Filling top jobs in Washington is never easy in good times. The disruption, the disclosure and the grueling vetting process dissuade many well-qualified people from putting their names forward.
In highly partisan times, it’s even worse. The opposition party will block a president’s choice, sometimes out of conviction, just as often out of simple orneriness.
Thus presidents turn to a rather select pool of talent, veterans of government service who have been through the confirmation process before and are familiar faces on Capitol Hill.
For all of those reasons and more, President Barack Obama made a wise choice in asking FBI Director Robert Mueller to stay on for two years past the end of his 10-year term.
Mueller offers continuity in leadership in the U.S.’s top anti-terrorism agency, especially when al-Qaida has endorsed its deceased leader’s goal of launching another spectacular attack on U.S. soil, especially one that produces maximum casualties.
Reappointing Mueller will take the search for his successor out of presidential-campaign politics. He would serve until September 2013, when Obama will be settling into his second term or a new president will just be finding his feet. Either way, it gives the White House and the FBI some breathing room.
Mueller, 66, has bipartisan credentials. He served as a U.S. attorney in the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and President Bill Clinton and as head of the Justice Department’s criminal division under President George H.W. Bush. President George W. Bush nominated him to head the FBI, and he formally became the bureau’s director on Sept. 4, 2001, one week before the attacks that radically changed the FBI’s mission.
Mueller later was part of a bizarre episode in the war on terror that reflected well on him and two other senior members of the Justice Department. Then-Attorney General John Ashcroft was desperately ill in the intensive-care unit of a local hospital when two top aides to Bush left the White House for the hospital to pressure Ashcroft into signing off in continuation of a warrantless-surveillance program that the department had found to be illegal.
Ashcroft deputy James Comey got to the hospital first. Ashcroft refused to sign, and Mueller dispatched an FBI detail to make sure that Comey wasn’t removed from the hospital room. It came out later that Ashcroft, Comey and Mueller were prepared to resign en masse if the White House went ahead with the surveillance program anyway.
Congress should quickly give Mueller his extension.
Dale McFeatters is an editorial writer and columnist for the Scripps Howard News Service.