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Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for William Steele Sessions as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation

November 02, 1987

The President. Judge Sessions and ladies and gentlemen of the FBI: Thank you, and good afternoon. Special greetings to the Sessions family, gathered here today to see the Nation do honor to the man they've known as husband and father. And, judge, I can't help thinking it's typical of your thorough and methodical manner that you got the ulcer out of the way before you started the job. [Laughter]

But before I begin, I can't resist telling you all about my visit to the FBI museum exhibit just a moment ago—how it really carried me back. I saw John Dillinger's death mask, an old-style machine gun, and I remembered how, as a young man, I used to thrill at the FBI story. And I want you to know that all these years later, when, as President, I'm briefed on all that the Bureau is doing—when I learn, for example, that during the past 5 years, FBI investigations have led to more than 7,000 drug convictions—well, my friends, I still thrill at the FBI story. But we're here today to congratulate Judge Sessions.

"Tough but fair." "Devoted to safeguarding constitutional rights." "A man of integrity." Those who commented on his nomination found themselves using these phrases to describe Judge William Steele Sessions. But perhaps the most eloquent testimony was offered to a newspaper reporter by the judge's eldest son. He said simply: "My father has drilled honesty into me from day one."

Born in Arkansas, William Sessions grew up in Kansas City and served 5 years in the Air Force before he and his wife, Alice, settled in Texas. After receiving his law degree from Baylor University in 1958, he began a legal career of immense distinction: successful private practice in Texas; service in the Criminal Division of the Justice Department here in Washington; appointment by President Nixon as United States attorney for the Western District of Texas; and then appointment, just 3 years later, by President Ford as a Federal judge.

If I could just add something here, I can't resist pointing out that a record as impressive as Judge Sessions' is the kind of thing some people find hard to take. At one point a reporter suggested to the judge's son-again, the eldest son, William—that there had to be some skeleton in the judge's closet. And William answered that, as a matter of fact, there was. One of the judge's grandsons had given him a plastic skeleton to satisfy the Senate. [Laughter]

If I could interject something else, I can't help thinking of another superb judge whose nomination is soon to go before the Senate—Judge Douglas Ginsburg. As you know, Judge Sessions, we've been toughening the Federal laws against crime, and judges have been returning to a more faithful interpretation of the Constitution regarding criminal law. The constitutional rights of the accused must be protected, but so must the rights of law-abiding citizens. Hardened criminals simply must not be allowed to prey upon the innocent.

On the Supreme Court, Judge Ginsburg would continue the trend toward a recognition that victims have rights, too. And, so, his Senate confirmation is vitally important to the fight against crime. Let's commit ourselves today to providing for future generations an America that cares about victims' rights, not just criminal rights. The next Justice on the Supreme Court better be ready to deal with that challenge. And Doug Ginsburg is ready.

But reviewing your own remarkable record, Judge Sessions, the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded in its unanimous report that, and again, I quote: "Judge Sessions' record demonstrates that he is a tough but fair-minded man, a man of experience, intellect, and character."

Now this fine judge has taken the oath of office as our nation's fourth Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. You will lead a Bureau that has sharpened its investigative focus to ensure that our country's law enforcement expertise and resources are directed against the crimes of the highest national priority.

Foreign intelligence activities and terrorism threaten the security of our nation and the lives of all Americans. In the past 3 years, the FBI's counterintelligence efforts have achieved unprecedented success against those who threaten our nation's security. By targeting these criminal activities and other priority matters such as organized crime, white collar crime and drugs, and pursuing investigations of quality rather than mere quantity, the FBI is confronting the challenge of enforcing our laws and protecting our citizens. I am confident that, under the leadership of Judge Sessions, the men and women of the FBI will carry on the fight against crime with ever greater thoroughness and skill.

Judge Sessions, I can think of no one better qualified to live up to and enlarge on the FBI tradition of fighting crime fiercely, but always according to the due process of law. No one can better embody the FBI belief that the enforcement of our laws must be very tough, but very fair. On behalf of all Americans and, if I may, especially on behalf of the men and women of the FBI gathered here today: Judge Sessions, congratulations. Thank you, and God bless you.

[At this point, former FBI Director William H. Webster spoke.]

Director Sessions. Mr. President, Chief Justice Burger, Attorney General Meese, Judge Webster, and distinguished Senators and Congressmen, distinguished guests, and my former friends of the Federal judiciary, Mr. Otto—I think I said that poorly, they are always my friends, and I'm the former judge, but you know what I mean—Alice, dear friends, and family: Before I can look to the future, I am compelled to recall the past and to acknowledge the contribution of Judge Webster to the tradition of this amazing institution.

To you, Mr. President, I can now publicly express my gratitude for being afforded the opportunity to lead the men and women of the world's finest and most extraordinary law enforcement agency. I would be remiss if I did not express my thanks to the Acting Director, John Otto, for the illustrious service he has performed during the months of waiting, and also for waiting so patiently for the passing of the torch of leadership.

My pledge today is truly unchanged, though it is now supported by my publicly expressed oath, that is, to lead in a fashion that unerringly and faithfully supports and defends the constitutions and the laws of this great land.

My hope is that I can so faithfully uphold the standards of the Federal Bureau of Investigation that when my term is completed my associates here at the Bureau will regret my departure and my country will have been strengthened and enriched by my service. My commitment to the Bureau is to give, as courageously as I can and with all the integrity that I can muster, whatever is required to fulfill the obligation of my oath and my pledge. And I do truly thank you.

Note: The President spoke at 1:55 p.m. in the courtyard of the J. Edgar Hoover Building.

Ronald Reagan, Remarks at the Swearing-In Ceremony for William Steele Sessions as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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