Federal Law

A Few Lawyers, a Former FBI Director and a Lonely Ole Mother of Three Sons and a Daughter are About to Walk into a Texas Courtroom and Hear “The Court is Now in Session(s)”

William Sessions sons are alleged to want him to divorce from his wife of 65 plus years, Alice Sessions – as Lewis Sessions hits financial woes. In the last couple of years, the Internal Revenue Service has hit Lewis with about $328,000 in tax liens for unpaid income taxes and penalties.

Former FBI director’s San Antonio divorce shrouded in mystery

The divorce petition bore just the estranged couple’s initials, W.S.S. and A.L.S.

Update: William Sessions died on June 12, 2020, at his home in San Antonio from complications of heart failure.

Other than the pair’s wedding date and a partial Social Security number, nothing else in the three-page document gave any clues as to their identities. For 16 months, the case proceeded without attracting any attention.

Then, in June, the petitioner’s cover was blown.

There, on the second page of a June 3 court document in the Bexar County district court case, was his name: William S. Sessions, the one-time San Antonio federal judge and former FBI director, whose tenure was marked by controversy. On his watch, the FBI engaged in the infamous Ruby Ridge shootout and was excoriated for its handling of the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco.

Sessions, now 89, had petitioned to divorce Alice Sessions, 88, and end their roughly 65½-year marriage on Feb. 20, 2018.

In Washington, D.C., Alice Sessions was widely seen as the force guiding her husband’s public life, his strong-willed, ambitious partner.

The divorce petition didn’t offer a glimpse into the disharmony in their marriage.

“The marriage has become insupportable because of discord or conflict of personalities” that “prevents any reasonable expectation of reconciliation,” his boilerplate filing stated. The two ceased living together in March 2017.

Late-in-life divorces are rare — especially 15 years after a couple’s golden wedding anniversary. The reasons in this case remain a mystery. But one thing’s clear: the Sessionses’ adult children, including former 11-term Congressman Pete Sessions, are at the heart of this case.

Alice alleges that her husband is being manipulated by their three sons. The sons say they are only looking out for the father.

The messy affair highlights the challenges many adult children face in dealing with their parents when they enter their final years.

Attempts to speak with Sessions — who’s been battling various health problems — were unsuccessful. Reporters on two occasions visited the San Antonio assisted living and memory care facility where he now lives but were not permitted to see him.

A reporter on July 17 got as far as the door to Sessions’ room, across from a nursing station, where an aide turned him away and forbade him to return. Another reporter on July 23 was informed at the front desk that only direct family members could see Sessions.

The divorce case is set for trial Sept. 23.

At a July 30 court hearing, San Antonio lawyer William B. Ford, who represents William Sessions, said the parties were trying to resolve the case. But he worried that the trial would be postponed because Alice Sessions’ San Antonio attorneys were withdrawing from the case. She still lives in Washington. The hearing was on Sessions’ request for access to a joint account at Capital One Bank.

“Deferring this case is harmful to these people,” Ford told Judge Karen Pozza. “These are elderly people who need to have this case concluded. And frankly, I think what they’re trying to do is throw up a four-corner defense and run the clock … and leave the money in D.C. and hope my guy passes away and they end up with control of that account, versus letting him have control of it in the interim.”

The assets of the marital estate are valued at “several million dollars,” Ford said. He would not comment for this article. William Sessions receives a government pension and Social Security totaling about $9,700 a month, while Alice receives $940 in Social Security each month.

About a year ago, then-Judge Richard Price denied Alice’s challenge to the Bexar County court’s jurisdiction over the divorce case. She argued the couple’s last marital residence was in Washington, not Texas.

Reached by phone, Alice said she doesn’t want a divorce. The decision to file for divorce was not her husband’s idea because he suffers from dementia, she said, adding that he was diagnosed with hydrocephalus, which can cause dementia symptoms, when he lived in Washington.

Alice accused their three sons — Lewis, 66, a Dallas lawyer; Pete, 64, an American politician who served in the U.S. House of Representatives for 11 terms; and Mark, 61, a San Antonio lawyer — of orchestrating the divorce.

“All of them are in it together,” she said. “Our wills make very clear that when we’re gone that the boys and my daughter take whatever’s left. But some people are not willing to wait to take what’s left.”

Lewis chuckled at the suggestion that he, rather than his father, was behind the divorce.

“My mother is an 88-year-old woman who just has some issues with family that are personal, and I’d rather not comment on that,” Lewis said. His father does not have dementia, he said.

He added, “Do you have an aging parent? Wait until they experience health problems, other problems, and they don’t want to move from their house, or one parent isn’t able to take care of the other. It’s no fun.”

He and his siblings are paying close attention to their father’s well-being, so his mother’s assertion makes no sense, Lewis said.

“You would think if we really wanted an inheritance, and wanted it quickly, we would not take care of him,” Lewis said.

Coming to San Antonio

It’s an unceremonious and ugly end to the Sessionses’ union. They have known each other since they were students at Northeast High in Kansas City in the late 1940s, when he used to pass her notes in the halls.

