CIA's Covert Effort to Make FBI's Mueller Laugh

Scott J. Ferrell/Congressional Quarterly/Getty Images

Ever wonder what top administration officials whisper to each other when they're testifying on Capitol Hill?

"Everybody thinks we're [whispering] something profound to each other," former CIA director George Tenet said today about his times answering lawmakers' questions beside FBI Director Robert Mueller. "I would cup my hand and say something to Mueller like, 'Bob, isn't that the dumbest question you've ever heard?'"

Mueller would stiffly mouth back, "Shut up," Tenet recalled.

Top Justice Department officials, FBI colleagues, lawmakers, former U.S. officials and the nation's top two intelligence officials - gathered in Washington for a farewell ceremony to Mueller - erupted into laughter at Tenet's story.

Mueller is leaving the FBI next month after 12 years at its helm. Mueller took the post a week before the 9/11 attacks.

During his own remarks, Mueller confirmed that Tenet used to try to make him laugh during congressional hearings.

Before Mueller spoke, Attorney General Eric Holder bestowed Mueller with the Justice Department's "Exceptional Service Award."

Holder said there is "no question that the American people are safer because (of) Bob Mueller," who "led efforts to thwart, and to investigate, some of the most serious terrorist plots our nation has faced since 9/11."

As for Mueller, he thanked his colleagues for their advice and counsel during his tenure.

"It has been my privilege to work with so many talented and dedicated public servants," Mueller said. "While it is difficult to leave this family, I leave knowing that the work will continue under the leadership of individuals - in the Justice Department and the FBI alike - who embody the FBI's motto of fidelity, bravery and integrity."

After graduating Princeton University in 1966, Mueller joined the United States Marine Corps and led a rifle platoon of the Third Marine Division in Vietnam. His dedication and courage earned him a Bronze Star, two Navy Commendation Medals, the Purple Heart, and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry, according to an FBI profile.

Mueller then worked as a litigator in San Francisco and served 12 years as a federal prosecutor. A move to a private law firm in Boston ended when he began working in the Justice Department in Washington in 1989. Four years later, he briefly returned to the private sector before joining the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington as a homicide prosecutor.

Mueller was "a little overqualified for a job as a line prosecutor," but he "was eager to make a difference," Holder said Thursday.

"This was at a time when our nation's capital was a city in great distress. We were called the murder capital of the United States," Holder said. "Bob's work literally helped to save lives and also made better the lives of people who were too often unseen or forgotten."

Mueller and his wife, Ann, have two daughters.

- ABC's Sally Zhang contributed to this report

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