President Obama on Thursday said he intends to seek a two-year extension of the 10-year term of FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III, which expires on Sept. 4, saying the director has “set the gold standard for leading the bureau” and that in the face of ongoing threats, “continuity and stability at the FBI is critical at this time.”
The extension would require House and Senate approval, which appears likely.
“Bob transformed the FBI after Sept. 11, 2001, into a pre-eminent counterterrorism agency. He has shown extraordinary leadership and effectiveness at protecting our country every day since,” Mr. Obama said. “He has impeccable law enforcement and national security credentials, a relentless commitment to the rule of law, unquestionable integrity and independence, and a steady hand that has guided the bureau as it confronts our most serious threats.
“I am grateful for his leadership, and ask Democrats and Republicans in Congress to join together in extending that leadership for the sake of our nation’s safety and security,” he said.
Mr. Mueller, 66, was named to the post in July 2001 by President Bush and was unanimously confirmed by the Senate a month later. He was sworn in as FBI director on Sept. 4, 2001 - just a week before the terrorist attacks that claimed the lives of nearly 3,000 people.
He has been in charge of transforming the FBI from a pre-Sept. 11 law enforcement agency into an agency whose primary mission is national security.
Mr. Obama made the request at a time when the administration’s national security team is in transition. Robert M. Gates is leaving as defense secretary and is to be replaced by CIA Director Leon E. Panetta, and Gen. David H. Petraeus will become the CIA director.
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat and chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, which oversees the FBI, said he was “delighted” by the decision. Although Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the committee’s ranking Republican, called the request “an unusual step” that could set “a risky precedent,” he did not rule it out.
“Thirty-five years ago, Congress limited the FBI directors term to one, 10-year appointment as an important safeguard against improper political influence and abuses of the past,” Mr. Grassley said. “Theres no question that Director Mueller has proven his ability to run the FBI. And, we live in extraordinary times.
“So, Im open to the presidents 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,” he said.
The FBI Agents Association, which represents more than 12,000 active-duty and retired agents nationwide, applauded the president’s decision. Association President Konrad Motyka said Mr. Obama’s request to Congress “reflects the critical role that the director has played in transitioning the bureau to a post-9/11 world that requires both investigative and intelligence-gathering skills.”
“We look forward to working with Director Mueller to continue to enhance the effectiveness of the FBI in the fight against terrorism and emerging threats without compromising the bureau’s established expertise at both criminal and counterintelligence investigations,” Mr. Motyka said.
The association previously recommended the appointment of former FBI Executive Assistant Director Michael Mason as “an example of the type of person who embodies our principles.”
Mr. Mason’s FBI career spanned 23 years before he left for the private sector in December 2007. His last assignments were those of assistant director in charge of the FBI’s Washington field office and executive assistant director for the bureau’s Criminal Investigative Division.