By Sam Youngman - 05/13/11 12:30 AM EDT
President Obama is asking Congress to extend FBI Director Robert Mueller’s 10-year term for two years.
Obama cited the need for continuity, given ongoing security threats to the U.S. and changes at the Pentagon and CIA, where Obama recently nominated new leaders.
Sen. Chuck Grassley (Iowa), the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, joined other Democrats and Republicans in applauding Mueller’s service and résumé.
But Grassley expressed some concern about the precedent of extending the term, saying in a statement that Congress limited the FBI director’s term to one 10-year appointment “as a safeguard against improper political influence and abuses of the past.”
Hoover directed the FBI for 48 years, and often turned his apparatus on people working in the administration and the legislative branch. Presidents who thought about replacing him reportedly decided against doing so because of his enormous power.
“This is an unusual step by the president and is somewhat of a risky precedent to set,” Grassley said.
White House officials said they would work to address Grassley’s concerns.
White House press secretary Jay Carney said the administration will “make the case that this is a new circumstance,” pointing to other positions where there is a similar precedent.
In 1994, a White House official said, Congress approved a law that extended the terms of certain U.S. Parole Commissioners.
During a Rose Garden event Thursday in which he was surrounded by law enforcement officials, Obama hailed Mueller, tapped by former President George W. Bush to lead the FBI, as “the gold standard” for leading the bureau. Mueller came to the FBI just days before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
“Given the ongoing threats facing the United States, as well as the leadership transitions at other agencies like the Defense Department and Central Intelligence Agency, I believe continuity and stability at the FBI is critical at this time,” Obama said in a statement.
Obama praised the longtime director for transforming the bureau “into a pre-eminent counterterrorism agency.”
“He has shown extraordinary leadership and effectiveness at protecting our country every day since,” 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,” Obama said.
The Senate unanimously confirmed Mueller for the position in 2001.
And despite his concerns, Grassley said there is “no question” Mueller has proven his ability to run the FBI.
He said he was “open” to the idea of extending Mueller’s term, but that he would need to know more about Obama’s plan to ensure “this is not a more permanent extension that would undermine the purposes of the term limit.”
Obama met with others he was considering for the position, and Mueller has made it no secret that he was ready to leave the bureau. But Carney said the president’s focus in asking Mueller to stay on had more to do with maintaining continuity given the changes taking place at the CIA and Pentagon.
Secretary of Defense Robert Gates is retiring, and Obama has nominated CIA Director Leon Panetta to succeed him at the Pentagon. Gen. David Petraeus has been nominated to replace Panetta.
This story was updated at 8:30 p.m.