President Bush and the attorney general have chosen wisely in nominating Robert Mueller to be the next director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. They have picked a man of great integrity, a demanding but fair administrator, and a person who is well known and well respected within the law enforcement community. Mueller will build upon the good work done by outgoing Director Louis Freeh, who has been the subject of much unjustified criticism in his departure, and make the FBI truly deserving of the American people's respect.
The bureau is not an organization so flawed that it is in need of major overhaul. Change is necessary but the fundamentals are sound. Though a series of high-profile missteps, such as the investigation of double-agent Robert Hanssen and the files of Oklahoma bomber Timothy J. McVeigh, are legitimate areas of concern and inquiry, the bureau remains the preeminent investigative entity in the world. I am confident that a fair, thorough review of the agency's actions in these and other matters will reveal to the American public what we in law enforcement know very well: The bureau is sound because it has at its core a cadre of dedicated, competent people who, with appropriate guidance and the proper mission, can overcome the recent mistakes that have concerned us all.
The review, however, will also reveal an FBI that, for some reason, got away from its long established policies and practices and acted too quickly in some instances and failed to make tough policy choices in others. I think that the questions already raised in Congress by, among others, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, and Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., are the correct ones and the answers to them will provide a basis for necessary reforms. The senators are right to focus on the FBI's culture that I found was becoming too insular.
But the solution will not come from one high-profile congressional hearing or review. The process must be ongoing. The new director must be periodically called upon to explain FBI actions and his policies. Oversight must be more than showy, non-substantive interaction with Congress followed by what seems to be an endless number of special inquiries headed by outsiders hired to do what could easily have been done within either the existing framework or established Justice Department procedures.
We must never forget that the FBI is part of the Department of Justice. In recent years the delicate balance that must be struck between independence and accountability has been skewed toward the former with unfortunate, somewhat predictable, results. The need for "civilian control" through the attorney general is as necessary today as it was when people less principled than Louis Freeh and Robert Mueller were at the helm.
So what kind of director will this new guy be? Mueller is a seasoned prosecutor totally familiar with the agency he will soon head and the department of which it is a part. He has served both Democratic and Republican presidents well and is not afraid to ask difficult questions or take actions that though initially unpopular prove to be organizationally sound. Mueller is a gifted administrator who will deal with the problems created by the bureau's necessary expansion and its unfortunate loss, through planned retirements, of seasoned agents.
Initially, there may be some who will be put off by his manner and question his fairness. Unnamed "law enforcement sources" may try to resist the change that is so evidently needed by telling their side of the story to the press. This is the way of bureaucracies. They are reflexively opposed to new ideas and new ways of doing things. And Mueller is a former Marine who generally has a no-nonsense manner. Given a chance, however, people within and outside the bureau will come to realize the depth of Mueller's commitment to the people who work for him and to fairness.
His record as the U.S. attorney in San Francisco is instructive. He took a good office that had problems and made it much better. He almost doubled the number of criminal cases the office brought, raised the level of civil collections from $7 million to $200 million, and promoted an unprecedented number of women to supervisory jobs in the office. In San Francisco, he is not without his critics but a fair reading of his record there shows him to be a person who got results and who garnered wide praise and support from across the vast ideological spectrum that is unique to that great city.
Mueller called me in the early 1990s when I was the U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., and asked me to hire him as a trial lawyer in the office. I was astounded. Here was a man who had been the most powerful assistant attorney general in the Justice Department under former President Bush. He was now making great sums of money at a prestigious law firm but he was asking me to give him a job that would get him a much smaller office, a much smaller salary and an almost unmanageable caseload. (D.C. was at the time the "murder capital" of our nation.)
He seamlessly became a part of the office. I ultimately had to force him to become the head of the homicide unit when his able predecessor departed. He wanted to be a trial lawyer in the office, he said, because the city needed help and he thought he could use his trial skills to make Washington a better place. He served there until I asked him to go to San Francisco, when I was deputy attorney general, and I'm sure he contributed to the renaissance the nation's capital is now experiencing.
I will always remember how this tough, ex-Marine interacted so well with the largely poor, largely black population. I remember his sensitivity in comforting those who had lost loved ones and his patience in explaining to them a criminal justice system that was not as thoughtful as it should have been.
Mueller will bring all these qualities to his new job. He will be a great director of an FBI that can enjoy, if the bureau embraces the changes he will attempt to enact, a renewed confidence from the American people it is pledged to serve.
Holder, a former deputy U.S. attorney general, is a member of a Washington law firm.
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