William S. Sessions

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William S. Sessions
William S. Sessions.jpg
4th Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
In office
November 2, 1987 – July 19, 1993
PresidentRonald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Bill Clinton
DeputyFloyd I. Clarke
Preceded byWilliam H. Webster
Succeeded byLouis Freeh
Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas
In office
Preceded byJack Roberts
Succeeded byLucius Desha Bunton III
Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas
In office
December 20, 1974 – November 1, 1987
Appointed byGerald Ford
Preceded byErnest Allen Guinn
Succeeded byEmilio M. Garza
United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas
In office
Appointed byRichard Nixon
Preceded bySegal Wheatley
Succeeded byHugh Shovlin
Personal details
William Steele Sessions

(1930-05-27)May 27, 1930
Fort Smith, Arkansas, U.S.
DiedJune 12, 2020(2020-06-12) (aged 90)
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Alice Lewis
(m. 1952; died 2019)
Children4, including Pete
EducationBaylor University (BA, LLB)

William Steele Sessions (May 27, 1930 – June 12, 2020) was an American attorney and jurist who served as a United States district judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas and Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Sessions served as FBI director from 1987 to 1993, when he was dismissed by President Bill Clinton. After leaving the public sector, Sessions represented Semion Mogilevich, international leader of the Russian mafia. He was the father of Texas Congressman Pete Sessions.

Early life and education[edit]

Sessions was born in Fort Smith, Arkansas, the son of Edith A. (née Steele) and the Reverend Will Anderson Sessions Jr.[1] He graduated from Northeast High School in Kansas City, Missouri, in 1948, and enlisted in the United States Air Force, receiving his commission October 1952. He served on active duty until October 1955. He attended Baylor University in Waco, Texas, where he received a Bachelor of Arts degree in 1956. He received a Bachelor of Laws in 1958 from Baylor Law School.[2] At Baylor, Sessions became a member of the Delta Chi fraternity.[3] He was an Eagle Scout and recipient of the Distinguished Eagle Scout Award from the Boy Scouts of America.[4][5]


Law practice[edit]

Sessions was an attorney for the firm of Haley, Fulbright, Winniford, Sessions, and Bice in Waco, Texas, from 1963 until 1969. He was then appointed Chief of the Government Operations Section, Criminal Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., where he served until his appointment as United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas in 1971.[2]

Federal judicial service[edit]

Sessions was nominated by President Gerald Ford on December 11, 1974, to a seat on the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas vacated by Judge Ernest Allen Guinn. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on December 19, 1974, and received his commission on December 20, 1974. He served as Chief Judge from 1980 to 1987. He served as a board member of the Federal Judicial Center from 1980 to 1984. His service terminated on November 1, 1987, due to his resignation.[2]

FBI Director (1987–1993)[edit]

After a two-month search, Sessions was nominated to succeed William H. Webster as FBI Director by President Ronald Reagan and was sworn in on November 2, 1987.[6]

Sessions was viewed as combining tough direction with fairness and was respected even by the Reagan administration's critics, although he was sometimes ridiculed as straitlaced and dull and lacking hands-on leadership. He worked to raise the image of the FBI in Congress and fought to raise the pay of FBI agents, which had lagged behind other law enforcement agencies.[6]

Despite being a Republican who was appointed by Reagan, Sessions disappointed the administration of President George H. W. Bush for not being partisan, and he was personally disliked by Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. Sessions had an uneasy relationship with Thornburgh's successor William P. Barr. Reflecting the tensions between the Justice Department and the independent Bureau, Sessions announced that the FBI would be looking into whether Justice Department officials illegally misled a federal judge in a politically sensitive bank fraud case involving loans to Iraq before the Persian Gulf War, and 48 hours later Sessions was the subject of an ethics investigation on whether he had abused his office perks.[7][6]

Sessions enjoyed his strongest support among liberal Democrats in Congress.[7][6] Sessions was applauded for pursuing a policy of broadening the FBI to include more women and minorities, efforts which upset the "old boys" at the Bureau.[6]

Sample "Winners Don't Use Drugs" message from Golden Axe.

