Senate confirms Robert Mueller as director of FBI |

Senate confirms Robert Mueller as director of FBI

WASHINGTON (AP) – Senators overwhelmingly agreed to make federal prosecutor Robert Mueller the new FBI director, voicing confidence he can lead the agency out of its troubles.

The Democratic-controlled Senate voted 98-0 for the Republican prosecutor Thursday, only hours after the Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously recommended his nomination to the full Senate. Sens. Pete Domenici, R-N.M. and Daniel Inouye, D-Hawaii, were not present for the vote.

”I felt whoever was the next director owed it to all the men and women in the bureau to make it better,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt. ”I am convinced that Robert Mueller can.”

Mueller, U.S. attorney in San Francisco and a former Justice Department official who has served under both Republican and Democratic administrations, was credited with reforming the San Francisco federal prosecutor’s office.

The FBI has been under fire for mistakes in investigations involving Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, spy Robert Hanssen, the bloody Branch Davidian and Ruby Ridge standoffs and Los Alamos National Laboratory nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee.

Mueller told senators during his two-day confirmation hearing that the 27,000-employee agency would admit errors, correct them and hold agents and senior officials accountable under his leadership.

”I believe the FBI can and must do a better job of dealing with mistakes,” Mueller said.

While voting for Mueller’s nomination, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the bureau’s harshest critics, said the new director may be underestimating his task. ”I have concerns that Mr. Mueller doesn’t completely understand the culture problem at the FBI,” Grassley said.

Senators have also said they will keep a close eye on the FBI through the Judiciary Committee’s oversight powers. ”We are not doing the job we should be doing,” said Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa.

Leahy already has begun oversight hearings on the bureau and promised more after Mueller gets settled.

Mueller will undergo surgery later this month to have his cancerous prostate removed. He is expected to be in the hospital for two to three days after the two-hour surgery.

”Robert Mueller will serve with fidelity, bravery and integrity,” Attorney General John Ashcroft said. ”His dedication to public service and background in criminal law will bring an invaluable perspective to the Department of Justice.”

The Senate voted 97-0 to approve the nomination of William Riley for the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals and 98-0 to approve the nomination of Sarah Hart to be director of the National Institute of Justice.

Domenici, Inouye and Sen. Fred Thompson, R-Tenn., were not present for the Riley vote. Domenici and Inouye also missed the Hart vote.

However, at the urging of Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., the Senate Judiciary Committee deferred the nomination of Deborah Daniels to be the assistant attorney general for the Office of Justice Programs.

The delay means that position will remain unfilled until at least September, when Congress returns from its summer break.

Schumer said he held up the nomination to protest the lack of responsiveness from the Justice Department to a letter he and other senators sent questioning Ashcroft’s gun policies. ”We have yet to receive even the slightest acknowledgment it has been received,” Schumer said.

Justice Department lawyers are still reviewing the request, spokeswoman Mindy Tucker said. She said much of what the senators have requested may be considered confidential.

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