FBI Director’s Wife Accused Of Trying To Steer Contract
WASHINGTON (AP) _ The Justice Department has been told that the wife of FBI Director William S. Sessions unsuccessfully tried to steer a $100,000 government contract for security at the couple’s home to a family friend, it was disclosed Tuesday.
The disclosure, made by a Washington writer who is preparing a book on the FBI, came as the Justice Department confirmed it is looking into charges of improper conduct by Sessions involving personal travel and other matters.
Department spokesman Paul McNulty confirmed the inquiry is underway after Sessions himself said he is under investigation.
″The department can confirm that Director Sessions is accurate,″ McNulty said. He declined to be more specific.
Sessions said he did not know the specifics of the allegations being investigated by the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, an internal watchdog unit, but ″I welcome the inquiry and am confident of the outcome.″
He said he already had taken steps to audit some of his activities mentioned in news stories about the investigation.
The New York Times and Washington Post reported in Wednesday editions that the Justice Department’s Criminal Division is conducting a criminal investigation into some of the allegations raised by the ethics probe.
Both newspapers said the criminal inquiry focuses at least in part on personal long distance telephone calls allegedly billed to the FBI director’s office.
Two Democrats in Congress said the timing of the investigation made them wonder if someone was trying to undermine Sessions’ investigation of alleged Justice Department misconduct in a case involving bank loans to Iraq.
Other sources said the investigation is wide-ranging.
One charge was revealed by author Ron Kessler in an interview with The Associated Press. Kessler is writing a book about the FBI.
Kessler said Alice Sessions allegedly tried unsuccessfully to get the FBI to award a $100,000 contract to install security alarms in the Sessions’ Washington home to Donald Munford, husband of Sessions’ aide Sarah Munford.
Kessler said the contract was vetoed by FBI officials, but Munford, who lives in San Antonio, was paid $5,000 for conducting a security survey of the Sessions’ home.
Kessler said the charge is included in a 10-page letter he signed and sent last June 24 to the FBI public affairs office in an effort to get the FBI director to respond to allegations of misconduct.
One government source said Justice investigators had an anonymous letter to Attorney General William P. Barr accusing Mrs. Sessions of wrongdoing. In addition, Justice sources said they are looking at a list of complaints including charges that Kessler raised in his letter.
The other charges include unauthorized plane and car travel by Mrs. Sessions, and that she was given a top security FBI building pass normally reserved for FBI officials.
Also, Sarah Munford allegedly showed her FBI credentials to a Texas state trooper last year in an unsuccessful attempt to persuade him not to give her son a speeding ticket.
Meanwhile, the timing of the reports prompted speculation that Sessions is the target of a vindictive effort to discredit him.
Rep. Don Edwards, D-Calif., chairman of the House Judiciary civil rights subcommittee and one of Sessions’ defenders on Capitol Hill, said he is outraged by the disclosures.
″Leaking unproven charges violates the most fundamental rules of the Justice Department and the FBI,″ Edwards said in a telephone interview.
The Justice Department investigation was made public Monday night by ABC News, and many of the details first were revealed by Newhouse Newspapers.
The disclosures came amid published reports that the FBI and the Justice Department, its parent agency, disagree over which of them should investigate charges that Justice officials concealed evidence in a case involving bank loans to Iraq. ABC News said Sessions wanted the FBI to investigate and Justice wanted to conduct its own investigation.
The FBI issued a statement Tuesday denying any conflict between the two agencies.
McNulty said speculation linking the Iraq case and the charges against Sessions are ″utterly ridiculous.″
But Edwards said, ″The timing of this leak is very suspicious since the FBI is investigating the Justice Department’s handling of the Iraqgate scandal.″
He noted that the allegations of unauthorized travel by Sessions and his wife are several years old.
″The timing ... makes me wonder if an attempt is being made to pressure him not to conduct an independent investigation,″ said Sen. David Boren, D- Okla., chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Sessions was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1987 to a 10-year term as head of the FBI. The length of the term is designed to shield FBI directors from political meddling.
The Office of Professional Responsibility (OPR) reportedly plans to question Sessions about the charges this week.
Government officials say Mrs. Munford, who was Sessions’ courtroom bailiff when he was federal judge in Texas, is widely resented among FBI professionals because as an outsider she enjoys unlimited access to the director.
She was interviewed shortly after the OPR inquiry began two weeks ago, said a government source who requested anonymity.