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Who Will Head The FBI?

Posted By Mary Jacoby On April 27, 2011 @ 10:07 am In News | Comments Disabled

FBI Director Robert Mueller III’s 10-year term is up in September, and it’s about time for President Barack Obama to be announcing a nominee. Here is Main Justice’s look at the possible contenders:

John Pistole

After 26 years at the FBI, Pistole was sworn in last July as head [1]of the Transportation Security Administration. He oversees 50,000 employees responsible for protecting airports, seaports, and other transportation infrastructure.


John Pistole

Pistole would seem to be a safe choice for FBI director. He has extensive national security credentials, political experience and the ability to garner bipartisan support in an often divided and partisan Senate.

After Obama’s first two nominees to head TSA foundered over political controversies, Pistole sailed through the confirmation process last June, winning the unanimous backing of the Senate.

Then he nicely weathered an emotional public furor last year over the use of full-body scanners and intrusive body pat-downs at airports. A chiseled and blue-eyed Midwesterner, Pistole was briefly a fixture on national television, calmly defending the TSA’s passenger screening policies as crucial to national security. He also passed through the fire of a high-profile congressional hearing on the subject.

Pistole joined the FBI in 1983 after practicing law for two years. He rose through the ranks to become deputy director of the bureau from 2004 to 2010.

He has led or been involved in high-profile national security investigations, including last year’s attempted bombing of Times Square, a 2006 plot in the United Kingdom to use liquid explosives to blow up planes that resulted in the banning of large-size toiletries from carry-on baggage, and a May 2003 suicide bombing of housing compounds in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Pistole was also involved in the investigation of so-called “underwear bomber” Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, whose alleged attempt to blow up a Detroit-bound Northwest Airlines flight on Christmas Day in 2009 became a huge political controversy for Attorney General Eric Holder. Republicans criticized a decision to read the Nigerian citizen his Miranda rights against self-incrimination and charge him criminally rather than place him in military custody for further questioning.

Pistole is a graduate of Anderson University in Indiana and the Indiana University School of Law in Indianapolis.

Michael Mason

A former assistant director of the FBI, Mason has the backing of the FBI Agents Association, representing the rank and file of the bureau. If nominated, he would be the first African-American put forth for the job.


Michael Mason

But in the current political environment, Mason’s potential to break a racial barrier might work against him. Conservative Republicans on Capitol Hill have already questioned whether Holder, the first black attorney general, serving under the first black president, supports “race-neutral” enforcement of civil rights laws.

The charge against Holder, which he has strongly denied, is a legacy of the racially charged New Black Panther Party voter intimidation lawsuit controversy. Even though a report by the DOJ Off ice of Professional Responsibility found no evidence that Holder had anything to do with a decision to dismiss most of the Panther case in 2009, it’s stirred high emotions. The ever-cautious Obama may think twice about putting another African-American in a prominent DOJ position.

Moreover, Mason is said to be a blunt speaker, which could make the administration nervous. And he hasn’t been tested politically.

Mason joined the FBI in 1985, serving initially in Connecticut. He was the Special Agent in Charge of the Sacramento Division from 2002 until his appointment as the Assistant Director in Charge of the Washington Field Office in September 2003.

A Chicago native, Mason has a degree in accounting from Illinois Wesleyan University in Bloomington and was a captain in the U. S. Marine Corps. He has served as director of security at Verizon Communications since January 2008.

Raymond Kelly

The New York City police commissioner, Kelly has an important political backer: Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), who has openly promoted [4]him for FBI director.


Raymond Kelly

But Kelly likely lost a few friends in the administration when he came out against holding a civilian trial in New York for Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and other accused 9/11 conspirators. His police department estimated that security surrounding the trials would cost up to $200 million – a figure thought to have been inflated for political purposes – but it helped to turn the tide of public opinion against the trials, leading to a major public relations disaster for Holder.

