- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 7, 2001

Despite long-simmering rumors of his imminent departure in 2001, FBI Director Louis Freeh has decided to remain in that important position until further notice, an encouraging development for the incoming Bush administration, the nation's law-enforcement community and law-abiding citizens everywhere. President Clinton appointed Mr. Freeh to a 10-year term in 1993, but news reports had been circulating for months that Mr. Freeh, who has six college-aspiring sons, was considering leaving for the more lucrative private sector. Bush spokesman Ari Fleischer said that President-elect Bush, whose father appointed Mr. Freeh to a federal judgeship in 1991, welcomed Mr. Freeh's decision to become a member of the new Bush administration.

With the inestimable honor and integrity he brought to his job seven and a half years ago still completely intact, Mr. Freeh has cleanly emerged from an administration notable for its massive ethical and, in some cases, criminal violations. Those lapses permeated the White House and tinged the upper reaches of the Justice Department, including former Associate Attorney General Webster Hubbell and Attorney General Janet Reno, who was Mr. Freeh's immediate supervisor.

As President Clinton, who was impeached for perjury and obstruction of justice, and Miss Reno, who repeatedly rejected recommendations from Mr. Freeh and other high-ranking investigators to seek the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate the massive campaign-finance abuses perpetrated by the Clinton-Gore White House, finally, if belatedly, relinquish power on Jan. 20, it is comforting to know that Mr. Freeh, who refused to politicize his department, will, in effect, be waving good-bye as he makes the smooth transition to the next administration. By outlasting Mr. Clinton, whom he is said to disdain, Mr. Freeh has deprived the outgoing president of appointing his successor. And while Mr. Freeh has not committed to remaining for the duration of his term, which ends in August 2003, he has virtually guaranteed that Mr. Bush will be appointing the next FBI director.

None of this, of course, is to say that the FBI has been free of controversy or legitimate criticism during Mr. Freeh's tenure. To be sure, the FBI's espionage investigation at the Los Alamos nuclear labs should have been pursued more energetically. Nevertheless, the fact remains it was the Justice Department, beginning in early 1997, that repeatedly refused requests by the FBI to obtain court-approved wiretaps to electronically monitor the primary suspect, who, it was discovered two years later, had downloaded and copied the nation's most sophisticated nuclear secrets. Seven of the 10 portable tapes are still missing.

Unlike Miss Reno, who has thoroughly politicized the office of Attorney General, Mr. Freeh distinguished himself by refusing to ignore evidence that cried out for the appointment of an independent counsel to investigate Vice President Al Gore for perjury, even as Mr. Gore was gearing up to run for the presidency. Citing "reliable evidence" that "contradicted" Mr. Gore's statements, Mr. Freeh wrote a Nov. 24, 1997, memo to Miss Reno, strongly recommending the appointment of an independent counsel. "In the face of compelling evidence that the vice president was a very active, sophisticated fund-raiser who knew exactly what he was doing, his own exculpatory statements must not be given undue weight," Mr. Freeh wrote. "It is difficult to imagine a more compelling situation for appointing an independent counsel."

As the Bush administration prepares to assume power, it is also difficult to imagine two more honorable public officials serving as the nation's highest-ranking law-enforcement officers than Attorney General-designate John Ashcroft and FBI Director Freeh.


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