Extension sought for FBI director

Mueller is crucial to fight on terror, Obama asserts

By Jerry Markon
Washington Post / May 13, 2011

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WASHINGTON — President Obama revealed yesterday that he is seeking a two-year extension of Robert S. Mueller III’s term as FBI director, saying he cannot afford to lose the longtime FBI chief at a time of terrorist threats.

The request for Congress to extend Mueller’s 10-year term comes as the White House had been searching for a candidate to succeed him. Mueller, 66, is facing mandatory retirement in September after a decade in which he oversaw the crackdown on terrorism following the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks and the bureau’s ongoing transformation into an intelligence-driven agency.

“In his 10 years at the FBI, Bob Mueller has set the gold standard for leading the bureau,’’ Obama said in a statement. “Given the ongoing threats facing the United States, as well as the leadership transitions at other agencies like the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, I believe continuity and stability at the FBI is critical at this time.’’

The unexpected request comes more than a week after US forces killed Osama bin Laden in Pakistan.

Though the military carried out that raid, the FBI plays a critical counterterrorism role, and the bureau is involved in analyzing the trove of materials found in the Al Qaeda leader’s compound.

It would take an act of Congress to extend Mueller’s tenure, which is limited by statute to 10 years.

Senator Patrick J. Leahy, Democrat of Vermont and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, is considering legislation that he hopes will be bipartisan, congressional sources said.

Reaction from Republicans was mixed. Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, said he supported Obama’s request, but Senator Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, called it “an unusual step by the president, and somewhat of a risky precedent to set.’’

Pointing out that the 10-year term limit is intended to guard against excesses like those that occurred during the J. Edgar Hoover era, Grassley said: “I’m open to the president’s idea but will need to know more about his plan to ensure that this is not a more permanent extension that would undermine the purposes of the term limit.’’

Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. said he strongly supported the extension.

A spokesman for Mueller, who was nominated in 2001 by President George W. Bush, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Law enforcement sources have said the search for Mueller’s successor was being led by Vice President Joe Biden, who chaired the Judiciary Committee when he was in the Senate, and that Holder is deeply involved.

Mueller, a low-profile former Marine, has served as US attorney and assistant US attorney in several cities, including Boston. He also was a lawyer in Boston, in 1988 and ’89 with Hill, Barlow and from 1993 to 1995 with Hale and Dorr.