Sessions became associated with the phrase "Winners Don't Use Drugs", which appeared in the attract mode of North American-released arcade games from 1989 to 2000.[8][9] By law, it had to be included on all imported arcade games released in North America, and continued to appear long after Sessions left office. The quote normally appeared in gold against a blue background between the FBI seal and Sessions' name.[8]

Sessions' major contributions to the US criminal justice community include the encouraging of the FBI laboratory to develop a DNA program with a strong legal underpinning and the automation of the national fingerprint process. The latter project, known as the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System (IAFIS), reduced the turnaround time from months to hours for fingerprint searches for both criminal arrest cycles and applicants for sensitive positions such as teachers.[6]

Sessions was FBI director during the controversial 1992 confrontation at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, during which the unarmed Vicky Weaver was shot dead by an FBI sniper. This incident provoked heavy criticism of the Bureau, as did the deadly assault on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas that lasted from February 28 to April 19, 1993.[10]

Just before Bill Clinton was inaugurated as the 42nd President of the United States on January 20, 1993, allegations of ethical improprieties were made against Sessions. A report by outgoing Attorney General William P. Barr presented to the Justice Department that month by the Office of Professional Responsibility included criticisms that he had used an FBI plane to travel to visit his daughter on several occasions, and had a security system installed in his home at government expense.[7] Janet Reno, the 78th Attorney General of the United States, announced that Sessions had exhibited "serious deficiencies in judgment".[11]

Although Sessions denied that he had acted improperly, he was pressured to resign in early July, with some suggesting that President Clinton was giving Sessions the chance to step down in a dignified manner. Sessions refused, saying that he had done nothing wrong, and insisted on staying in office until his successor was confirmed. As a result, President Clinton dismissed Sessions on July 19, 1993. Sessions was five and a half years into a ten-year term as FBI director; however, the holder of this post serves at the pleasure of the President.[12]

Author Ronald Kessler with William Sessions and Sessions' wife Alice

Ronald Kessler's book, The FBI: Inside the World's Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency, led to the dismissal by President Clinton of Sessions as FBI director over his abuses. According to The Washington Post, "A Justice Department official...noted that the original charges against Sessions came not from FBI agents but from a journalist, Ronald Kessler [who uncovered the abuses while writing a book about the FBI, leading to Sessions' dismissal by President Clinton]..."[13] The New York Times said Kessler's FBI book "did indeed trigger bureau and Justice Department investigations into alleged travel and expense abuses [by FBI Director William Sessions, leading to his departure]...[14]

President Clinton nominated Louis Freeh to the FBI directorship on July 20, 1993. Then–FBI Deputy Director Floyd I. Clarke, who Sessions suggested had led a coup to force his removal, served as Acting Director until September 1, 1993, when Freeh was sworn in.[15]

Sessions returned to Texas where on December 7, 1999, he was named the state chair of Texas Exile, a statewide initiative aimed at reducing gun crime.[16]

Later career[edit]

William Sessions was the American attorney of Semion Mogilevich, the "boss of bosses" of the Russian mafia, and a member of the FBI Most Wanted Fugitives list, with close ties to Vladimir Putin.[17][18][19]

Sessions was a member of the American Bar Association and had served as an officer or on the Board of Directors of the Federal Bar Association of San Antonio, the American Judicature Society, the San Antonio Bar Association, the Waco-McLennan County Bar Association, and the District Judges' Association of the Fifth Circuit. He was appointed by President Reagan as a Commissioner of the Martin Luther King Jr., Federal Holiday Commission, and was a Delegate for the Americas to the Executive Committee of ICPO-Interpol. He was also a member of the Constitution Project's bipartisan Liberty and Security Committee.[20]

Sessions was present on the American Bar Association task force examining the constitutionality of controversial presidential signing statements. It concluded in July 2006 that the practice "does grave harm to the separation of powers doctrine, and the system of checks and balances that have sustained our democracy for more than two centuries".[21] In 2008, he argued that the execution of Troy Anthony Davis should not proceed because of serious doubts as to whether Davis is actually guilty.[22] Sessions agreed to serve on The Constitution Project's Guantanamo Task Force in December 2010.[23][24][25]

He died less than 2 months after two former Acting FBI Directors, James B. Adams, and John E. Otto, and 6.5 months after another Acting FBI Director, William Ruckelshaus.

