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Mueller confirmed as FBI chief

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Robert Mueller  


WASHINGTON (CNN) -- The Senate voted unanimously Thursday to confirm Robert Mueller as FBI director.

The Senate vote was 98-0 to approve Mueller for a 10-year term, the same day the Senate Judiciary Committee recommended his confirmation.

The 56-year-old veteran prosecutor was President Bush's pick to lead the bureau. He told the Judiciary Committee during a two-day confirmation hearing that his top priority would be to "restore the public's confidence in the FBI, to re-earn the faith and trust of the American people."

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, the Judiciary Committee's chairman, said Mueller should be prepared to "clean house if necessary."

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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 reports (July 30)

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Leahy called the FBI the "crown jewel" of law enforcement agencies. But both Democrats and Republicans on the panel criticized the FBI for recent high-profile mistakes, ranging from missing guns and computers to a spy for Russia within its ranks.

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

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

Attorney General John Ashcroft praised Mueller's confirmation in a written statement Thursday night.

"Robert Mueller will serve with fidelity, bravery and integrity," Ashcroft said. "His dedication to public service and background in criminal law will bring an invaluable perspective to the Department of Justice. The FBI will benefit from his years of leadership."

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 not been found.

-- Its investigation into espionage allegations at the Los Alamos National Laboratory that 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 were not disclosed to defense attorneys in the case until days before the scheduled execution of Timothy McVeigh. That revelation prompted a delay in McVeigh's execution.

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."



Greta@LAW




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