William joined the Air Force in 1951 and became an instructor at James Connally Air Force Base in Waco. They were married there on Oct. 5, 1952.

He left the Air Force and graduated from Baylor Law School. Along the way, the couple had their three sons. A fourth son, born in 1962, died of a heart defect when he was 3 months old. Daughter Sara was born in 1970.

After a stint with the Justice Department in Washington, William was appointed U.S. attorney in San Antonio in 1971. Three years later, President Gerald Ford made him a U.S. District judge in El Paso.

Sessions served six years there before becoming chief U.S. District judge in San Antonio, where he presided over the criminal trial of Charles V. Harrelson (father of actor Woody Harrelson), charged in the slaying of U.S. District Judge John H. Wood Jr.

Wood was shot in the back outside his Alamo Heights townhome as he was leaving for work in 1979. It’s been called the “crime of the century.” Sessions served as a pallbearer and delivered a eulogy.

Harrelson was convicted and Sessions sentenced him to two consecutive life terms plus five years. Harrelson died of a heart attack in 2007 in a Colorado prison. He was 69.

Alice, with a master’s degree in historical costuming, designed and made costumes for the San Antonio Ballet and other dance companies.

Mr. Sessions goes to Washington

In 1987, President Ronald Reagan appointed Sessions the FBI’s fourth director. Sessions was credited with advancements for women and minorities and pushing such techniques as DNA typing, journalist Ronald Kessler reported in his book “The FBI: Inside the World’s Most Powerful Law Enforcement Agency.”

Sessions was at the helm during a tumultuous time. The FBI was castigated for its roles in the Ruby Ridge incident in 1992 in Idaho and the fire at the Branch Davidian compound in 1993 in Waco. The latter event, which killed 80 Davidians — including 25 children — led the New York Times to call for Sessions’ removal.

Meanwhile, Kessler exposed a series of abuses by Sessions, and the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility opened an investigation.

The office released a scathing 161-page report in January 1993 that revealed Sessions misused his director’s privileges. His misdeeds included using an FBI plane for personal travel, misusing government funds for a privacy fence at his Washington home and failing to cooperate in an investigation into a “sweetheart” mortgage that he obtained.

Alice Sessions contributed to his downfall, according to investigators. She was given a gold security badge for access to FBI headquarters — even though she never had a required background check. The badge is supposed to be issued only to FBI officials holding the rank of assistant director or higher. She also was driven in FBI vehicles on personal errands.

Kessler dubbed her “co-director of the FBI.”

According to a 1993 Washington Post article, FBI agents and Justice Department officials considered her “paranoid, vindictive, self-aggrandizing… And Bill was portrayed as the uxorious husband — unwilling and unable to act.”

U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno, in recommending to President Bill Clinton that he fire Sessions, said the FBI director had “exhibited a serious deficiency in judgment.”

Alice passionately stood by her husband and accused a dozen high-ranking bureau officials of conspiring to gain control of the agency.

“If President Clinton just wants his own man in there, that’s fine,” she said to the Express-News during a trip to San Antonio. “But give this man back his good name.”

Sessions was dismissed in July 1993, having served slightly more than half of his 10-year term. Afterward, he practiced law with two of his sons and largely remained out of the public eye. He retired at the end of 2016.

Yet Sessions’ name surfaced in the press just days before his divorce petition was filed in February 2018. The Austin American-Statesman chronicled a most unlikely friendship between Sessions and Johnny Spinelli, a career criminal whose jailhouse recordings of Harrelson led to the latter’s conviction in Wood’s assassination.

Sessions considered Spinelli pivotal in bringing Wood’s killer to justice.

The newspaper, noting Sessions’ residence in a San Antonio retirement facility, reported that he “still carries himself rigidly upright and speaks with the precision of a person whose career included both presiding over one of the nation’s busiest courtrooms — he required suit coats and banned chewing gum — and testifying in front of Congress.”

Disguising the divorce

William Sessions’ use of his and his wife’s initials to disguise their divorce continues a common practice in Bexar County, particularly among high-profile individuals.

William Ford, William Sessions’ divorce lawyer, blamed a notary for inadvertently revealing his clients’ name in the divorce case. Ford asked the court to “remove and delete” the document.

“The intention of all parties is to keep the names of the petitioner and the respondent anonymous,” Ford said in a July 1 motion. The court granted the request but Alice said she’s never wanted the case concealed.

Alice refused to accept the divorce papers from a process server. He had tried to serve her after she pulled into her driveway in April 2018. She left the papers on the windshield of her vehicle.

She “proceeded to turn on her windshield wipers to push the documents from her vehicle,” process server Harvey Jessup said in an affidavit. She then opened her car door to say it wasn’t a valid service. Jessup photographed her during the interaction.

In her filing challenging the Bexar County court’s jurisdiction, Alice said its authority over her “would offend traditional notions of fair play and substantial justice” because she lives in Washington.

In a response, William Sessions countered that his wife had been a resident of Texas for more than 35 years and had continued contacts with the state. He also said traveling to Washington for divorce proceedings would present “a substantial risk to his health.”

