Profile: William S. Sessions
Positions that William S. Sessions has held:
William S. Sessions was a participant or observer in the following events:
Sheriff James Harwell. The FBI allows him to negotiate with the Davidians, but only for a brief period. [Source: PBS]President Clinton gives his implicit endorsement for a negotiated solution to the standoff between federal agents and the Branch Davidian sect members near Waco (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and 12:00 p.m. February 28, 1993). By 6:00 a.m., the FBI has assumed formal control of the situation. FBI agents set up a fully functioning command post by the afternoon, and FBI agents in armored vehicles surround the compound. FBI Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Jamar, named site commander, arrives to take charge. Daniel Hartnett, the associate director of enforcement for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (BATF) also arrives. The Davidians allow 10 children to leave the compound, apparently as a result of intense hostage negotiations between the Davidians and the FBI’s Hostage Rescue Team (HRT) personnel, who have just arrived on-scene. Deputy Treasury Secretary Roger Altman goes to Waco and meets with BATF agent Bill Buford. Davidian leader David Koresh becomes agitated when he sees the vehicles moving in; he is further angered when he learns that the FBI has blocked all incoming and outgoing telephone calls except for communications between him and the negotiators. Koresh assures the negotiatiors that his Davidians are not contemplating mass suicide. FBI Director William Sessions advises Clinton that a “waiting strategy” to handle the situation is best, and Clinton agrees. [Moore, 1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996] Some of the agents who surround the compound have black ribbons on their identification badges to memorialize the four BATF agents slain during the raid. [New York Times, 3/3/1993]
Supplies and Surveillance - Starting today and for weeks to follow, FBI negotiators will provide the besieged Davidians with some requested items, including food and supplies for the children. In some of these provisions, FBI agents insert listening devices, which give the agents a limited amount of knowledge as to topics being discussed among the Davidians. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Negotiations - The FBI chooses not to retain the services of BATF agent James Cavanaugh, who successfully negotiated the cease-fire between the BATF and the Davidians; Cavanaugh has already gained a measure of trust from Koresh and his aide Steve Schneider, and had successfully convinced the two to let some children leave the compound. The FBI does allow McLennan County Sheriff Jack Harwell to speak with the Davidians, as the Davidians know him and trust him to an extent. The FBI comes to consider Harwell a “natural” at low-key negotiations. However, within two days, it will prevent him from any further contact with the Davidians. The FBI never allows the Texas Rangers to speak with the Davidians, though the Davidians say they trust the Rangers to treat them fairly; Jamar refuses to speak to Rangers chief David Byrnes. The FBI will later say that it was concerned that “third party” negotiators did not have training in FBI negotiation tactics. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Entity Tags: FBI Hostage Rescue Team, David Koresh, Dan Hartnett, Branch Davidians, Bill Buford, William S. Sessions, David Byrnes, William Jefferson (“Bill”) Clinton, Texas Rangers, James Cavanaugh, Jeffrey Jamar, Roger Altman, Steve Schneider, Jack Harwell, US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, Federal Bureau of Investigation
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Attorney General Janet Reno discusses tear-gassing the Branch Davidian compound (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 7, 1993) with senior Justice Department and FBI officials. At first she is reluctant to approve any such plan, asking repeatedly, “Why now, why not wait?” but as the discussion progresses, she becomes more convinced that action must be taken (see April 9, 1993). The plan is presented not as an all-out assault, but as a staged assault whereby gas is used on parts of the compound, theoretically allowing sect members to exit through uncontaminated areas. Reno asks if it is feasible to cut the water supply to the compound. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Reno has little real knowledge of the level of infighting and dissension among the FBI officials involved in the standoff (see March 31, 1993). The FBI officials who come to her office give no hint that many are recommending that the negotiations continue and the pressure on the Davidians be lessened. Reporter Peter Boyer will later note that Reno, a Washington outsider only a month into the job (see March 12, 1993), has no “cadre of confidants” willing to give her an unvarnished, complete picture of events. Instead, the FBI officials, led by Director William Sessions, present her with what Boyer will call a “united front,” all agreeing that negotiations have completely broken down and action is now the only option. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995] In 1995, FBI profiler Peter Smerick will claim that top FBI officials “misled” Reno by not providing her with work by himself and other FBI behavioral analysts and negotiators that warned of the risks of such an assault (see 1995). Unbeknownst to Reno, the Washington FBI officials have sent a high-priority request to the FBI commanders in Waco asking for “specific documentation to support our position” that tear gas is the only option. The request outlines how the information would be used to argue against waiting out the Davidians. The request also states the FBI’s plan for addressing questions about negotiations in the report to the attorney general: “The universal assessment of all involved—including FBI and outside consultants: that negotiation would not work,” it says. [Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
