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FBI Director’s Wife Flew on Government Planes for Free, Report Says

July 10, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ The wife of FBI Director William S. Sessions accompanied her husband on 17 official trips aboard government aircraft but paid for only one flight, according to a report released Tuesday.

Alice Sessions accompanied her husband on a variety of business trips from Washington to destinations including Key West, Fla.; Williamsburg, Va.; San Francisco; and New Orleans, from Aug. 11, 1988 through July 31, 1989, said the report by the General Accounting Office.

While it didn’t question the propriety of the trips, the watchdog unit of Congress criticized the Justice Department for failing to study the cost of using aircraft seized from convicted criminals to transport Sessions and Attorney General Dick Thornburgh.

The GAO said it believed the department could save money by leasing planes.

FBI spokesman Robert Davenport said Mrs. Sessions did not reimburse the agency for the trips because she was accompanying her husband on official business.

Davenport said Mrs. Sessions did pay the FBI $280 to cover one leg of a trip that included a stopover in San Antonio, Texas, for personal business.

Sessions made 36 trips, generally to visit FBI field offices and to make speeches to judicial and police groups. Thornburgh made 39 trips during the period aboard the government-owned aircraft, mainly to give speeches and attend meetings.

Five months after the GAO began its study, Thornburgh reimbursed the Justice Department $2,128 for eight trips his wife took on the government planes, the report said.

The payment included $1,371 for six official trips that Mrs. Thornburgh took during the 12-month period reviewed by GAO, the report said. Thornburgh also repaid the government $1,032 in 1989 for personal trips he and his family members took aboard the aircraft.

Justice Department policy does not require Mrs. Thornburgh to pay for trips on official flights ″if there is an empty seat and the government would incur no extra cost,″ said department spokesman Dan Eramian.

″Mrs. Thornburgh preferred, in the exercise of an abundance of caution, to reimburse the government for the trips,″ Eramian said.

In a letter to the Justice Department, Rep. Bob Wise, D-W.Va., criticized the agency for failure to adopt a travel policy, particularly regarding ″issues such as what constitutes an ‘official purpose’ or ‘official function’ and when non-official passengers should be permitted to fly on government aircraft.″

Wise, who asked for the report, said seven months have elapsed since he was told a policy was being drafted.

Eramian said a policy will be adopted, adding: ″It would have been silly to put something together until we saw what the GAO recommendations were.″

The GAO study said the Justice Department failed to follow government guidelines when comparing the cost of using government aircraft seized from convicted criminals with the cost of using leased planes to transport Thornburgh and Sessions.

The Justice Department’s own analysis, conducted after the GA0 began its study, showed that the government was saving $500,000 a year to use the seized aircraft instead of leasing planes.

″If we had leased an aircraft and spent an extra half million a year, we would have received a larger dose of criticism,″ Eramian said.

The GAO report noted concern for the security of both Thornburgh and Sessions, quoting from a 1989 Justice Department memo stating that the attorney general had been the subject of 13 threats during his first six months in office.

The report also noted that the FBI had received reports last year that Thornburgh had been targeted by Colombian ″hit squads″ after Colombia resumed extraditing accused drug lords to this country.

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