The July 2018 court filing detailed Sessions’ long career in Texas but omitted reference to his time with the FBI. It said only that he and his wife lived in Washington “until 1993 when W.S.S. left government service.”

Save for a few court orders last September, activity in the case ceased while the parties attended mediation and attempted to reach a settlement. Then, on May 20, William filed an amended petition for divorce.

Two months later, Alice filed a counterpetition for divorce. She said it was not her decision to file the document, and she expressed unhappiness with her San Antonio counsel, the Tessmer Law Firm. On Monday, a judge granted the firm’s request to withdraw from the case. It was “no longer able to effectively communicate” with Alice, the firm said in a filing.

Alice also is represented by a Washington attorney, though he can’t practice in Texas. She said she has hired new local counsel but declined to share the name until the lawyer makes an appearance in the case.

The docket doesn’t indicate that either William or Alice has given depositions in advance of the trial, just four weeks away. While records show William’s lawyer has made a request for the production of various financial documents, it doesn’t appear that Alice’s counsel has made a similar request.

Ford has sought to depose a few doctors at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore, where Alice said her husband was diagnosed with hydrocephalus. One of the doctors specializes in geriatric medicine, dementia and hydrocephalus. It’s possible Ford wanted their depositions to disprove Alice’s claim.

william-lewis-sessions

Lewis’ Profile

Website

sstexaslaw.com  (Company Website)

State Bar of Texas

Profile 

Justia

Profile

Marks’ Profile

Website

clarkhill.com  (Company Website)

State Bar of Texas

Profile 

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Petes’ Profile

U.S. House of Representatives 

Countrywide Financial loan

In January 2012, it was reported that Sessions received a so-called “VIP” or “Friends of Angelo” loan in 2007 from troubled mortgage lender Countrywide Financial, in which loans were granted at lower interest rates than were available to the public.

Former Countrywide CEO Angelo Mozilo created the program to boost the company’s standing with politicians, celebrities and well-connected business figures.

He received a $1 million loan from Countrywide at below-market rates, which he never declared in financial disclosures. His, as well as names of other legislators who received similar loans were subsequently referred to the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform as part of an ethics investigation into improper gifts.[53][54]

Ties to Allen Stanford

Sessions came under scrutiny for his personal ties to disgraced banker Allen Stanford,[45] who in 2012 was convicted of orchestrating a $7 billion Ponzi scheme.[46]

Sessions received over $44,000 in political contributions from Stanford and his associates.[45] Sessions also took multiple trips to Fire Island and to the Caribbean to attend Stanford-sponsored events; these trips included private travel on Stanford’s fleet of jets and accommodations.[45][46]

In 2014, VICE News obtained records from Stanford’s internal files that indicated that in 2007 and 2008, before the scandal came to light, Sessions had intervened with the Treasury Department‘s Office of Foreign Assets Control, on Stanford’s behalf, allowing him to bypass certain Cuban embargo restrictions.[46]

Additionally, in 2004, Sessions (along with two other Republican congressmen, Bob Ney and John E. Sweeney) wrote to Venezuelan banking regulators, “vouching for Stanford’s character when Stanford was trying to obtain a charter to open a bank in the country, at a time when regulators there were reluctant because of reports they had received that Stanford was running a Ponzi scheme and engaged in money laundering.”[46]

Personal life

In February 1984,[60] Sessions married Juanita “Nete” Diaz.[61][62] They have two sons.[60]

In August 2011, they divorced after 27 years of marriage.[61] In August 2012, Sessions married Karen Diebel, a 2010 congressional candidate in Florida[63] and a Trump Administration appointee to the Millennium Challenge Corporation.[64]

Casinos

In late 2001 and early 2002, he cosigned letters to two Cabinet members asking them to shut down casinos operated by several Native American tribes. Within 18 months of sending the letters, he received a total of $20,500 from tribes associated with Jack Abramoff. In response to criticism, his office said that he wrote the letters because of his view that gambling is a local issue, falling under his long-held support for federalism.[17]

Earmarks

In 2008, he added a $1.6 million earmark to an appropriations bill, for dirigible research. The earmark benefited a Chicago company, Jim G. Ferguson & Associates, which had no experience in government contracting or dirigible research. Former Sessions aide and convicted felon Adrian Plesha was a lobbyist for the firm.[18][19]

In September, Adrian Plesha sued Jim G. Ferguson & Associates for non-payment of fees and expenses connected with his lobbying effort on their behalf.[20]

Elderly divorce

Divorces involving elderly couples who have been married for so long are unusual but not unheard of.

“When people get to this age, it’s either being driven by adult kids or one of the parties is having psychiatric problems and they choose to try to get a divorce,” said Chris A. Spofford, a Houston lawyer who specializes in elder divorce. But in the former circumstance, it’s usually children from a prior marriage or relationship who push for a divorce, he said.

Alice said her daughter Sara asked her father why he was seeking a divorce, and he mentioned his son Lewis.

“And he said, well, Lew thinks he needs to get his inheritance now,” Alice said.

In the last couple of years, the Internal Revenue Service has hit Lewis with about $328,000 in tax liens for unpaid income taxes and penalties.