David Koresh, the increasingly unstable leader (see April 9, 1993) of the besieged Branch Davidian sect near Waco, Texas (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993 and March 1, 1993), informs FBI negotiators in a letter written to his lawyer Richard DeGuerin that God has finally spoken to him; he will leave the compound once he has written a manuscript explaining the Seven Seals, a Biblical concept that is associated with the Apocalypse. According to the book Snapping: America’s Epidemic of Sudden Personality Change, Koresh’s lieutenant Steve Schneider tells negotiators that it might take “six months or six years” to complete the manuscript. Other sources say that Koresh intends to finish the manuscript within several weeks. [US Department of Justice, 4/14/1993; Conway and Siegelman, 1995, pp. 244; Moore, 1995; New Yorker, 5/15/1995]
Religious Basis for Surrender? - The latest letter from Koresh is substantially different from his previous letters; while the earlier letters were primarily rambling Biblical dissertations, this letter states a deadline as to when the Davidians will leave and Koresh will surrender. Experts reading the letter note that it is far more prosaically written than the earlier letters, and states Koresh’s desire to leave the compound and “stand before man to answer any and all questions regarding my actions.” Some religious scholars, later reading the letter, will say that they believe Koresh has found a religious rationale for surrendering. James Tabor of the University of North Carolina will say, “Koresh used the religious arguments in this letter for why he had now seen that the scriptures told him to come out.” Tabor and his colleague, Philip Arnold of the Reunion Institute of Houston (see March 7, 1993), will note that Koresh now seems to believe that surrender is a viable option because he “could come out and preach his message.” [US Department of Justice, 4/14/1993; House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Davidians 'Cheer' over Likelihood of Departure - DeGuerin, representing Koresh and the Davidians (see April 1-4, 1993), says that the Davidians are happy about the prospect of their imminent release. “[E]everyone was relieved they did not have to die,” DeGuerin will later recall. The Davidians obviously believe they are leaving; cheering can be heard on FBI surveillance audiotapes. Tabor will later testify: “You can exactly see the mental state of the people inside. It is buoyant. They are talking about coming out. They are excited about it.” Tabor will quote surviving Davidians as saying, “We were so joyful that weekend because we knew we were coming out, that finally David had got his word of how to do this legally, the lawyers, and theologically in terms of his system.” [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
FBI, Justice Department Refuse to Countenance Idea, Continue with Plans to Assault Compound - In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno continues to review plans to flush the Davidians out with tear gas (see April 12, 1993), and meets with members of the Army’s elite Delta Force to fine-tune the strategy. Senior White House and Justice Department officials conclude that there is no hope of Koresh surrendering peacefully, a conclusion reinforced by FBI senior agent Byron Sage, one of the principal negotiators, who tells officials that in his opinion further negotiations would be fruitless. The FBI agent in charge of the siege, Jeffrey Jamar, gives DeGuerin and his fellow lawyer Jack Zimmerman the impression that he takes Koresh’s offer of surrender seriously, but as Jamar will later testify, he does not. Jamar will later testify: “It was serious in [DeGuerin’s and Zimmerman’s] minds. I think they were earnest and really hopeful, but in Koresh’s mind, never a chance. I’m sorry.” The Delta Force members are present at the request of FBI Director William Sessions, to convince Reno to go along with the tear-gas plan. They reassure her that tear gas presents no danger to both the adults and the children in the compound, and that it cannot catch fire. Richard Rogers, the head of the Hostage Rescue Team (HRT—see March 31, 1993), says that if the situation in Waco is not resolved soon, he will have to withdraw his men for rest and retraining. Reno asks why, if the HRT teams must be withdrawn, local SWAT teams cannot be deployed in their place; Rogers and other FBI officials say the presence of the HRT teams is “essential.” However, even with the pressure from the FBI officials, Reno rejects the plan. [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] She will approve a modified version of the plan two days later (see April 17-18, 1993). She is apparently unaware that the FBI will lob pyrotechnic grenades either into or near the building (see August 25, 1999 and After).
