The Obama administration is asking Congress to extend by two years the term of FBI Director Robert Mueller, who transformed the bureau to fight terrorism.
Mueller, 66, took over a week before Sept. 11, 2001, and his 10-year term is scheduled to end in September. The Obama administration had been searching for candidates to replace him as its approach to interrogating and prosecuting terror suspects has faced criticism from Republican lawmakers.
President Barack Obama said today in a statement that Mueller set a “gold standard” and that “continuity and stability” are needed at a time of leadership changes at the Central Intelligence Agency and Defense Department. Obama called on lawmakers to extend Mueller’s term “for the sake of our nation’s safety and security.”
“He has shown extraordinary leadership and effectiveness at protecting our country,” Obama said.
Congressional approval is needed to extend Mueller’s term. Originally nominated by President George W. Bush, he previously served as a U.S. attorney in San Francisco and was an officer in the Marine Corps.
Mueller has had bipartisan support from lawmakers for fighting terrorism and thwarting attempted terrorism attacks within the U.S.
“This is an unusual step by the president, and is somewhat of a risky precedent to set,” Grassley said in a statement. “I’m open to the president’s idea, but I 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.”
Grassley said the limit was imposed to safeguard against “improper political influence and abuses of the past.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, said in a statement that he supports extending Mueller’s term.
Congress limited the director’s term in 1976, four years after the death of J. Edgar Hoover, who served as director of the FBI for 48 years.
Mueller agreed to stay pending congressional approval and has no additional comment, said Paul Bresson, a bureau spokesman.
After the Sept. 11 attacks, Mueller shifted agents from criminal investigations to fighting terrorism. Mueller has been hiring additional agents to replace those moved to national security cases, though the bureau still doesn’t have the same number of criminal investigators as it did before the attacks.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation has faced criticism during Mueller’s tenure for cost overruns and delays for a new FBI computer system for managing cases.
Attorney General Eric Holder said Mueller earned the confidence of two presidents “for his ability to lead and his calmness under fire.”
“The United States faces ongoing threats from terrorists intent on attacking us both at home and abroad, and it is crucial that the FBI have sustained, strong leadership to confront that threat,” Holder said in a statement.
Last month, Obama said he is nominating CIA Director Leon Panetta to take over the Pentagon from Defense Secretary Robert Gates. The president also chose General David Petraeus to lead the spy agency.
The Obama administration’s approach to interrogating and prosecuting terrorism suspects has been faulted by Republicans, led by Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. Sessions has said suspects should be treated as enemy combatants instead of being tried in criminal courts.
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