We talked about a uniquely American problem: how to run secret agencies in an open society. He wanted the bureau to serve as an intelligence service under law. When Mueller discussed national security, he invoked civil liberties — and the tug-of-war between them — in the same breath. They were opposing forces; we had to have both.
Mueller made a persuasive case that he’s a civil libertarian. No, that’s not a big part of his reputation. Yes, he ran zealous counterterrorism operations after 9/11, some of them overzealous. But underneath that badge, I thought I detected a part of his heart that bleeds.
He wanted his time at the FBI to be judged not only on work to disrupt and deter terrorism, but on protecting the rights of everyone, including enemies of the state. He wasn’t going to be the guy who got a medal hung around his neck in retirement and a speech saying congratulations, you won the war on terrorism, but we lost our civil liberties.