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Former FBI director: Clinton undermined Saudi bombing probe

Freeh said president wanted better relations with Iran

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Louis J. Freeh, former director of the FBI.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Former FBI Director Louis Freeh on Sunday accused former President Bill Clinton of ditching the investigation into the 1996 bombing of a U.S. barracks in Saudi Arabia to pursue better relations with Iran.

In an interview with CBS' "60 Minutes," Freeh said Clinton failed to seek Saudi cooperation with the investigation into the Khobar Towers attack, which killed 19 U.S. airmen. He said Clinton instead pressed then-Crown Prince Abdullah, now king, for a donation to his presidential library -- a charge the former president's spokesman and a former adviser told CBS was false.

"I was very disappointed that the political leadership in the United States would tell the families of these 19 heroes that we were going to leave no stone unturned and find the people who killed them, to give that order to the director -- because that's the order that I got -- and then do nothing to assist and facilitate that investigation, and, in fact, to undermine it," Freeh said.

Representatives of the former president did not return CNN calls seeking comment. But former Clinton spokesman Joe Lockhart said Freeh's accusation has been disputed by "everyone who was in those meetings."

"All he is trying to do is follow the right-wing playbook, which is to make up a bunch of charges about President Clinton and do it in a way that you can line your own pockets," Lockhart said.

Freeh is promoting a new memoir, "My FBI: Bringing Down the Mafia, Investigating Bill Clinton and Waging War on Terror." He said his Khobar Towers investigation pointed to Iran, but said the probe was derailed by Clinton's desire to improve relations with the reformist Iranian government elected in 1997.

He said U.S. investigators only gained access to Saudi suspects in the bombing when former President George Bush, who sent American troops to defend the kingdom in the first Persian Gulf War, asked Abdullah for his assistance.

Asked why he did not resign and go public earlier, he said, "I had a different response. I said, 'This is too damn important for me to stop investigating it,' and I didn't stop investigating it. I wanted for a change of administration, which happened when this President Bush was elected."

Clinton named Freeh, a former FBI agent and federal judge, to lead the bureau in 1993 after the fiery raid that ended the Branch Davidian standoff in Waco, Texas. But Freeh's agents ended up conducting multiple investigations of his boss during the 1990s -- including the probe of the president's sexual relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky, which resulted in his 1998 impeachment and eventual acquittal by the Senate.

Freeh said those investigations dominated his tenure. But Lockhart said Freeh wasted his time pursuing allegations of wrongdoing leveled by Clinton's political opponents.

"No one made Mr. Freeh go around and chase political rumors and scandals, to go and get into the depths of the president's personal life," Lockhart told CNN. "He did that to win favor and curry favor with the far right wing of this country. What he didn't do was run the FBI."

In his book, Freeh writes that he realized the United States was in a global war with terrorists after the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center and responses to terrorist attacks in the 1990s were inadequate.

"We lacked the political will, the spine, to take military action against our enemies," he told CBS. "It was obvious for years that that's what our position had been."

The 9/11 commission report issued in 2004 credited Freeh with recognizing the terrorist threat early on -- but it also criticized him for failing to shift FBI resources to combat it. And the Justice Department criticized him for failing to improve the FBI's computer network, which investigators said kept agents from "connecting the dots" before the 9/11 attacks.

Freeh told CBS that he had to ask Congress for permission to reassign agents.

Freeh resigned in June 2001, less than three months before al Qaeda's attacks on New York and Washington. On his last day in office, he revealed indictments against 13 Saudis and a Lebanese citizen in connection with the Khobar Towers bombing, all accused of being members of the Iranian-backed Islamic militia Hezbollah. The indictment stated that Iranian officials directed the bombing, but none were charged.

He said he remained in office until 2001 because he didn't want Clinton to name his successor.

"I was concerned about who he would put in there as FBI director because he had expressed antipathy for the FBI, for the director," he said. "I was going to stay there and make sure that he couldn't replace me."

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