Opinions Vary on Koresh's Intentions, Sincerity - Sage will later say that in his opinion, Koresh never intended to follow through with the proposed surrender. He will say that Koresh turns down offers to provide typists and word processors to help him complete his manuscript, though the FBI provides equipment to let Davidian Ruth Riddle begin typing transcripts for him. Sage is convinced, he will say, that the entire manuscript proposal is “just another delaying tactic.” [Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Others have a different opinion. Two religious scholars, Arnold and Tabor, have studied Koresh’s earlier broadcast (see March 2, 1993), and believe that Koresh has decided that the Apocalypse he believes is unfolding at Mt. Carmel still has a year or so before it concludes; Koresh’s decision to write the manuscript about the Seven Seals indicates to them that he has changed his mind about the timeframe of the End Days. They believe that Koresh means what he says and does intend to surrender after completing the manuscript. [Dean M. Kelley, 5/1995]
Entity Tags: Federal Bureau of Investigation, Byron Sage, David Koresh, Clinton administration, FBI Hostage Rescue Team, William S. Sessions, Steve Schneider, Branch Davidians, Richard Rogers, Ruth Riddle, James Tabor, Janet Reno, Jack Zimmerman, Philip Arnold, Richard DeGuerin, Jeffrey Jamar
Timeline Tags: 1993 Branch Davidian Crisis
Branch Davidian leader David Koresh tells the FBI he has completed work on the portion of his manuscript that explains the first of the Seven Seals (see April 14-15, 1993). In Washington, Attorney General Janet Reno, after a private briefing by FBI Director William Sessions, requests that the FBI prepare documentation about the tear-gas assault plan currently under development (see April 12, 1993). [Moore, 1995]
A variety of military-grade CS gas canisters. A ruler lies between them as a size reference. It is unclear if the FBI plans to use canisters similar to these in the Davidian assault. [Source: British Ordnance Collectors]Attorney General Janet Reno approves a modified version of the FBI’s original plan to flush the Branch Davidian compound, Mt. Carmel, with tear gas and force the departure of the 80-odd members (see 5:00 A.M. - 9:30 A.M. February 28, 1993, March 1, 1993, and April 7, 1993). Reno rejected an earlier plan, instead asking for further review (see April 14-15, 1993). According to a later Justice Department report, she gives the prepared material “only a cursory review, leaving tactical decisions to those at Waco,” and begins discussing rules of engagement with FBI Director William Sessions and his top aides. She briefs President Clinton, who concurs with the plan after asking questions about measures designed to ensure the safety of the children in the compound (see March 28, 1993). According to Reno, who will later discuss her conversation with Clinton: “He said: ‘Have you carefully considered it? Have you looked at everything? Do you feel like this is the best way to go?’ And I said: ‘Yes, sir. It’s my responsibility, and I think it’s the best way to go.’” Ultimately, Clinton says, “it is your decision.” The plan has been under discussion since March 22 (see March 22, 1993); Reno will acknowledge that she has been appraised of such a plan since “around March 27th or sometime near the very end of March.” [New York Times, 4/20/1993; PBS Frontline, 10/1995]
Parameters of Plan - The stated mission of the plan is to “secure the surrender/arrest of all adult occupants of the residence while providing the maximum possible security for the children within the compound.” The plan spans some 48 hours, or until all the Davidians have left the building and surrendered. The raid will start with the first “insertion” of CS gas into the front left portion of the residence, the main building of the compound. After a period of time dependent on the Davidians’ response to the CS gas and any negotiations that might take place, more CS will be inserted into the back right portion of the residence. A third insertion will be made at an unspecified point in the residence. After