Kelly otherwise has good credentials. He established New York City’s own counter-terrorism force in 2002 and has sent his own agents abroad for investigative work. But New York’s counterterrorism force has often clashed with the FBI, though relations were reported to be better in recent years.

Kelly has never work ed at the FBI or the Justice Department but has other important Washington experience. During the Clinton administration, he was Treasury Department undersecretary  for terrorism and financial intelligence. From 1998 to 2001 he was commissioner of the U.S. Customs Service, where he oversaw the Secret Service and what was then known as the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, which is now part of the Justice Department.

But hard-charging New Yorkers can sometimes meet resistance in Washington’s multi-layered political culture. And while it’s not a fair comparison, the last time someone with a background as New York police commissioner was nominated for a top national security job in Washington – Bernard Kerik for Homeland Security secretary – it was a fiasco [6], and the whiff of that scandal [7]may still linger in Congress.

Kelly served on the executive committee for international police organization Interpol from 1996 to 2002. He has a law degree from St. John’s University School of Law, a master of law degree from New York University Graduate School of Law and a master’s degree in public affairs from the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.

Frances Townsend

The homeland security adviser to President George W. Bush from 2004 to 2007, Townsend started out in Washington under Democrats at the Justice Department, where she became a confidante of then-Attorney General Janet Reno. Her respect among top players on both sides of the political aisle would be an asset in any Senate confirmation process.


Frances Townsend

At the Justice Department during the Clinton administration, Townsend ran the Office of Intelligence Policy and Review, where she reviewed which terrorism-related cases merit secret intelligence wiretaps.

When then-National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice hired her to work on the Bush National Security Council in 2003, the move was controversial. Many Bush people looked with suspicion upon her Democratic background, but Townsend became a trusted adviser to Bush and was known for having the president’s ear.

Townsend is articulate, used to the television cameras and politically experienced. But she has never run a large organization. If nominated, she would be the first woman put forward for FBI director.

Earlier in her career, Townsend was a prosecutor in the Brooklyn district attorney’s office and at the Southern District of New York U.S. Attorney’s office under Rudy Giuliani.

She has an undergraduate degree from American University and a law degree from the University of San Diego School of Law.

Patrick Fitzgerald

Probably the most famous prosecutor in America, Fitzgerald is one of the most knowledgeable people at the Department of Justice about the Islamist networks in the United States and their historical ties to groups like Al Qaeda, Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood. As a prosecutor in the Southern District of New York, he  worked on the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case involving the “Blind Sheikh” Omar Abdel Rahman, who ran a pre-cursor organization to Al Qaeda. Fitzgerald also supervised the investigation of the 1998 U.S. Embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania.


Patrick Fitzgerald

Appointed by George W. Bush and held over by the Obama administration to continue as U.S. Attorney in Chicago, he would seem on paper to have the credentials to win confirmation in a politically divided Senate.

But some Republicans will never forgive Fitzgerald for his prosecution of then-Vice President Dick Cheney’s chief of staff, Scooter Libby, in connection with the outing of CIA agent Valerie Plame’s identity during the debate over invading Iraq.

Fitzgerald’s stature has suffered by his pursuit of the buffoonish former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich (D), now undergoing his second trial on public corruption charges including attempted extortion and bribery. After ordering Blagojevich’s arrest in 2008, Fitzgerald held a high-profile press conference accusing the governor of a being on “political corruption crime spree” that would make “Lincoln roll over in his grave.” But a jury deadlocked on most of the charges last August.

A Brooklyn native and son of Irish immigrants, Fitzgerald graduated from Amherst College and Harvard Law School. He’s worked for the Justice Department since 1988.

James Comey

The former Deputy Attorney General in the George W. Bush administration has – as does his close friend Patrick Fitzgerald – the Republican credentials that on paper at least would seem to help him through a Senate confirmation process.


