FBI: TROUBLED HOUSE
APRIL 16, 1997
Experts reflect on negative evaluations of Director Louis Freeh, numerous incidents of mishandled cases, and plummeting morale at one of the nation's chief law enforcement agencies. A background report is followed by a panel discussion.
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April 16, 1997:
A panel discussion on the leadership of FBI director, Louis Freeh, and reports of poor morale at the agency.
April 15, 1997:
A panel discussion on the Justice Dept. report critical of the FBI crime lab.
December 18, 1996:
A veteran FBI agent has been charged with spying on the U.S. for Russia.
June 26, 1996:
The investigation into the White House's handling of confidential FBI files
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KWAME HOLMAN: This is a Hollywood image of the FBI. In the movie "Melvyn Pervis, G Man" FBI agents are capable, fair, dedicated, and fearless. But for the last year that image has been shaken as bureau director Louie Freeh has overseen an FBI embroiled in several controversies. Freeh, himself, was selected by President Clinton in 1993 after FBI Director William Sessions left under an ethics cloud.
LOUIE FREEH: I was born in Jersey City, and from about the age of my eldest son, I wanted to be an FBI agent.
KWAME HOLMAN: Freeh was seen as a breath of fresh air with credentials unlike any of his predecessors. He's the only director who has worked as an agent, a prosecutor, and a federal judge, having been appointed by George Bush to the federal court with the jurisdiction over New York City. Freeh was confirmed without opposition to the Senate and sworn in in 1993. And he was quick to rack up some high profile accomplishments. In 1993, successful prosecutions in the World Trade Center bombing; in 1996, the bloodless resolution of the Freeman standoff in Montana.
But also last year problems arose. First came the so-called "Filegate" case. Officials at the White House acknowledged they requested from the FBI and were sent the background files of more than 300 people, including prominent Republicans. Freeh admitted the--and ordered changes in agency procedures, but he--the White House, saying, "The prior system of providing files to the White House relied on good faith and honor. Unfortunately, the FBI, and I were victimized."
Then last year the FBI's general counsel, Howard Shapiro, admitted he had warned the White House about an impending congressional investigation of the files matter. An internal Justice Department review of Shapiro's actions cleared him of specific wrongdoing but said he used very poor judgment and created an appearance the FBI was not sufficiently independent of the White House. And last August, FBI sources reportedly told the press Richard Jewell was a suspect in the Atlanta Olympic Park bombing.
RICHARD JEWELL: In its rush to show the world how quickly it could get its man the FBI trampled on my rights as a citizen. In their mad rush to fulfill their own personal agendas, the FBI and the media almost destroyed me and my mother.
KWAME HOLMAN: The government finally issued an apology to Jewell and cleared him of involvement but the case remains unsolved, and field agents' tactics, as well as Freeh's role, are under investigation by the Justice Department. As the controversies mounted, members of Congress, especially Republicans, began to question Freeh's management of the FBI. Last month, Freeh testified before a House Appropriations Subcommittee.
REP. HAROLD ROGERS, (R) Kentucky: (March 5) Mr. Director, your judgment in several high profile episodes is coming under increased scrutiny and raise serious questions that have cast serious doubts about the independence of the FBI.
REP. BOB LIVINGSTON, (R) Louisiana: (March 5) I think the leadership of the FBI has brought the entire organization into question, and you are the leader.
LOUIS FREEH, FBI Director: (March 5) For problems that have occurred during my watch and for problems which have developed prior to my watch I take full responsibility. I don't ask about anybody in my organization. I am the director, as you said, Mr. Chairman, I am the leadership, and I'm not doing a good job in that regard, they ought to get a new FBI director.
KWAME HOLMAN: And earlier this year there was another apparent miscue between the FBI and the White House. Before the 1996 federal elections two FBI agents told White House national security officials that the Chinese government would attempt to make illegal campaign contributions. But that information never reached President Clinton, sparking a public dispute between the President and Director Freeh.
PRESIDENT CLINTON: They have dual obligations to share with the White House and with the State Department, the Secretary of State, where appropriate, information we need to protect and advance national security and to preserve the integrity of criminal investigations.
REPORTER: Do you still have strong confidence in Louie Freeh?
PRESIDENT CLINTON: Yes. I have no basis--on the basis of this incident I don't have any information at this time which would--which would call into question that confidence.
KWAME HOLMAN: Freeh said White House officials were responsible for telling the President, and the next day Freeh got a vote of confidence from Attorney General Janet Reno.
JANET RENO, Attorney General: I have every confidence in Director Freeh. I have watched him deal with some of the most sensitive and important issues that we face in this country, and he's done so with firm determination to pursue the truth to get to the right answer to make sure that steps are taken to ensure that justice is done.
KWAME HOLMAN: But this week brought more bad news for the FBI. An 18-month investigation of the Bureau's troubled crime lab confirmed reports of significant procedural flaws that could compromise dozens of federal prosecutions, including the Oklahoma City bombing trial.
WILLIAM ESPOSITO, FBI Deputy Director: We regret the--we've got to this point in the FBI--it's not only unpleasant for me but also the director and probably every FBI agent in the FBI. There's no doubt problems that were surfaced by the inspector general and also by our own people are very serious. We all agree with the recommendations made by the IG. I think he made 40 recommendations. We agree with all 40 of them. In some areas we have already made those changes; in other areas changes are being implemented.
KWAME HOLMAN: Freeh already had taken steps to improve the crime lab prior to this week's report, but like Freeh's successes in promoting women and minorities at the Bureau, that work may be overshadowed by controversy.