Washington Associates of FBI Director Louis Freeh are urging him to postpone his upcoming retirement for a few months to help the agency ride out the turmoil caused by its miscues involving Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh and accused spy Robert Philip Hanssen.
The White House has broached the issue gently with Freeh to test the waters, and other prominent associates have made the case more forcefully to him, arguing that it would badly disrupt the FBI if he were to leave office at the end of this month as planned, according to a law enforcement colleague who has spoken with Freeh.
"He might not be willing to stay forever, but he can stay for a while," said the colleague, who asked not to be identified. "The advantage is that the bureau has been under tremendous scrutiny, and an acting director wouldn't be in a position to take the bold steps that would be needed."
Freeh has enjoyed strong support in Washington through most of his eight years on the job, but two major scandals have muddied his reputation.
The February arrest of Hanssen, a 25-year FBI veteran accused of spying for the Russians since 1985, has triggered questions about how the FBI overlooked his alleged espionage for so long. And last month's discovery of more than 4,000 pages of undisclosed documents in the FBI's Oklahoma City bombing investigation forced a postponement of McVeigh's scheduled May 16 execution until next week at the earliest. At a hearing today in Denver, McVeigh's lawyers will seek a second delay to give them more time to review the new documents.
In speaking with colleagues, Freeh appears to have left the door open to a delayed resignation. But publicly, he gave no hint Tuesday of his plans as he gave a rare public speech in Washington to accept a leadership award from the Simon Wiesenthal Center.
The former judge quipped that his father asks him every day "if I've found a job yet" and demands to know why his son would want to give up a comfortable government post with two years remaining in a 10-year term.
A major reason, friends say, is money. Freeh has six sons younger than 17, and after 27 years in government, he is anxious to find a high-paying job in the private sector to help finance the boys' college tuition. He now earns about $145,000 a year.