In an email, Sara denied making the comment her mother attributed to her. She declined to comment further.

Lewis, too, dismissed the suggestion: “Why would we be interested in trying to take money from him or get money from him? It makes no sense.” His back taxes, he said, had “nothing to do with my dad,” adding that he was taking care of the liens.

The couple’s sons discussed granting the Express-News an interview with their father, but it was never arranged.

“He is not infirm,” Pete Sessions said. “He is not being held against his will. He is not some 89-year-old who is sitting there and can’t make his own decisions. He’s doing great. He has some health issues. We have to take care of him, and that has not been popular with at least one person.”

He added, “I think that what someone claims is not exactly correct. That person has sent a number of people down (to San Antonio) over the years and they’ve … had to go back to her and say, ‘Alice, that’s not the way it is.’ I don’t mean to demean my mother, but that’s the truth.”

Asked the reason for the divorce, Pete Sessions deferred to his brother Mark, who declined to comment for this article.

“There is an easy, simple, logical answer to every bit of this,” Peter said. “Let me say this: I would trust but verify.”

San Antonio lawyer Hubbard Parks, William Sessions’ friend of about 50 years, assumed power of attorney in March from Lewis. Parks pays the former FBI director’s bills but is not involved in the divorce proceedings.

“This is a man with a sterling reputation,” Parks said. “He is not a scoundrel by any means. He would not do anything to harm his wife. He has repeated to me on several occasions without any coercion, and voluntarily, that he wants to treat his wife very fairly in the divorce.”

Told Alice doesn’t want a divorce, Parks said William “wants to live the rest of his life in San Antonio and she wants to live the rest of her life in Washington, D.C.” Texas is a no-fault divorce state, Parks said, so either party in a marriage can end it regardless of what the other person wants.

Park described William Sessions as “sharp as a tack.”

“I would say he’s not incompetent,” he said.

San Antonio attorney Art Nicholson, who clerked for Sessions from 1982 to 1984, and another former law clerk occasionally have lunch with Sessions. They last met with him in mid-July at the facility where Sessions lives.

Nicholson described Sessions as “frail” but “very sharp-witted” and “competent.” He gets around using a walker, Nicholson added.

William likes to talk about his family, his grandchildren and what his sons are doing, but he’s never talked about Alice, Nicholson said.

Sessions’ legacy

Alice painted a much different portrait of her life. She lives in the couple’s three-story house, assessed at more than $1 million.

She gets by on her Social Security check and doesn’t have access to bank accounts because of court orders in the divorce case, she said. She said she’s had to forgo visits to the hair salon and relies on assistance to pay utility bills.

Originally, she said she was told her husband was going to San Antonio for two weeks. She didn’t know until later that he wasn’t returning to Washington.

“I could have divorced Bill when he was gone for six months under D.C. law,” she said. “I did not choose to do that because I did not want to do that.

“I’m his wife and have been for all these years and we’ve had a wonderful life together,” she added, her voice cracking.

Alice’s neighbor, Jane Kuuskraa, who lives four doors away, finds the entire situation odd.

“I just feel that this poor lady has been abandoned at this time of life,” Kuuskraa said. “This whole time, Mrs. Sessions has not gone public with all that’s been happening. She said they would like to protect Judge Sessions’ reputation as the former director of the FBI.

“This is going to become public knowledge at some point,” she added. “And so that can’t be good for his legacy, or whatever it is.”

Former FBI Director to Speak at Baylor Law Commencement

Nov. 7, 2008

William Steele Sessions, former director of the FBI, will be the keynote speaker at commencement ceremonies for 16 graduates of Baylor Law School at 1:30 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 8, at Waco Hall. Additionally, Timothy Clark Williams, the highest ranking student in the graduating class, will deliver student remarks. Baylor Interim President David Garland also will participate in the program and will help award juris doctor degrees to the graduates.

Sessions received his bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from Baylor in 1956 and his law degree from Baylor Law School in 1958. From 1959 until the summer of 1969, he practiced law in Waco, where he was a partner in the law firm of Haley, Fulbright, Winniford, Sessions & Bice.

Following 10 years of private practice with the firm, Sessions served as the Section Chief of the Government Operations Section of the Criminal Division of the Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and as the United States Attorney for the Western District of Texas, based in San Antonio and El Paso. For seven years, he served as Chief United States District Judge for the Western District of Texas.

Sessions served as director of the FBI from 1987 to 1993. In 2000, he joined Holland & Knight LLP and serves as a partner engaged primarily in alternative dispute resolution procedures.

He serves as an arbitrator and mediator for the American Arbitration Association; a certified panelist and advisory board member of the National Patent Board; and district panelist, national panelist of distinguished neutrals, and a member of the arbitration appeal panel for the CPR Institute of Dispute Resolution.

He was admitted to the State Bar of Texas in 1959 and later was admitted to practice law in the District of Columbia.

He holds membership in the San Antonio Bar Association, the Federal and American Bar Associations, the William S. Sessions American Inn of Court, and the National Association of Former United States Attorneys.

