W A S H I N G T O N, July 30, 2001 -- Robert Mueller, President Bush's choice tohead the FBI, told Congress today that the nation's premier lawenforcement agency will handle itself better under his leadershipdespite its recent string of high-profile blunders.
"If I have the honor of being confirmed by the Senate, I willmake it my highest priority to restore the public's confidence inthe FBI — to re-earn the faith and trust of the American people,"he said in prepared remarks. "The dedicated men and women of theFBI deserve nothing less, and as director I would tolerate nothingless."
However, Mueller cautioned the Senate Judiciary Committee thatthe FBI "is far from perfect and that the next director facessignificant management and administrative challenges."
But when mistakes are made, he said, the bureau needs to admitit immediately and hold accountable those who are responsible.
Finally, "Every significant mistake must be examined todetermine whether broader reform is necessary," he said. "We mustlearn from our mistakes or we will be bound to repeat them."
Three Core Problems
Mueller will have to deal with a Congress that plans to overseethe FBI a lot more closely than it did in the past, the chairman ofthe committee said.
"Congress has sometimes followed a hands-off approach about theFBI," the Judiciary chairman, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., said inprepared remarks. "Until the bureau's problems are solved, we willneed a hands-on approach for a while."
Leahy said he sees three core problems within the FBI: securityand computers; management; and the FBI's insular culture. Muellerwill have to be willing to work with Congress to help fix all threeproblems, Leahy said.
"We need to forge a strong and constructive oversightpartnership with the leadership at the Department of Justice andthe FBI to shape the reforms and find the solutions to make the FBIthe premier law enforcement agency that the American people want itto be," Leahy said.
Mueller — nominated by Bush on July 5 — will have plenty of timeto answer questions, because the committee announced that hisconfirmation hearing will last at least two days.
Mueller Faces Questions on FBI Missteps
The committee already has held FBI oversight hearings, and wasexpected to use Mueller's first appearance before Congress to askfor specific reforms within the FBI, and to set benchmarks for theagency to live up to.
This would be a markedly different confirmation hearing forMueller than for his predecessor, Louis Freeh. When he came beforethe Judiciary Committee on July 29, 1993, it was a love fest, withFreeh giving the customary promises to fight crime on all frontswhile retaining independence from political influence andincreasing the number of minority and female agents.
He was done in three hours and confirmed less than two weekslater.
Barring major controversy during the hearing, Mueller'sconfirmation also is all but assured by the Senate. Senate MajorityLeader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., also says he hopes to get a final voteon his nomination by the end of the week.
Mueller, 56, is a no-nonsense Justice Department veteran andformer federal prosecutor who has served in senior posts under bothRepublican and Democratic administrations. Unlike Freeh, whoretired two years short of his 10-year term, Mueller has never beenan FBI agent.
But his Marine Corps background — he received the Bronze Starand a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam — will enhance hisimage among agents, many of whom are former Marines, FBI officialssaid.
'Cowboy Culture' Criticized
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the Judiciary Committee'sharshest FBI critics, warned Mueller that he planned to delve intowhat he sees as a "cowboy culture" within the bureau.
"The culture of arrogance within the FBI is pervasive, and ithas given fuel to the mistaken notion that those within the bureauare somehow above accountability or reproach," Grassley toldMueller in a letter. "It is the kind of arrogance that placesimage above substance, exemplified by the bureau's penchant forholding press conferences in high-profile cases before theinvestigation is complete and all the facts are in."
Grassley also said he planned to ask specific questions abouthow Mueller would shuffle the bureau's management for betterresults and how he plans to make the agency work better with otherlaw enforcement and governmental agencies.
The FBI has been under fire for missteps going back years,including the failure to provide thousands of documents to OklahomaCity bomber Timothy McVeigh's lawyers, the Robert Hanssen spy case,the bloody Branch Davidian and Ruby Ridge standoffs, its inabilityto account for all its firearms and computers and the botchedinvestigation of former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee.