The Criminal Division held its annual awards ceremony this past week and the much-coveted Henry E. Petersen Award went to none other than FBI Director Bob Mueller, who, as you might recall, served as head of the division when President Bush's dad was president.
The award is named for longtime Criminal Division attorney Petersen, who rose to the level of assistant attorney general for the division and served in that post during the turbulent Watergate years.
In fact, one of the reasons he is so revered among "Crim" attorneys is that he battled valiantly during those troubling times to keep the division on the straight and narrow. But he was also a leading figure in the Justice Department's crusade against organized crime — and this was back in the old days before there were (court-authorized) wiretaps or immunity grants or the RICO anti-racketeering law or even investigative grand juries.
It was Petersen's notion that attorneys and investigators needed to work more closely together on cases — a notion that was heretical to former FBI chief J. Edgar Hoover, who wanted his agents to work a case and not bring it to the lawyers until they had finished their work and could deliver a package all tied up with a ribbon.
But Petersen created the Organized Crime Strike Forces — and, as one longtime division employee recalled it, had them set up, with agents assigned to them, before Hoover even knew about it.
As even casual observers of Justice and the FBI know, nowadays the norm is for investigators and attorneys to work closely together from the very beginning of a case. But in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the idea was revolutionary.
Deputy Assistant Attorney General Jack Keeney, another Criminal Division legend, remembers Petersen as "a brilliant guy, a very special person, tough as nails ... the finest public servant we've ever had in the Department of Justice."
Keeney and David Margolis — the other longtime "Crim" legend now serving in the deputy attorney general's shop — were the ones who first conceived the idea of the Petersen award, not long after his death in May 1991. They broached it with their then-boss, the assistant attorney general for Criminal Division, who honchoed it through the bureaucracy. In a nice little historical irony, that boss was Bob Mueller.
In announcing this year's award, current Assistant Attorney General for Crim Mike Chertoff noted Mueller's role in establishing the honor, and ad-libbed, "Even then he knew!"
Chertoff noted that Petersen's widow and daughter were in the audience at the Great Hall ceremony, as well as a number of past winners, including Margolis and Keeney, William Bryson, Joann Harris, Paul Coffey, Patty Stemler, Mary Lee Warren and Josh Hochberg.
He said the award, which is not given every year, is meant to honor those who best exemplify the "character, diligence, courage, professionalism and talent that Henry E. Petersen displayed during his long and illustrious career."
Chertoff summarized Mueller's long career with the department and praised not only his leadership and professional competence, but also his willingness to "seek bold solutions" to complex investigative and prospective problems.