Sessions has received numerous honors and awards during his professional career. He was named Baylor Lawyer of the Year in 1988 and he also received the Price Daniel Distinguished Public Service Award and the Baylor Distinguished Alumni Award. He recently received the Constitution Project’s inaugural Constitutional Champion Award and Holland and Knight’s 2008 Chesterfield Smith Award.

Sessions and his wife, Alice, who is a graduate of the University of Texas at El Paso, are the parents of three sons and a daughter.

Two of their sons, William Lewis Sessions and Mark Gregory Sessions, are both graduates of Baylor Law School and practice in Dallas and San Antonio, respectively. Another son, Peter Anderson Sessions, serves in the U.S. House of Representatives representing the 32nd District of Texas.

Their daughter, Sara, is an actress in New York City.

They also have a grandson, Dallas Alford Sessions, who graduated from Baylor Law School in November 2007.

Sessions has been selected to deliver the law school commencement address multiple times.

WHAT WILLIAM “BILL” SESSIONS DID FOR LOVE

They weren’t exactly high school sweethearts.But when they passed each other between classes in the halls of Northeast High in Kansas City, he used to slip her little notes …”Are you sure you want to tell this?” Bill Sessions, ex-director of the FBI, interrupts his wife, Alice — the warning edge of spousal exasperation in his voice.

She hesitates.

“Are you sure you want to tell this?” he repeats.

She is settled on a love seat, he on an armchair, in the pseudo-living-room setting of the Madison Hotel restaurant. She wears one of the dresses she sews for herself; he is in an unremarkable gray suit, his right arm still in a sling from the fall he took just before he was fired — finally, publicly, humiliatingly — by President Clinton last month. They are telling the tale of their 41-year marriage and how they have survived this latest ordeal.

They were joined for better or for worse and now they find themselves here: a 63-year-old man who has just lost his job and the woman accused of destroying his career. For when William Sessions’s enemies, with good cause or not, encircled him, they found his greatest vulnerability was his wife.

On the tongues of FBI agents and former Justice Department officials, Alice Sessions took on the dimensions of a legend: the paranoid, vindictive, self-aggrandizing, untamed shrew. And Bill was portrayed as the uxorious husband — unwilling or unable to act.

When Alice wasn’t interfering in bureau business, the story goes, she was steering her husband onto the shoals of abused privileges, ordering FBI agents to drive her to a beauty salon or to pick her up from a shopping trip. Acting in concert with his assistant, Sarah Munford, the two had the run of the bureau — and run it they did.

In this version, Bill was an eccentric who would burst into song in the midst of a meeting; a lightweight with little interest in the details of investigations; a hot-air balloon bobbing along on a string clutched in Alice’s fist.

The Sessionses believe that they were smeared by enemies inside and outside the FBI who were hostile to him — an outsider, not a bureau man — as soon as he was appointed in 1987. “Alice was never involved, to this good day, in the running of the bureau,” Bill says emphatically. And he would do nothing differently if he had it all to do over. “Whatever else, I was not a party to the politicizing of the bureau.” It is his mantra.

But Sessions knows that some of his former employees see him as something less than a martyr. In the culture of the FBI, a man who succumbs to domineering women taps into a special reservoir of contempt.

“William Sessions is weak,” says a former bureau man. “He is a weak male. His life has been dominated by women as far back as I’ve watched. He essentially totally acquiesced to their demands. … Alice is a wrecking ball with a dress on, okay? And when she starts swinging, you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

The one thing you do know, he adds, is that Bill Sessions won’t stand in the way.

Today, at least, William Sessions is not playing the submissive husband. Their son, Lewis, who says he never saw his parents exchange a harsh word except for one spat when he was in high school, says in a later phone interview from his San Antonio law office that his father has been a shade more combative recently. “I think that’s a result of the incredible stress,” Lewis says. “It would be totally unrealistic for them to just come out Ozzie and Harriet {after} that.”

So Alice never gets to tell exactly what kind of notes young Bill passed her in the halls of Northeast High. After he cautions her, she chooses her language carefully. “They used to have irreverent drawings on them,” she says. “I’ll tell you that. I learned he had a sense of humor, which I didn’t appreciate at first.”

But they didn’t exactly date in high school. “People didn’t date like they do now,” Alice says. “Actually I dated his best friend. Some.”

Her husband isn’t in the mood to dwell on this part of their story. He summarizes, which isn’t Alice’s inclination. They were both starting college, he says briskly, she in Iowa and he in Kansas. Then came the accident. “And we almost lost Alice and I realized that I cared a lot more for her than I had imagined,” he says. “And that’s how it all began. And so we got married in 1952.”

“Only there were several years in between there,” she points out.

Bill Sessions will not succeed in cramming those years into a couple of sentences.

It was Sept. 12, 1948. She was 17, driving to college. Her whole family was in the car. Her father, who was a minister with the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, her mother, her younger sister and brother. As she drove down a long incline toward a bridge, a horse trailer that had pulled onto the shoulder swung into the road. The impact of the crash caught the car on the passenger side.

“When I came to, I heard the horn of the car,” she remembers. “You know, this terrible noise of the horn stuck.”