that, all subsequent insertions will be made through the upper and lower windows of the building. The first three insertions will be made by two combat engineering vehicles (CEVs), military vehicles similar to Bradley fighting vehicles but lacking armaments. The CEVs to be used have been outfitted with boom-like arms capable of punching through the walls of the residence. On the booms are mechanical sprayers for the CS. After the third insertion, agents will fire “ferret” round projectiles through the windows; these are small, non-explosive grenade-like projectiles containing CS gas which break apart upon impact and deliver the gas. In addition, more CS will be inserted by the CEVs. HRT (hostage rescue team) and SWAT (special weapons and tactics) units have specific assignments. Maneuvers for the two CEVs, nine Bradleys, and one M-88 tank retrieval vehicle are also specified. FBI snipers are carefully positioned. A “medical annex” is placed to treat what the plan calls “the potentially large number of casualties which could exceed the current medical capabilities of any single agency present,” and there are procedures to be followed to arrest persons exposed to CS. The annex is prepared to evacuate seriously injured agents or Davidians to local and secondary hospitals, as well as the mass surrender of the Davidians if that occurs. The plan also provides for the possibility that the Davidians might not surrender. In that case, the plan states that “if all subjects failed to surrender after 48 hours of tear gas, then a CEV with a modified blade will commence a systematic opening up/disassembly of the structure until all subjects are located.” If Davidians are observed in the compound’s guard tower, agents will fire ferret rounds into the tower. Also: “If during any tear gas delivery operations, subjects open fire with a weapon, then the FBI rules of engagement will apply and appropriate deadly force will be used. Additionally, tear gas will immediately be inserted into all windows of the compound utilizing the four Bradley vehicles as well as the CEVs.”
No Frontal Assault - The plan has no provision for any sort of frontal assault by armed FBI agents; the planners feel that any such assault would almost certainly result in “significant casualties” among the agents, and might well trigger a mass suicide among the Davidians. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Reno Deliberately Misinformed - Later investigations will show that Reno is being actively misinformed by the FBI in order to secure her approval for the tear gas plan. The FBI procured documentation from the on-site commanders in Waco that supports only the Washington officials’ desire for an aggressive assault using a heavy bombardment of tear gas, and omits material from FBI profiler Pete Smerick and FBI negotiators that warns against such a plan (see April 12, 1993 and 1995). The FBI information presented to Reno does not contain Smerick’s behavioral memos, omits complaints from Smerick and an array of negotiators that negotiations had been progressing until derailed by more aggressive FBI tactics, and omits warnings that using tanks or other force against the Davidians would cause violence and death. The report concludes, “Since negotiations began on Feb. 28, 1993, despite 51 days of efforts, the negotiators have concluded that they have not been able to successfully negotiate a single item with [Davidian leader David] Koresh.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995; Dallas Morning News, 3/6/2000]
