WASHINGTON — Senators considering Robert Mueller's nomination as FBI director want to know how he plans to revive public confidence in the nation's premier law enforcement agency, which has been hit by a string of high-profile mishaps.
"This won't be a 'Hi, how are you,' type (confirmation) hearing," said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
"He's going to have to articulate clearly what he's going to do with the FBI. In the past, there's been some sacred cows in the FBI, questions that just weren't asked. He's going to have to answer those questions."
Mueller — nominated by Bush on July 5 — will have plenty of time to answer questions, because the committee announced that his confirmation hearing, beginning Monday, will last at least two days.
The committee already has held FBI oversight hearings, and was expected to use Mueller's first appearance before Congress to ask for specific reforms within the FBI, and to set benchmarks for the agency to live up to.
This would be a markedly different confirmation hearing for Mueller than for his predecessor, Louis Freeh. When he came before the Judiciary Committee on July 29, 1993, it was a lovefest, with Freeh giving the customary promises to fight crime on all fronts while retaining independence from political influence and increasing the number of minority and female agents.
He was done in three hours and confirmed less than two weeks later.
Barring major controversy during the hearing, Mueller's confirmation also is all but assured. Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, D-S.D., says he hopes to get a final vote on his nomination by the end of the week.
Mueller, 56, is a no-nonsense Justice Department veteran and former federal prosecutor who has served in senior posts under both Republican and Democratic administrations. Unlike Freeh, who retired two years short of his 10-year term, Mueller has never been an FBI agent.
But his Marine Corps background — he received the Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his service in Vietnam — will enhance his image among agents, many of whom are former Marines, FBI officials said.
Although most senators say they like Mueller, their questioning was likely to be tough at times.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, one of the Judiciary Committee's harshest FBI critics, warned Mueller that he planned to delve into what he sees as a "cowboy culture" within the bureau.
"The culture of arrogance within the FBI is pervasive, and it has given fuel to the mistaken notion that those within the bureau are somehow above accountability or reproach," Grassley told Mueller in a letter. "It is the kind of arrogance that places image above substance, exemplified by the bureau's penchant for holding press conferences in high-profile cases before the investigation is complete and all the facts are in."
Grassley also said he planned to ask specific questions about how Mueller would shuffle the bureau's management for better results and how he plans to make the agency work better with other law enforcement and governmental agencies.
The FBI has been under fire for missteps going back years, including the failure to provide thousands of documents to Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh's lawyers, the Robert Hanssen spy case, the bloody Branch Davidian and Ruby Ridge standoffs, its inability to account for all its firearms and computers and the botched investigation of former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee.
Lawmakers also have complained that the FBI has a culture of covering up its mistakes. They have offered several bills aimed at reform, including provisions for outside reviews and more power for agency watchdogs such as the inspector general's office.
The House already has approved creation of a new position within the Justice Department to oversee the FBI. The post of deputy inspector general responsible for keeping tabs on the bureau is established in a $17.6 billion bill for Justice programs in the fiscal year starting Oct. 1.
The Senate has not passed any FBI reform bills.