Following the FBI’s highly visible role in the Boston bombing probe, attention will increasingly be focused on who will be named the successor to director Robert Mueller, whose term expires in September.
By the time he steps down, Mueller, a retired U.S. Marine and former prosecutor, will have completed the second-longest tenure of any director of the bureau in its history.
As it has every time there has been a vacancy in the bureau leadership since 1972 when the legendary J. Edgar Hoover died on the job after 47 years at the FBI’s helm, speculation is mounting over who will succeed Mueller.
Among the names mentioned are those of White House counterterrorism adviser Lisa Monaco; Washington, D.C., Police Chief Cathy Lanier; D.C. Court of Appeals Chief Judge Merrick Garland; and James Comey, who was deputy to George W. Bush’s first attorney general John Ashcroft.
The appointment is especially significant now. With the Boston bombing and renewed concern about terrorism in the United States, the next FBI director could become as much a national figure as Hoover himself was in the 1930s and 1940s as the bureau fought mobsters and, later, espionage.
Frank Keating, onetime FBI agent and later governor of Oklahoma — who was on the short list to be FBI director in 1987 — told me: “International terrorism, domestic terrorism, and civil liberties will most likely be the agenda of whoever succeeds Bob Mueller as FBI director.”
Betting is strong that, like Mueller, the seventh director of the FBI will be a law-enforcement “insider.” In all likelihood, his successor will be someone currently or formerly connected with the FBI Joint Anti-Terrorism Task Force, which includes all 56 FBI field offices nationwide as well as state and local law enforcement agencies.
Much of the recent press speculation has been focused on Monaco, who has been photographed sitting next to Mueller at the White House as he briefs the president on events in Boston.
Monaco, former assistant U.S. attorney general for national security, was named top counterterrorism adviser to the president after John Brennan was named CIA director earlier this year.
A Harvard graduate and former assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, Monaco, 45, has been characterized as “Mueller’s Mueller.” From 2006 to 2009, she served the much-respected FBI director as counselor, deputy chief of staff, and chief of staff.
“The list could probably stop at Monaco, given how improbable the other people on it are,” the Washingtonian magazine recently reported. “Putting aside Monaco’s legitimate credentials, and the fact that her name has indeed been making the rounds over the past few months … the other people on this list are not likely to want the job or be able to easily sail through confirmation.”
Historically, the candidate most-ballyhooed for the FBI directorship doesn’t always get it.
When Hoover died, speculation was that President Richard Nixon would turn to a Hoover protégé within the bureau for the job. The names of Assistant Director John Mohr and Assistant Director W. Mark Felt (the Deep Throat of Watergate fame) were mentioned most often for the job. Neither of them got it, and Nixon had two acting directors before sending the name of Kansas City Police Chief Clarence Kelley to the Senate and securing confirmation.
When Jimmy Carter named the FBI director in 1977, he had a search committee come up with the best selection. From 235 resumes, five finalists emerged. The unanimous choice of the panel was Neil Welch, former Special Agent-in-Charge of the FBI offices in Buffalo and Philadelphia.
Welch once said the best way to reform the FBI was “to sandbag bureau headquarters and rip out the phones.”
But Carter interviewed the finalists himself and instead picked U.S. Appellate Judge William H. Webster, who was director until President Ronald Reagan tapped him to run the CIA in 1987.
So even if the betting today is on Lisa Monaco to become next director of the FBI, don’t be surprised in September if another leading contender emerges for one of the most important appointments any president can make.
John Gizzi is a special columnist for Newsmax.com.
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