- The Washington Times - Monday, July 30, 2001

Little opposition is expected today when the Senate Judiciary Committee begins confirmation hearings for veteran Justice Department prosecutor Robert S. Mueller III to head the embattled FBI.

Mr. Mueller, a former Marine Corps officer who served in Vietnam and won the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart, already has won praise from committee Democrats and Republicans as the person they believe can bring accountability to the federal agency.

President Bush, who nominated Mr. Mueller earlier this month during a Rose Garden ceremony, already has given him his marching orders: "The FBI has a great tradition Mr. Mueller must now affirm, and some important challenges he must confront."

Mr. Bush said he was confident the no-nonsense former acting deputy attorney general and U.S. attorney in San Francisco was right for the job.

"As a lawyer, prosecutor and government official, he has shown high ideals, a clear sense of purpose, and a tested devotion to his country," Mr. Bush said. "Bob Mueller's experience and character convince me he's ready to shoulder these responsibilities."

While his nomination is not in jeopardy, the committee will closely question him on how he intends to run the FBI, already reeling from a series of public embarrassments including the arrest of 27-year veteran FBI Agent Robert P. Hanssen as a Russian spy and the failure to turn over 4,000 pages of documents to prosecutors and defense attorneys in the trial of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh.

Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, already has begun a series of oversight hearings on the FBI, and has called for needed reforms. He believes the new FBI director will inherit an agency "with superb resources and capabilities," but one that is "beleaguered by a series of high-profile mistakes and by a culture that too often does not recognize and correct its errors."

"It will be the committee's job to determine if Mr. Mueller is the right person for the job," he said. "I will be interested in hearing Mr. Mueller's views, his willingness to acknowledge and correct the bureau's problems and his ability to meet these challenges head-on."

One of the committee's most outspoken FBI critics is Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, who has already met with Mr. Mueller to discuss "the systemic problems I've identified with the FBI and the kinds of dramatic reforms that must be made in order to restore public confidence in federal law enforcement."

Mr. Grassley has said he wants to make sure Mr. Mueller is "equipped to take on the serious problems facing new leadership at the FBI," including what the lawmaker has described as a "management culture with an air about it that the FBI can do no wrong."

Mr. Mueller's nomination was strongly supported by Attorney General John Ashcroft, who interrupted a weeklong Missouri vacation to attend the Rose Garden ceremony. Mr. Mueller was one of a handful of Justice Department lawyers who played a key role in the transition from the Clinton administration.

If confirmed, Mr. Mueller, 56, will be only the sixth person to lead the FBI since 1924, when J. Edgar Hoover was named as the first director. He would replace Director Louis J. Freeh, who resigned after serving eight years of a 10-year term.

Mr. Mueller played key roles as head of the Justice Department's criminal division under former President George Bush in the prosecution of several high-profile cases, including the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland, in December 1988 that killed 270 persons; and the prosecution of Gen. Manuel Antonio Noriega, ousted from power during a 1989 U.S. invasion of Panama and convicted in 1992 on charges of cocaine trafficking.

He also was involved in the 1991 conviction of the Bank of Credit and Commerce International on money laundering, racketeering and conspiracy charges and the 1992 conviction of mob boss John Gotti, who had outmaneuvered the government in three prior trials.

One issue of concern is the revelation earlier this month that Mr. Mueller has localized, treatable prostate cancer. He told presidential personnel and Mr. Ashcroft about the possibility of the cancer in his initial interview and included the information in the Senate Judiciary Committee questionnaire provided to the full committee.

Dr. Peter Carroll of the University of California at San Francisco has said that he does not believe Mr. Mueller's diagnosis and treatment "will, in any way, impact on his ability to function and carry out his responsibilities normally."

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