FBI chief leaving next month

Tuesday, May 1st 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ FBI Director Louis Freeh announced Tuesday he is retiring, cutting short a term marked by conflict over Clinton era fund-raising allegations and criticism following a Waco, Texas, confrontation that took 83 lives.

Freeh informed President Bush of his decision Monday during a visit to the White House, after meeting briefly with White House chief of staff Andrew Card. Freeh had signaled his intention to resign previously, thus the White House was not surprised by the news.

Freeh thanked Bush for his ``unwavering support of me and the FBI.'' Appointed by President Clinton, Freeh has been director of the bureau since 1993.

The 51-year-old director listed many accomplishments, including hiring several thousand new special agents, forging a relationship with the CIA, doubling the FBI's overseas presence and a bigger budget for crime-fighting.

On the other hand, the bureau was embarrassed by the arrest early this year of a veteran FBI agent, Robert Philip Hanssen, on allegations that he had spied for Moscow since 1985.

Freeh said at the time, in mid-February, that tighter controls over top-secret documents and other improvements recommended after the Aldrich Ames spy case helped the bureau catch Hanssen.

Bureau management had been urged four years earlier by the Justice Department inspector general to enhance training and communications. The FBI was criticized at the time by the Justice Department inspector general for not doing enough to find out how Ames leaked sensitive information to the Soviet Union. Ames pleaded guilty in 1994.

Also, Freeh had differences with then-Attorney General Janet Reno over the government's investigation of alleged wrongdoing by Democrats in connection with 1996 campaign-funding activities.

Freeh insisted that Reno should have asked for an outside counsel to investigate the allegations, but she declined to do so.

In a memo kept secret for 2 1/2 years, Freeh said the Justice Department was ignoring ``reliable evidence'' that conflicted with Vice President Al Gore's accounts of his fund-raising activities.

Justice Department officials said the FBI's legal analysis was flawed.

Freeh's memo preceded a better-known, and more scrutinized, memo by the chief prosecutor in the case, Charles LaBella, who accused his Justice superiors of contorting their investigation to avoid triggering appointment of an independent counsel.

When he took over the FBI, Freeh had been an agent for 18 years and carried out investigations that led to a number of high-profile convictions in New York.

He left the bureau briefly to become an assistant U.S. attorney and became one of the front-line prosecutors in what became known as the ``Pizza Connection'' case, a major heroin distribution operation.

Freeh has six sons ranging in age from 3 to 16 and made a point in his written statement of saying that he would be leaving the FBI ``by the end of the school year in June.''

Freeh said he looks forward to spending the summer with his family and ``engaging in new challenges.''

He said he has not been job hunting.

``I have neither engaged in negotiations regarding any future employment nor have I requested others do so on my behalf while serving as director,'' Freeh said in the statement.

In a recent success, a beaming Freeh stepped to a podium here to announce the capture of James Kopp, a 46-year-old wanted in connection with the 1998 slaying of an abortion-providing doctor from Buffalo, N.Y.

But his legacy also includes a confrontation that agents had with David Koresh and his followers in the Branch Davidian group _ a clash that left 83 dead in Waco, Texas.

After a 10-month independent investigation, former Sen. John Danforth, R-Mo., concluded that the blame for the catastrophe rested solely with Koresh.

Danforth concluded with ''100 percent certainty'' that federal agents did not start the fire or shoot at cult members during the 1993 inferno. The government also did not improperly use the military and did not engage in a major cover-up, Danforth said.

The arrest of Hanssen was likely Freeh's toughest moment in recent months.

In the aftermath of the arrest and the fallout from it, Freeh and his top deputies agreed to take lie-detector tests as part of stepped-up security procedures following Hanssen's arrest.

``The director always includes himself in whatever policy applies to FBI employees,'' John Collingwood, an FBI spokesman, said at the time. ``He will exercise the same leadership in regard to the expansion of the polygraph policy.''