Until today, the Obama administration seemed well on its way to selecting a new FBI Director. Robert Mueller’s 10-year term will shortly expire, and by statute he cannot serve a second term. The White House, however, now plans to ask Congress for a two-year extension in order to provide continuity while other changes get made to the national-security team leadership, Jake Tapper reports:
President Obama will seek legislation to allow FBI Director Robert Mueller III to stay on the job for two more years. …
In a statement, the president said that Mueller “has set the gold standard for leading the Bureau,” and praised his law enforcement and national security credentials “relentless commitment to the rule of law, unquestionable integrity and independence, and…steady hand.”
Part of the reason for the president’s move is continuity, given not only ongoing threats facing the US but leadership transitions at the Pentagon and CIA.
Mueller’s term started exactly one week before 9/11. His leadership of the FBI since has received praise and respect, avoiding much of the criticism aimed at the CIA for intelligence failures. If it weren’t for the precedent of J. Edgar Hoover and his abuses of power during a lifetime reign at the FBI, Congress might be tempted to allow Mueller a second full term.
Given the turmoil already taking place at the CIA and Pentagon as Obama shuffles his team, an extension makes some sense. As an inducement to Republicans, the extra two years means that a Republican might get the chance to name Mueller’s eventual replacement, although it’s doubtful that any of them will complain about Obama’s nomination of David Petraeus as CIA Director. It’s one less potentially difficult Senate confirmation hearing to endure for Obama, too, a potential consideration with the ATF gunrunning scandal still being probed by Congress. Both ATF and FBI belong to the Department of Justice, which Republicans could hve stretched into a relevant topic, although that probably would have depended on the candidate and how controversial he or she may have been.
I’d bet that Obama will get little trouble from Congress in approving an extension. Still, it does seem a little like punting rather than making a required decision, and Obama could just as easily have put off making a change at the CIA by selecting a more appropriate successor to Robert Gates than Leon Panetta. For some reason, I wonder whether the reluctance to part with Mueller for the next two years may be related to Obama’s estimation of how much longer Mueller’s boss, Attorney General Eric Holder, may be sticking around. Having to deal with those two openings simultaneously would really be a headache, and given the ATF scandal and the humiliating backwalk on Gitmo and civilian trials for the 9/11 plotters, it might just be that Holder will be looking to spend more time with his family soon.