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PRESIDENT WILL REPLACE FBI CHIEF, OFFICIALS SAY

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President Clinton has decided to replace FBI Director William Sessions and the administration will "try to find a graceful exit for him," a senior administration official said Friday.

Sessions, in Chicago for an agents meeting on Friday, abruptly cut short his visit and returned to Washington. He was to meet with Attorney General Janet Reno early today, and a law enforcement official who spoke on condition of anonymity said she had a letter from the president for the FBI director.The developments followed several days of wide speculation in Washington that Sessions was coming to the end of his long fight to keep his job and that his reluctant departure as FBI director was only days away.

His tenure at the FBI has been under a cloud since January, when the Justice Department's Office of Professional Responsibility issued a report that was critical of him.

Clinton was flying to Missouri on Saturday for a session with state and federal officials to plan their response to the flood disaster in the Midwest.

Before leaving for the Midwest, though, Clinton met at the White House Friday with U.S. District Judge Louis Freeh of New York, reportedly the leading contender for the FBI post, said the official. But, the official said, "don't assume it's a done deal" yet.

There will be an announcement on a new FBI director soon, but not necessarily over the weekend, said the senior administration official.

Reno and Sessions have had several previous discussions about his future. Session's departure "has been in the works for a while now," the official said.

The official said that the president was concerned that some of the allegations against Sessions seemed to be baseless.

Sessions' abrupt departure from Sessions was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in November 1987 and would serve until 1997 if allowed to complete his term.

The Office of Professional Responsibility report issued in January, however, said he made personal use of government cars and planes, employed a "sham" to avoid paying taxes on his chauffeured travel to and from work, had a taxpayer-funded fence built at his home that does not meet FBI security requirements and misused his position to receive a "sweetheart" deal on his home mortgage.

Sessions has denied the allegations.