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Mueller faces Senate for second day

Robert Mueller tells the Senate Judiciary Committee he would "restore the public's confidence in the FBI."  

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Robert Mueller, President Bush's choice for FBI director appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday for a second day of confirmation hearings.

Senators heaped praise on Mueller Monday, but sharply criticized the law enforcement agency Robert Mueller is expected to preside over, with the chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee saying it had "lost some of its luster."

Mueller, a federal prosecutor and a former decorated Marine, acknowledged a series of blunders by the FBI and said his highest priority as director would be to "restore the public's confidence in the FBI, to re-earn the faith and trust of the American people."

Mueller, 56, is expected to win easy approval for the 10-year term, and his confirmation hearing served as a platform for lawmakers to address what several described as a "culture of arrogance" at the agency.

The committee plans to vote Thursday on his confirmation, and is hoping for a full Senate vote by Friday night.

Recent FBI embarrassments  

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Robert Mueller promises changes at the FBI if confirmed as director. CNN's Kelli Arena reports (July 30)

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Senators may like Robert Mueller, but they want to know if he has what it takes to turn the FBI around. CNN's Kelli Arena takes a look (July 30)

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He was preceded by both Democrats and Republicans who recited a list of high-profile mistakes and controversies that have marred the FBI's reputation, ranging from missing guns and computers to a Russian spy within its ranks. They called on Mueller to bring a new direction to the agency.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, chairman of the committee, said Mueller should be prepared to "clean house if necessary." The Vermont Democrat noted that the FBI has often been referred to as the crown jewel of law enforcement.

"Some of that jewel has lost some of its luster," Leahy said. "And we want to restore it."

Leahy said Mueller had a "great challenge and great opportunity" ahead of him.

"Many in our country have lost some confidence in the bureau," Leahy said. "That's more than just a PR problem. Because if you erode public trust then you erode the ability of the FBI to do its job. Because if people mistrust the FBI they are going to be less likely to come forward with and report information that they need."

The agency has been buffeted by criticism for its handling of several cases. Among them:

-- The probe of the Atlanta Olympic park bombing in 1996, in which security guard Richard Jewell was wrongly identified as a suspect. The man eventually charged in the blast, Eric Robert Rudolph, fled into the North Carolina woods and has never been found.

-- Its investigation into espionage allegations at the Los Alamos National Laboratory, which led to the controversial arrest of Chinese-American nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, who was charged with 59 felony counts of mishandling classified data and was jailed for nine months. He eventually pleaded guilty to a single count, and the FBI was criticized for its treatment of the Taiwan-born naturalized citizen.

-- The arrest of FBI agent Robert Hanssen, who recently pleaded guilty to 15 counts of espionage.

-- The fact that hundreds of FBI documents in the Oklahoma City bombing investigation weren't disclosed to attorneys in the case until days before the scheduled execution of Timothy McVeigh. That revelation prompted a delay in McVeigh's execution.

Mueller said he would bring management and administrative changes to the FBI.

"We must and we will confront these challenges squarely and forthrightly," he told the Senate panel.

While he admitted the agency is "far from perfect," Mueller said recent controversies did not "tell the whole story" about the FBI, and he cited such successes as its investigations of bombings at the World Trade Center and two U.S. embassies in Africa.

Even as lawmakers criticized the agency, they warmly welcomed Mueller.

Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, the ranking Republican on the committee, called Mueller "an exceptionally perfect fit for the job."


• U.S. Department of Justice
• Federal Bureau of Investigation

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