James Comey

But Comey is viewed with distrust by many Republicans for his May 2007 congressional testimony about the now-famous account of the showdown over the then-secret warrantless wiretapping program at the hospital bed of a gravely ill Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Comey testified that he and FBI Director Mueller raced to Ashcroft’s bedside in 2004 to prevent then-White House counsel Alberto Gonzales and White House chief of staff Andy Card from getting the attorney general to sign off on aspects of the program the Justice Department had determined were illegal.

The story had leaked out before Comey’s congressional testimony, and its surfacing at that point in 2007 – as then-Attorney General Gonzales was teetering from controversy over the 2006 firings of U.S. Attorneys – was seen giving a push to Democratic efforts to oust Gonzales. Gonzales resigned as head of the Justice Department in August 2007.

Comey resigned from the Justice Department in August 2005 to become general counsel and a senior vice president of defense contractor Lockheed Martin. In 2010 he joined Connecticut-based hedge fund Bridgewater Associates.

Comey has an undergraduate degree from the College of William and Mary and earned his law degree at the University of Chicago Law School.

Michael Leiter

Leiter is director of the National Counterterrorism Center (NCTC), established after the intelligence failures of the 9/11 attacks to coordinate all national security agencies of the U.S. government and make policy recommendations to the president.


Michael Leiter

His resume is amazing: Editor of the Harvard Law Review, a Navy fighter pilot who flew NATO-led raids over the former Yugoslavia in the 1990s, and service as an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia from 2002 until 2005.

After leaving the DOJ, he served as deputy general counsel and assistant director of the President’s Commission on the Intelligence Capabilities of the United States Regarding Weapons of Mass Destruction, known as the Robb-Silberman Commission.

He then served a stint as deputy chief of staff for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence before taking a job in February 2007 as principal deputy director at the NCTC. He served as NCTC’s acting director before being confirmed by the Senate as its permanent director in June 2008.

Although he rose to prominence during the George W. Bush administration, the Barack Obama administration kept him on as NCTC director, giving him bipartisan credentials.

Still, Leiter has never run a large, complex organization like the FBI, and may not be steeped enough in its culture. He’s never been in an operational front-line position in a national security crisis, and he hasn’t been politically tested.

While he is reportedly well liked in the Obama administration and by rank-and-file members of the intelligence community, he may not have the political constituency he would need to get through an unpredictable Senate confirmation process. Moreover, the NCTC has been criticized [12]as ineffective, though a congressional study laid the blame for its shortcomings on a lack quality staff and authority, not on Leiter himself.

Leiter earned his undergraduate degree from Columbia University and graduated magna cum laude from Harvard Law School.

A number of other possible nominees have been mentioned in news reports. They include:

Michael J. Garcia

Garcia led the Manhattan U.S. Attorney’s office in the George W. Bush administration. But is he prominent enough for the job?

Jamie Gorelick

The problem with nominating the former Clinton administration Deputy Attorney General can be summed up in two words: Fannie Mae [13].

Merrick Garland

A judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, Garland might be sitting on the Supreme Court right now if the Obama administration wasn’t determined to correct the court’s gender imbalance. But outside of judicial and law enforcement circles, he’s not especially prominent, nor does he have an extensive background in national security.

Mary Jo White

The Bill Clinton-appointed U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York from 1993 to 2002, White may have been away from government for too long to get the nomination. She is currently chair of the litigation department at Debevoise & Plimpton LLP [14].

Kenneth Wainstein

Over 19 years at the Justice Department, Wainstein served as general counsel and chief of staff to FBI Director Robert Mueller, as the first head of the National Security Division, U.S. Attorney in the District of Columbia, and homeland security adviser to George W. Bush. Now a partner at O’Melveny & Myers LLP [15], Wainstein has the right credentials but doesn’t seem to be on the short list.

Neil MacBride

MacBride was unanimously confirmed [16]as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in 2009, and previously served as an AUSA in the District of Columbia and as chief counsel and staff director for then-Sen. Joe Biden (D-Del.) when Biden chaired the Senate Judiciary subcommittee on crime and drugs. He was also an executive [17]at the Business Software Alliance, a technology trade group.


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