Her father was killed. Her 10-year-old brother, sitting on a jump seat in back, had the least serious injuries and was out of the hospital in a week. But her sister, 14, was unconscious for two weeks. “It changed her life,” Alice says. Alice and her mother were hospitalized for months. Alice’s forehead was “laid back by the horn rim,” she says. She also suffered severe injuries to her knee and wrist.

“The first thing that floods over you is guilt,” she says. “And then you learn how you have to live with whatever the guilt is… . I kind of went through a lot of reading and a lot of thinking at that point about the direct will and the implied will of God. You tend to put things in religious terms if you’ve come from the kind of background that we did. And you learn about friends who are very helpful and supportive, and at that point, it really cemented Bill’s and my relationship.”

Except that it didn’t, quite. As they attended their respective colleges, she says, “he went seriously with some people and I did too.”

So how did they make the transition from friendship to marriage? Somehow, that story too never quite gets told. Alice mentions that he was still sending her notes — funny notes — and he jumps in again. He fast-forwards through “1948, 1949, 1950, the Korean War.” He enlists in the Air Force in January 1951 but doesn’t get sent to Korea. “I ended up getting stuck as an … instructor in Waco, Texas, okay?” he says briskly. “At James County Air Force Base. And we were married then.”

The story lacks detail — but apparently, Bill Sessions hasn’t been much more forthcoming even with his own children. “My dad, I think, came to my mom’s rescue, both emotionally and to some degree, physically,” Lewis Sessions says. “My mom was in the hospital and my dad started paying her visits, as best as I can tell. Beyond that, they’re pretty private people.”

When they got to the FBI, 35 years later, it was Alice who would attempt to come to Bill’s rescue. And privacy would be sacrificed.

A Life of Trauma and Tragedy

Alice speaks expansively in her precise Midwestern voice, leaning forward to engage her listener, her china-blue eyes round. Meanwhile, Bill often stares in the opposite direction, his left leg folded over his right knee. When she treads on sensitive ground, his foot starts to flop like a fish on a line. A warning. Eventually, his impatience grows. He sets a limit: He is leaving in 10 minutes. Polite — but the edge is palpable.

But the ground can’t be covered quickly because neither one of them can fight the impulse — when asked about more distant times — to telescope into recent events, to start explaining and justifying and refuting the myriad examples of alleged misconduct cited in the Justice Department report released by the Bush administration in its waning hours. In fact, that is all Bill Sessions wants to talk about — not stuff that happened “back a billion years ago.” But Alice, hungry for credibility, is almost desperately open about her past.

The Sessionses’ life has been dotted with trauma and tragedy, episodes passed like markers on a highway as they tell their story. A minister’s son, Bill had grown up in a less restrictive environment than Alice had. (“His parents played bridge. My parents wouldn’t have had cards in the house,” she says.) He was an athletic young man, playing basketball, swimming, running track. But at 16, he was stricken with polio. Alice brings it up.

“Yeah, I had polio when I was 16, and of course it meant that I lost my right upper side and shoulder, hand, arm,” he acknowledges. “And so yeah, that was a tremendous impact on my life.” He splays both his hands for inspection. The traces of the illness are still visible, the right hand waxier and more skeletal than the left. “You recognize that there are many who suffer a great deal more really than you do and instead of being bitter about it, we accept it and go on,” he says.

While his upbringing wasn’t as strict as Alice’s, it also wasn’t as rich in culture. She grew up with art, literature and music. On Sundays, when church was the only approved activity, she would sit and read and listen to the New York Philharmonic on the radio.

She brought her love of the arts into the marriage and remained a devotee throughout the years. But when the Sessionses came to Washington, their cultural life — favors done for Russian ballet dancers, use of an official car to pick up theater tickets, visits to the Kennedy Center with extra-large security details — would provide fodder for criticism. “There was a direct correlation,” the Justice Department would report, “between the Director’s use of the Security Detail and the potential to impress people.”

But in 1952, the Sessionses had no notion of sweeping into the Opera House surrounded by federal agents. They were living in Waco and starting a family without much money to spare. Alice Sessions prides herself on thrift and has made a lifelong practice of it. “You make your own jam and put up for the winter when there are peaches on the neighbor’s tree,” Alice says. “You live a very simple life.”

By the time Bill had left the Air Force and graduated from Baylor law school in 1958, they had three sons — though she suffered four miscarriages in the effort. A fourth son, born in 1962 with a heart defect, died when he was only 3 months old. “He had spent most of his life in distress,” she says.

While Bill practiced law, Alice was active with the PTA and headed a committee to overhaul juvenile services in the county. She also filled in for the hostess on a local television talk show and was a substitute teacher, though she herself hadn’t finished college. “I made $8.20 a day after taxes,” she says. But she was “a tough mommy” who could handle a roomful of 30 boys in shop classes.

In 1969, Bill, who had managed John Tower’s successful Senate campaign, moved his family to Washington. Alice discovered she was pregnant with their daughter. “It was hard because the doctor had told me not to have any more children and I didn’t intend to,” she remembers. “I spent most of that first year {in Washington} in bed.” Her frequent difficult pregnancies inspired her later to serve on local Planned Parenthood boards in Texas.

