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Bush nominates Justice vet to head much-maligned FBI

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WASHINGTON — President Bush nominated Justice Department veteran Robert Mueller to head the FBI and try to help the agency rebound from a string of recent embarrassments that ranged from bungled documents to the unveiling of a spy.

Bush announced his selection of Mueller in a Rose Garden ceremony Thursday. Attorney General John Ashcroft interrupted his Independence Day vacation in Missouri to attend.

Mueller, a U.S. attorney in San Francisco, was long considered the front-runner to replace retired FBI Director Louis Freeh at the helm of an agency troubled in recent years.

Among the FBI's problems were a maverick independent streak, its snake-bitten relationship with the Clinton administration and a series of mishaps, including the botched investigation of former nuclear scientist Wen Ho Lee, and the mishandling of evidence in the Oklahoma City bombing trial that forced the postponement of Timothy McVeigh's execution.

In February, the FBI discovered that one of its own, veteran FBI agent Robert Hanssen, had been spying for the Russians for more than 15 years.

Mueller's nomination had been expected since last month, when Bush abruptly asked aides to take one last look at the field of possible candidates.

The White House is seeking to rein in the FBI and the president, aides said, wanted a director who defers to the Justice Department.

Mueller remained the strongest candidate to fit this bill. The former acting deputy attorney general won the support of Ashcroft by aiding in the presidential transition.

Mueller was acting deputy attorney general from January until last month, when he returned to California to resume his job as U.S. attorney in San Francisco. Prior to his California posting, Mueller was chief of the homicide section at the U.S. attorney's office in Washington, D.C.

Mueller has been given significant government appointments by both Bush's father, President George H.W. Bush, and President Clinton.

Under the first President Bush, Mueller was named assistant attorney general in charge of the Justice Department's criminal division. In that post, Mueller supervised the prosecutions of Manuel Noriega and John Gotti and headed up the investigations of the BCCI banking scandal and the 1988 bombing of Pan Am 103 over Lockerbie, Scotland.

Mueller also was assistant to Attorney General Richard Thornburgh and was a federal prosecutor in Boston and California, where he investigated and prosecuted major financial fraud, narcotics, terrorist and public corruption cases.