Will Freeh Be Free to Go?

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FBI director Louis Freeh, left, on his way to meet a congressional committee

Nobody can really know what’s going through the mind of FBI Director Louis Freeh. But it sure is interesting to speculate. This is a man, after all, who has spent his entire career as a federal employee, who ran the federal government’s lumbering law-enforcement bureau through some of its toughest times — the minefields of Waco, Wen Ho Lee and interminable Clinton scandals — with a grace many consider admirable.

And now, the horizon looked relatively quiet; finally, Freeh had the security of knowing that Bush, rather than the rascal Clinton, would choose his successor. The Bureau would be in good hands. At last, after years of patiently biding his time, he’d spotted a good moment to escape.

Then, one week ago, a little problem reared its head: The FBI, acting as the government prosecution in the case against Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, had failed to produce some 3,100 documents to McVeigh’s defense team.

This development, of course, puts the FBI right back on the front pages — precisely the spot Freeh had hoped so fervently to avoid during his final months at the helm of the Bureau. Instead of spending his last weeks making the rounds through his old stomping grounds, raising a glass to colleagues, Freeh will spend a considerable amount of time (time which began Wednesday before a House committee) facing down seething legislators on the warpath. Freeh, in other words, is in for a rough couple of weeks.

A lot of folks are wondering whether Freeh will hang around to see his Bureau through its latest scandal, or if he’ll stick to his departure date. TIME’s Elaine Shannon, who has covered the FBI for several years spoke with TIME.com Wednesday afternoon.

TIME.com: Will Freeh stay and ride out this latest FBI scandal or will he go as planned?

Elaine Shannon: Anything we say at this point is pure speculation, of course. But Freeh has a very able deputy, and I think in the end he will leave. Ashcroft did not look happy when he had to go on television and explain what happened in the McVeigh investigation — I think the Justice Department would just as soon see Freeh go and let everybody move on. No one’s going to be begging him to stick around.

Was there anything remarkable about Freeh’s testimony before a House Appropriations subcommittee on Wednesday?

He switched tacks this morning and moved away from blaming the computer systems for failing to deliver orders to field agents who were responsible for sending in prosecution documents. Now he’s saying the people in the field either didn’t understand their orders or were very sloppy in carrying them out. He’s talking about management failures rather than computer failures.

Is he personally taking responsibility for the document foul-up?

He said Wednesday, "As director, I have taken responsibility. The buck does stop with me." But he then proceeded to blame everyone else. He even argued that the discovery petition from McVeigh’s defense lawyers was unusually broad, which is a strange tack to take. He then cited examples of misinformation and various miscommunications between field agents and command posts.