After two years, the family moved to San Antonio when Bill was named U.S. attorney. While Bill was leading a regimented life — up at 7, out the door by 7:30 — Alice started a vegetable co-op with a friend, setting out at 11 at night to buy fresh produce and returning at 3 in the morning. “I would always do the buying,” she says. “I learned how to bargain. Some of my best friends were truckers.”

Several years later, when President Gerald Ford nominated Bill to a federal judgeship, the family moved again, to El Paso. The finances were pinched with the boys going to college, but eventually Alice herself went back to school, finishing college and getting her master’s in theater.

In 1979 came the event that would bring Bill Sessions to prominence. He stepped in to replace Judge John Wood, who had been murdered while presiding over a drug trial in San Antonio. Bill handled the drug case as well as the trial of the judge’s murderers — and the family moved again. For 20 months, Sessions and his family received 24-hour protection — an experience that left its mark. “We had so many problems, if I sat down and told you, you could write a book on the problems that we had,” Alice says. “I had to clean up after them all the time. The privacy wasn’t there.” Later, in Washington, her husband’s security arrangements would become the flash point for many of Alice’s disputes with the FBI.

In court, Judge Sessions had acquired a reputation as a stickler on the rules. He forbade chewing gum and had marshals throw out spectators if they started reading newspapers.

“He sits at the edge of his seat, with a straight back,” fellow judge Ed Prado said at the time. “There is no humor in his courtroom.”

But by the time he was named to the FBI in 1987, he was still essentially an unpretentious man who could be seen mowing his own lawn or washing his 1969 blue Chevy Malibu. And perhaps his severity in court belied some unconventional leanings. He had twice trekked partway up Mount Everest. And in 1986, he had volunteered to be one of the first civilians in space.

But the early press reports on his appointment to the FBI predicted that he would retain his rigid demeanor. When Sessions got to the bureau, a prosecutor predicted, “they’ll have to cross every t and dot every i.”

An Inauspicious Start

Perhaps after what she had been through, Alice Sessions might have felt that she deserved to enjoy becoming the First Lady of the FBI.

But the problems began early — even before Bill was sworn in. En route to Washington for the ceremony, Bill stepped into the lavatory of the plane, vomited in the sink and collapsed. When the plane arrived in Washington, agents drove him off in one car and sent Alice in another to the apartment where they were to stay. Alice thought her husband just needed rest and nourishment. When he didn’t join her promptly, she made inquiries and was told that he had been taken to George Washington University Hospital. By the time she got there, he appeared much sicker than she had imagined. She was told that he had a bleeding ulcer and had lost two pints of blood, but she wasn’t convinced. She couldn’t escape the feeling that Bill had been given “bad medicine.”

From that inauspicious beginning, the next battle was begun. Sessions returned to Texas and his swearing-in was rescheduled, but Alice decided that her husband would not be well in time. Alice also felt that Milt Ahlerich, the bureau official handling the event, had been uncooperative and bungling from the start in setting it up. Now she told him that her husband was too sick even to talk on the phone with him. Eventually, John Otto, then acting director of the bureau, intervened.

When he called the house, Otto recalls, “she got on the phone first and started to tell me how upset she was with the way Milt was handling {things}. I was sympathetic to Milt’s predicament… . She continued to berate him on the phone to me and said, in fact, ‘All of you, you remind me of the gang that couldn’t shoot straight.’ I said, ‘That’s enough of that. We’re not going to discuss official business with you.’ ” He demanded to speak with Bill and Alice put him through.

“I said, ‘You’re going to be director, not her,’ ” Otto says. “I thought, ‘Oh, jeez, there goes my future… . This is not the most positive way to get started with your new boss.’ “

When Sessions got to Washington, Otto says, the two men met in the director’s office before the swearing-in ceremony. Otto invited Sessions to sit at the desk but Sessions demurred at first, observing that he wasn’t yet officially the director, but then he sat down. Otto, remembering his run-in with Alice, was expecting the worst. “I thought, ‘Here it comes. I’m going to get my head handed to me.’ ”

But Bill surprised him, he remembers. “He said, ‘About the conversation you had with Alice.’ I said, ‘Yes, sir.’ He said, ‘I agree with you. We can’t have that.’ Then, he took it a step further. He said, ‘We can’t have another Martha Mitchell in this town.’ He knew that soon about how wrong it would be for that kind of arrangement to occur… . {And} she never once came to me in that mode or manner again.”

Martha Mitchell — the too outspoken wife of Nixon attorney general John Mitchell — had been the living embodiment of the embarrassing spouse. And Alice, hearing this account apparently for the first time, hardly misses the import of the comparison. Her mouth drops open as she turns to Bill. “Did you ever say that?” she asks.

He doesn’t address his reply to her. “I don’t want to go over and rewrite history again,” he says uncomfortably. “And it’s obvious that I was going to be the director of the FBI and not Mrs. Sessions. And John’s recall about when I finally saw him in Washington … is his recall. But I don’t want to get into discussions about what took place there.”