Personal life and death[edit]

Sessions married Alice Lewis, his high school classmate, in 1952. Together, they had four children: William L., Pete, Mark, and Sara. He filed for divorce on February 20, 2018, but this was dismissed without prejudice on October 11, 2019.[10] Alice died in 2019 at their home in Washington, D.C.[26]

Sessions died on June 12, 2020, at his home in San Antonio from complications of heart failure.[26] He was 90.[27][28]


  1. ^ "Sessions", freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com.
  2. ^ a b c William Steele Sessions (1930–) at the Biographical Directory of Federal Judges, a public domain publication of the Federal Judicial Center.
  3. ^ "Alumni". Delta Chi at CSU Long Beach. Delta Chi. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  4. ^ "Distinguished Eagle Scout Award". Pikes Peak Council. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  5. ^ Halter, Jon C. (September 1999). "Love Jones". Scouting. Vol. 87, no. 4. Boy Scouts of America, Inc. p. 48. ISSN 0036-9500.
  6. ^ a b c d e f Atlas, Terry (October 27, 1992). "FBI Director's Mistakes Slowly Come To Light". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved May 9, 2017.
  7. ^ a b c Johnston, David (January 19, 1993). "F.B.I. Chief Plans to Fight for Job". The New York Times.
  8. ^ a b Hutchinson, Sean (August 19, 2015). "How the F.B.I. Made 'Winners Don't Use Drugs' the Arcade Motto of the '90s". Boy Scouts of America. Archived from the original on June 4, 2020. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  9. ^ Volpe, Michael J.; Franklin, Mary Beth (September 12, 1993). "Fed Games". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  10. ^ a b Danner, Patrick (October 25, 2019). "Former FBI director, wife call off San Antonio divorce". San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  11. ^ "Time's Up for William Sessions". The New York Times. January 22, 1993.
  12. ^ Ostrow, Ronald J.; Jackson, Robert L. (July 20, 1993). "Defiant FBI Chief Is Fired by President : Law enforcement: Alleged ethical abuses by Sessions are cited as reason for dismissal. He refused to resign". Los Angeles Times.
  13. ^ Washington Post, June 19, 1993, page A1; Washington Post, July 20, 1993, page A1.
  14. ^ MacKenzie, John (September 12, 1993). "How the G-Men Measure Up Now". New York Times.
  15. ^ Johnston, David (July 20, 1993) "Defiant FBI chief removed from job by the President", New York Times.
  16. ^ Ramsey, Ross (December 13, 1999). "Campaign Finance: Some Assembly Required". The Texas Tribune. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  17. ^ Unger 2018, p. 218.
  18. ^ Heffernan, Virginia (January 14, 2018). "Column: A close reading of Glenn Simpson's Trump-Russia testimony". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved January 25, 2021.
  19. ^ Simpson, Glenn R.; Jacoby, Mary (April 17, 2007). "How Lobbyists Help Ex-Soviets Woo Washington". The Wall Street Journal. ISSN 0099-9660. Archived from the original on July 9, 2017. Retrieved March 26, 2021.
  20. ^ "Constitution Project: Liberty and Security Initiative". Constitutionproject.org. Archived from the original on June 26, 2008. Retrieved September 7, 2008.
  21. ^ "Bar Association: Bush Oversteps Power". CBS News. Associated Press. July 24, 2006. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  22. ^ "A trebly dubious death sentence | Reasonable doubt". The Economist. April 24, 2008. Retrieved January 22, 2009.
  23. ^ "Task Force on Detainee Treatment Launched". The Constitution Project. December 17, 2010. Archived from the original on December 15, 2010.
  24. ^ "Think tank plans study of how US treats detainees". Wall Street Journal. December 17, 2010. Archived from the original on December 19, 2010. Former FBI Director William Sessions, former Arkansas U.S. Rep. Asa Hutchinson, a retired Army general and a retired appeals court judge in Washington are among 11 people selected for a task force that will meet for the first time in early January, said Virginia Sloan, a lawyer and president of The Constitution Project.
  25. ^ "Task Force members" (PDF). The Constitution Project. December 17, 2010. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 25, 2011.
  26. ^ a b MacCormack, John (June 12, 2020). "Bill Sessions: former prosecutor, judge and FBI director, dies at 90". San Antonio Express-News. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  27. ^ Valentine, Paul W. (June 12, 2020). "William S. Sessions, FBI director who battled agency's old guard, dies at 90". The Washington Post. Retrieved June 12, 2020.
  28. ^ McFadden, Robert D. (June 12, 2020). "William S. Sessions, F.B.I. Director at a Turbulent Time, Dies at 90". The New York Times. Retrieved June 26, 2020.


External links[edit]

Legal offices
Preceded by Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas
Succeeded by
Preceded by Chief Judge of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas
Succeeded by
Government offices
Preceded by Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation
Succeeded by