Allegations of Child Abuse - A later Justice Department study will show that Reno changes her mind about the plan primarily because she fears the children in the compound are being abused. The FBI’s briefing book notes allegations of child abuse by Davidian leader David Koresh, both sexual and physical. Although the FBI has no evidence of current abuse taking place, someone in the FBI tells Reno that children in the compound are being raped and beaten. According to the Justice Department report, “someone had made a comment in one of the meetings that Koresh was beating babies.” Reno, who came to Washington with the reputation of being a child advocate, later says she “double-checked” the allegation and got “the clear impression that, at some point since the FBI had assumed command and control for the situation, they had learned that the Branch Davidians were beating babies.” However, it is highly unlikely that Koresh is abusing children, largely because the wounds he suffered in the February 28 shootout sharply limit his mobility. Dr. Bruce Perry, chief of psychiatry at Texas Children’s Hospital, has closely examined the children already released from the compound, and concluded that none of them had been subjected to sexual or physical abuse. Perry will later say of the child-abuse allegations, “The FBI maximized things they knew would ring a bell with her.” [New Yorker, 5/15/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995] FBI Director William Sessions says on April 19 that no direct evidence exists of current sexual or physical abuse going on among the Davidians. Reno will later state that she possessed “no contemporary evidence” of such abuse. [PBS Frontline, 10/1995] Additionally, some FBI officials worry that Koresh and the other adults may try to break out of the compound using the children as human shields, though no evidence supports this fear. [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
Reno Not Told CS Gas Can Be Flammable - The CS gas to be used is also flammable under certain conditions, a fact of which Reno may not be aware. [Dick J. Reavis, 7/19/1995; Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995]
Exaggerated Warnings of Militia Members En Route - Reno will later state that she receives warnings during the briefings about the possibility that armed militia members may be preparing to converge on Waco to join Koresh in resisting the law enforcement forces gathered around the Mt. Carmel compound (see April 3, 1993). Later investigation shows that the “threat” of “armed militias” consists of one Indianapolis lawyer, Linda Thompson, who has promised to load people into a van, drive to Waco, and protest for the right to bear arms. Thompson says she is part of an organization called the Unorganized Militia of the United States, an organization of which few Justice Department officials are aware. [Wall Street Journal, 10/17/1995]
'Highly Irresponsible' - A House committee investigation in 1996 will find Reno’s decision to approve the assault “highly irresponsible,” and will find, “The final assault put the children at the greatest risk” (see August 2, 1996). [House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, 8/2/1996]
An FBI recreation of one of the Unabomber’s explosive devices, on display at the Newseum in Washington, DC. [Source: Newseum / Wikimedia]Computer scientist David Gelernter of Yale University opens a package mailed to his office. The package contains a bomb. It explodes in Gelernter’s hands, severely injuring and ultimately disfiguring him. [BBC, 11/12/1987; Washington Post, 1998] The school’s sprinkler system douses a small blaze started by the bomb. Gelernter is in shock from his injuries; he races down five flights of stairs to the infirmary, dripping blood and fending off bystanders with cries of “Leave me alone!” He suffers extensive injuries to his abdomen, chest, face, and hands. Within a day, the Gelernter bombing is added to the “UNABOM” list of serial bombings, along with the University of California bombing from two days earlier (see June 22, 1993). Federal authorities are dismayed that the “Unabomber” bombings have restarted after more than six years of inactivity (see February 20, 1987). Gelernter may have been targeted because of his invention of a computer language that allows desktop computers to process information in a much more powerful fashion. FBI Director William Sessions says: “The FBI will go back and look at all the bombings of a similar character. It’s the logical thing to be done, and it will be done.” [Washington Post, 6/25/1993] The bombing will later be shown to be the work of Theodore “Ted” Kaczynski, the so-called “Unabomber” (see April 3, 1996).
