IssuesFormer FBI Director, Baylor Grad William Sessions Dies at 90

San Antonian and former FBI head, William Sessions, passed away on June 12. The longtime Texas attorney, judge, and investigator served as the director of the FBI from 1987 to 1993.
June 16, 2020
The first Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) director to be fired, rather than resign, from his post died last Friday in San Antonio.

But that firing is one of the least interesting aspects of William Sessions’ life and tenure.

Son of a preacher, Sessions was born in Arkansas in 1930. After his high school graduation, he enlisted and served in the Air Force from 1948 to 1955.

From there, Sessions came to Texas to attend school at Baylor University and then attended its law school.

After practicing law for seven years, he took a job with the Justice Department overseeing its Government Operations Section, Criminal Division where he prosecuted cases involving voter fraud and draft dodging.

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Taking him back to Texas, Sessions was appointed U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Texas in 1971.

A few years later, then-President Gerald Ford appointed him to a seat on the Western District Court of Texas. While there, he gained a reputation for being a straight-shooting, tough but fair judge which helped spur his consideration for his next position: director of the FBI.

He was appointed FBI head in 1987 until 1993 when Bill Clinton took office. His confirmation sailed through the Senate by a vote of 90-0.

In office, Sessions made a concerted effort to hire more women and minority individuals at the bureau.

The FBI stated of Sessions, “Our hearts are heavy upon hearing that former FBI Director William S. Sessions passed away on June 12 in San Antonio, Texas, at the age of 90.”

“He helped modernize the FBI through the introduction of emerging science and technology and fostering a sense of diversity and inclusion, better equipping us in our mission to uphold the Constitution and protect the American people. We will always be grateful for Judge Sessions’ many contributions to our great institution.”

Two of those contributions were what became the Integrated Automated Fingerprint Identification System which reduced the turnaround for fingerprint searches from months to hours and established a DNA program with strong legal footing.

During his tenure, Sessions oversaw the department during two of its most tumultuous and notoriously bungled sieges at Ruby Ridge, Idaho, and the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, Texas — notably, the same city in which he attended undergrad and law school.

After tensions grew between Sessions and Bush administration officials over the FBI director’s unwillingness to play partisan ball, a Justice Department report was filed accusing Sessions of ethical violations.

The incident that sparked the accusations was an investigation Sessions launched into possible misinformation from Justice Department officials to a federal judge involving a federal bank fraud case.

The accusations of Sessions included improper use of bureau-sanctioned flights, having agents run personal errands (this accusation was levied against his wife), and spending $10,000 of department money for a personal security fence.

While some considered these charges trivial tit-for-tat political hits, and Sessions denied any wrongdoing, it contributed to his patchy legacy at the helm of the FBI.

After the conclusion of his public life, Sessions remained active in legal circles and even resumed some practice. He provided pro-bono services for death row inmates whom he believed received poor legal defense.

Sessions had four children with his wife, Alice — one of whom is former TX-32 congressman and current candidate for TX-17, Pete Sessions.

Rick Casey, a longtime San Antonio-based reporter who interacted with Sessions, called Sessions “a good man with a weakness.”

He added, “Most of us should aspire to as much.”


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.