TOPICS > Politics

New Director?

July 30, 2001 at 12:00 AM EDT


PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH: He assumes great responsibilities. He was chosen with great care, and he has my full confidence.

KWAME HOLMAN: President Bush’s nomination of Robert Mueller to head the FBI comes at a critical time. The federal law enforcement agency has been hit by a string of mishaps, from the failure to provide documents to Timothy McVeigh’s lawyers, to the Robert Hanssen spy case, to its inability to account for all its firearms and computers.

SPOKESMAN: … And nothing but the truth?


KWAME HOLMAN: And as two days of Senate hearings into his nomination as FBI Director began, Robert Mueller expected tough questions about his plans to reform the agency. Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy:

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: For Mr. Mueller and for this Committee and for the nation, this is more than a job interview — because we’re at a crucial juncture for the FBI and well beyond an interview in many ways this hearings will be a redefinition of the job of FBI Director.

KWAME HOLMAN: Pennsylvania Republican Arlen Specter:

SEN. ARLEN SPECTER: I believe that there is a culture of concealment in the FBI, And I think they’re concerned about an institutional image, and I believe that’s going to be very, very difficult for anyone to deal with.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mueller was forthright about the FBI’s recent troubles.

ROBERT MUELLER: All institutions, even great ones like the FBI, make mistakes. The measure of an institution is in how it responds to its mistakes. I believe the FBI can and must do a better job of dealing with its mistakes. If I have the honor of being confirmed by the Senate, I will make it my highest priority to restore the public’s confidence in the FBI, to re-earn the faith and trust of the American people. The dedicated men and women of the FBI deserve nothing less, and as Director, I would tolerate nothing less.

KWAME HOLMAN: Robert Swan Mueller, III, is 56 years old, married with two daughters. He’s a graduate of Princeton University and received his law degree from the University of Virginia. A former Marine, Mueller received the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart during service in Vietnam. Mueller served as a federal prosecutor and as U.S. Attorney in Boston, and was Assistant Attorney General during the first Bush administration. He currently is the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco. But earlier this year, Mueller was brought to Washington as Acting Deputy Attorney General at the Justice Department to help with the new administration’s transition. In his opening remarks today, Mueller told the Judiciary Committee that, if confirmed, he would make the FBI more accountable in its day-to-day operation.

ROBERT MUELLER: First, we must be willing to admit immediately that a mistake has occurred. This includes providing timely information to the appropriate committees of Congress. And for matters involving cases in courts, immediately informing the court and defense counsel as appropriate. Failure to admit one’s mistakes contributes to the perception of institutional arrogance. Second, those responsible for the mistake must be held accountable. This does not mean punishing employees for simple errors in doing their jobs. But nobody is perfect and we want to encourage people to come forward immediately when mistakes are made. But we must hold people accountable, and we cannot tolerate efforts to cover up problems or to blame others for them. If confirmed, I will be committed to inculcating a culture, which understands that we all make mistakes and that we must be forthright and honest in admitting them and correcting them as quickly as possible. We must tell the truth and let the facts speak for themselves. The truth is what we expect in our investigations of others, and the truth is what we must demand of ourselves when we come under scrutiny.

KWAME HOLMAN: One of the first questions for Mueller concerned political pressures he might come under as FBI Director.

SEN. PATRICK LEAHY: Will you give me your commitment that if you’re ever pressured politically by the Republicans or Democrats to effect an investigation that you will resist that pressure with all your might?


KWAME HOLMAN: Mueller’s answer might have been predicted, but then he continued.

ROBERT MUELLER: May I just add, if I might?


ROBERT MUELLER: It is critically important for the FBI to investigate crimes, allegations of crimes, thoroughly, professionally, objectively and without interference politically or otherwise. And when it does that, it then has the credibility of the American people. And so to avoid political pressures is absolutely critical for the FBI to do its job as that job is expected to be performed by the American people.

KWAME HOLMAN: Wisconsin Democrat Russ Feingold asked Mueller to respond to accusations that on occasion the FBI has been slow to cooperate with federal prosecutors.

SEN. RUSS FEINGOLD: The FBI sometimes appears to be making its own decisions about whether evidence is potentially relevant and whether a case should be pursued when these are decisions that should be made by prosecutors. We’ve seen this arise most recently in the Timothy McVeigh case, where we still do not fully know why all the documents were not turned over in a timely manner after repeated requests from the FBI Director.

KWAME HOLMAN: Mueller said the simple answer was an FBI inability to produce documents quickly.

ROBERT MUELLER: And that, I do believe, is attributable in part to its antiquated filing system. FBI agents will tell you that when they go out and take notes of an interview, they come back, pull off the notes from the sheet of paper, fold it up, put it in what’s called a 1-A envelope. That 1-A envelope is then put in an evidence locker along with 150 or 200 other 1-A envelopes. The prosecutor asks for everything in that case. Often the agent has to go pull out that envelope, open the envelope, pull out a piece of paper, take it to a copy machine, copy it and get it to the prosecutor — a disincentive to producing that which should easily be produced. My hope is earlier rather than later that the FBI could be somewhat paperless. In other words, notes, when an FBI agent comes back with handwritten notes, which FBI agents will, they’re imaged into a database, coded so that in the future anything… any document, any picture, any report, any fingerprint report, for instance, or fingerprints themselves, will be imaged into the database and be immediately accessible so that you do not have the problems such as you saw with the production of the McVeigh documents.

KWAME HOLMAN: Today’s session was sparsely attended by committee members. Chairman Leahy blamed flight delays. Missing Senators will have another chance tomorrow; day two of Robert Mueller’s confirmation hearings to be FBI Director.