John McKay. [Source: Seattle Times]John McKay is sworn in as the US Attorney for the Western District of Washington State. McKay has little or no experience as a prosecutor; most of his legal career has been spent in private practice, except for a brief stint as a special assistant to then-FBI Director William Sessions. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] McKay was president of the Congressionally established Legal Services Corporation in Washington, DC, a private non-profit corporation designed to ensure low-income citizens receive adequate legal representation. He was a White House Fellow in 1989-1990, where he worked with Sessions. [US Department of Justice, 12/14/2006] There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
More than 300 members of the American Bar Association, including former Attorney General Nicholas Katzenbach and former FBI Director William S. Sessions, sign a statement condemning the “torture memos.” These memos, they write, “ignore and misinterpret the US Constitution and laws, international treaties, and rules of international law.” The statement further denounces the lawyers who wrote them, saying they “have sought to justify actions that violate the most basic rights of all human beings.”
[Cox News Service, 8/5/2004; Truthout (.org), 8/29/2004] They tried to “circumvent long established and universally acknowledged principles of law and common decency,” the lawyers charge.
[Washington Post, 8/5/2004]
Fourteen law professors and former federal officials send a letter criticizing the Justice Department’s recent legal arguments supporting the legality of the secret NSA surveillance program (see December 19, 2005 and December 21-22, 2005). The letter is signed by law professors Curtis A. Bradley, a former State Department legal advisor; David Cole; Walter Dellinger, a former acting solicitor general and assistant attorney general; Ronald Dworkin; Richard Epstein; Harold Koh, a former assistant secretary of state and a former Justice Department official; Philip B. Heymann, a former deputy attorney general; Martin Lederman, a former Justice Department official; Beth Nolan, a former presidential counsel and a former Justice Department official; William S. Sessions, the former director of the FBI; Geoffrey R. Stone; Kathleen M. Sullivan; Laurence H. Tribe; and William Van Alstyne, a former Justice Department attorney. The letter is couched in legal language, but clearly states that the signees consider the NSA surveillance program entirely illegal: “[T]he program appears on its face to violate existing law.” The signees consider and reject the Justice Department’s argument that Congress “implicitly authorized the NSA program when it enacted the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) against al-Qaeda” in 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001), writing: “[T]he AUMF cannot reasonably be construed to implicitly authorize warrantless electronic surveillance in the United States during wartime, where Congress has expressly and specifically addressed that precise question in FISA and limited any such warrantless surveillance to the first 15 days of war.” The signees also reject the Justice Department’s argument that the president’s “inherent constitutional authority as commander in chief to collect ‘signals intelligence’” is not prohibited by FISA. The signees conclude that the Justice Department has failed “to offer a plausible legal defense of the NSA domestic spying program. If the administration felt that FISA was insufficient, the proper course was to seek legislative amendment, as it did with other aspects of FISA in the Patriot Act, and as Congress expressly contemplated when it enacted the wartime wiretap provision in FISA. One of the crucial features of a constitutional democracy is that it is always open to the president—or anyone else—to seek to change the law. But it is also beyond dispute that, in such a democracy, the president cannot simply violate criminal laws behind closed doors because he deems them obsolete or impracticable.” [Marty Lederman, 1/9/2006; Center for Democracy and Technology, 1/9/2006 ]
Entity Tags: Harold Koh, William S. Sessions, William Van Alstyne, Curtis Bradley, Beth Nolan, Geoffrey Stone, US Department of Justice, Walter Dellinger, Richard Epstein, Martin (“Marty”) Lederman, Laurence Tribe, Kathleen M. Sullivan, Ronald Dworkin, National Security Agency, Philip Heymann, David D. Cole
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Board of Governors of the American Bar Association (ABA) votes unanimously to investigate whether President Bush has exceeded his presidential authority by using signing statements to assert that he can ignore or override laws passed by Congress (see April 30, 2006 and September 2007). ABA president Michael Greco, who served with former Republican govenor William Weld (R-MA), appoints a bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel of legal experts, including former government officials, legal scholars, and retired FBI Director William Sessions, to carry out the inquiry. The ABA Task Force on Presidential Signing Statements and the Separation of Powers Doctrine will work for two months on a report (see July 23, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 244-245]
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