As time passed, Alice’s suspicions about the bureau deepened. She thought her bedroom might be bugged, her phone might be tapped. She even questioned the motives of two old friends that Bill brought in from San Antonio to work as his assistants. Ray and LeRoy Jahn were a married couple the Sessionses had known for years, but within months, Alice believed that they had turned on her husband and were cooperating in the smear.

The Jahns decline to discuss their experience in Washington other than to insist that their relationship with Bill, at least, remains intact. “We carried out his orders and did the best we could for him,” LeRoy says. Since they left the bureau, she adds: “He’s been very pleasant and friendly. He reached out for us and called when our daughter was sick. So I don’t have a problem with my relationship with the director.” She refuses to discuss the roots of Alice’s ill feelings, except to say, “If you’re asking if we have done anything to deserve that feeling, we don’t know that we have.”

“They did their job as they perceived it,” Bill Sessions says when asked about the falling-out. As to “whether there was a problem or not — there’s no need to discuss {that}.”

‘He Made His Choice’

The Justice Department report on Sessions has a certain surreal quality to it, especially coming from an administration that showed so much tolerance for John Sununu’s frequent-flier program.

It devotes 36 pages to a battle over the fence that would be built around the Sessions home in the Crestwood section of Washington. The debate described in the report drags on for over a year, through the Gulf War and beyond. Alice doggedly objects to the FBI’s intention to build an iron-picket “security” fence; she wants a wooden fence that the government dismisses as a “privacy” fence.

She is reported to be concerned about aesthetics and property value. The Sessionses are accused of impropriety in attempting to hire Donald Munford, then husband of Bill’s assistant, Sarah, to perform a survey and install the fence. The result: The Sessionses owe the government $9,890 for a wooden fence that the government doesn’t consider a security enhancement.

There are allegations that the Sessionses got a “sweetheart deal” from Riggs Bank on their home loan and disputes over Alice’s travel on the bureau plane, Bill’s use or misuse of frequent-flier miles, alleged personal trips dressed up as official business — even over a detour en route from an official function to drop off a broken toaster.

Between the report and the comments of current and former FBI men, the portrait emerges of an image-conscious couple intent on attending every party in town and inclined to exploit the benefits of office for their own gain or self-glorification.

Much of this conduct was first questioned by journalist Ron Kessler, who writes in a new book on the FBI that Alice considered herself “codirector of the FBI” and saw Bill’s job there as “an opportunity to enhance her own status and lifestyle.”

The Sessionses believe that this is a distorted picture painted by enemies in the bureau — old boys and keepers of the J. Edgar Hoover flame who couldn’t tolerate the presence of an independent outsider. They have an explanation for every criticism. In some cases, they say the allegations are groundless. In others, they admit that they engaged in the disputed conduct but they don’t understand how anyone can make a fuss about it. Nothing was intended for personal gain, they say. Everything they did — even the embassy parties and social functions — was part of the job of representing the bureau.

“I have never thought that Sessions was dishonest,” says Stuart Gerson, assistant attorney general in the Bush administration. “His judgment is appalling. He doesn’t see a lot of things about himself that an intelligent person would see.” Bill and Alice Sessions, he says, “were a team of people with bad judgment.”

“I likened it to a radio station where you’re a few frequencies off and it was hard to establish communications,” says Bill Baker, a former assistant director of the FBI.

Gerson thinks Bill Sessions was waylaid by the bureau’s old guard, though not in the way that he or his wife might think. “It’s not that he took on the trappings of elegance,” Gerson says. “He became entranced by the perks which were sold to him as a necessary part of the job… . It started with the people around him suggesting that this was in the tradition of J. Edgar Hoover, who would have a car waiting for him. They sold this to him. It’s very captivating.”

But Lewis Sessions says his father never deviated from the strict ethics he practiced before coming to Washington.

“Very early, the bureau tried to take control of my dad’s life and my mom’s, to force her away from him physically as well as emotionally,” he says. “That set about some dynamics that tested their relationship and his ability to interact with the agency… . My dad tried his best to balance that, knowing that there were two forces tearing at him. I think he made his choice.”

The Last Word

The afternoon wears on and Bill finally makes good on his promise to leave. But before he does, he has a few words to say about the last few weeks.

“It’s been extremely difficult. It’s been extremely unpleasant,” he says. “It’s hard for anybody to handle … being referred to as cuckoo, goofy, eccentric, all these appellations which were fed into and through the media… . The American public knows that I am none of those things, that I am a person of very strong convictions.”

It’s been like getting “flogged” every day, he says. “If I look at Alice, I have to admire her for having the strength to come through it. To go every day knowing that another shoe is going to fall … is a very difficult thing to do. Alice and I felt that the principles were important enough to withstand the flogging. Whatever else, I was not a party to the politicization of the bureau.”

And no matter what anyone says, he is not going to interfere with his wife. “I have never censored anybody in my life,” he says. “If you were my wife, you would not suffer the outrageous fortune of having a husband tell you not to do your own thing. … You would operate as independently and vigorously as you chose.”

Having said all that, he adds one thing more.

“Obviously,” he says, “we’ve caused each other a good deal of pain.”

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