The president will ask Congress to allow FBI Director Robert Mueller to serve two more years. His 10-year term would otherwise end in September.
The announcement came as a surprise not only to the public but also to Mueller, National Journal has learned. The FBI director did not expect that President Obama would ask him to stay. Mueller began his tenure just before the September 11 terrorist attacks, which brought the agency's intelligence-gathering operations under intense scrutiny.
“In his 10 years at the FBI, Bob Mueller has set the gold standard for leading the bureau," the president said. "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."
Early indications are that the request will easily pass. House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith, R-Texas, issued a statement saying he supports the extension.
Though Muller was appointed by President George W. Bush, the FBI director clashed with Bush's administration several times, even threatening to resign twice - first over the implementation of a domestic-surveillance program called Stellar Wind and again over a search warrant that Mueller obtained in a corruption probe of Rep. William Jefferson of Louisiana.
The sixth person to serve as the bureau's director, Mueller shifted the FBI's primary focus from law enforcement to national security in the wake of 9/11. He previously served 12 years in the U.S. Attorney's office and was the U.S. Attorney in San Francisco at the time of his FBI appointment. He served as a Marine Corps officer for three years and received numerous commendations for his accomplishments in Vietnam. A top litigator, Mueller has a pedigree -- the St Paul's School, the University of Virginia Law School and top Boston firms -- that contrasts with the bureau's gumshoe culture.
The move shows how determined the president is to keep his national-security team in place; he chose CIA Director Leon Panetta to succeed outgoing Defense Secretary Robert Gates, and Gen. David Petraeus to succeed Panetta at the CIA. Asking Mueller to stay keeps the national security team very much intact.
While the extension of Mueller's tenure is exceptional in the post-J. Edgar Hoover, a dozen years as the bureau's director doesn't come close to the jaw-dropping 46 years that Hoover spent as FBI director, from its founding in 1924 through 1972.
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with Rebecca Kaplan contributed to this article.
This article appears in the May 12, 2011, edition of National Journal Daily PM Update.