jimmy Carter Administration and as President-elect Clinton's transition representative at the bureau.
"I want Phil involved because he's worked closely with the FBI," Reno said in an interview. "That will be within his area (as the department's No. 2 official). As soon as we get past his confirmation, we should resolve that matter."
Reno is expected to meet with Sessions in the next few days. From the time she took office two months ago, she has said that she would give high priority to the Sessions matter.
But Justice and FBI officials said that they believe the decision was delayed by the standoff with the Branch Davidian cult in Waco, Tex. They contended that the question of removing Sessions has to be separated from the controversy in Texas to make clear that the two are not related.
In a report last year by the Office of Professional Responsibility, the department's internal watchdog unit, Sessions was found to have used his office for personal gain. Former Atty. Gen. William P. Barr accepted the findings on his last day in office and said that he was particularly disturbed because he believed that Sessions had engaged in a "sham" arrangement to avoid paying taxes on his use of an FBI limousine to commute to work.
The 161-page report also found that Sessions had set up official appointments to justify charging the government for personal trips, improperly billed the FBI nearly $10,000 for a fence around his home and refused to turn over documents on his $375,000 home mortgage, which investigators said they suspected involved a "sweetheart deal."
Sessions challenged the conclusions and accused Barr of acting out of "animus" and "anger" toward him. The FBI director has served little more than half of his 10-year term, but the President can remove him at any time.
Clinton has said that he would act on the basis of Reno's recommendation.
Reno, in the interview Wednesday, declined comment when asked if the delay reflected any shortcomings in the Justice Department report.
She said that it would be up to Sessions whether he wants to bring his lawyers to her meeting with him. Reno brushed aside the question of whether it would set a precedent, because lesser FBI officials and agents are not allowed representation by counsel in administrative hearings.
Thomas M. Susman, one of Sessions' lawyers, said that "each week that goes by works to his advantage. He is working very closely with the White House and the attorney general on some very important subjects and the new Administration will get to see how he performs."
Sessions has not reacted publicly to a senior Administration official's expression of hope that a way could be found to ease out Sessions, short of attributing his departure to ethical shortcomings.
Sessions has indicated that he is not interested in going quietly and is seeking to have the Justice Department report's conclusions rejected.