Third Time’s A Charm? Mueller Defends FBI Handling of Christmas Day Bomber
By Andrew Ramonas | March 17, 2022 5:25 pm

FBI Director Robert S. Mueller during a House Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on March 17, 2010. (Stephanie Woodrow)

FBI Director Robert Mueller was on the defensive again on Capitol Hill Wednesday as members of a House panel questioned him about the treatment of the alleged Christmas Day bomber.

The House Appropriations Commerce, Justice and science subcommittee was the third congressional panel to ask Mueller about his bureau’s decisions in the aftermath of an attempt by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab to bomb a Detroit-bound airliner. (Read our reports on Mueller’s previous congressional testimonies here and here.)

Republicans have been critical of the decision to read Abdulmutallab his Miranda rights and treat him like a civilian after he was first interrogated. They allege that valuable intelligence may have been lost by not handling him like an enemy combatant.

GOP members have said some of their concerns could have been avoided if specialists were dispatched to Detroit to handle the case before Abdulmutallab was advised of his rights. On Wednesday, the FBI director said he would have preferred to have experts flown in to handle Abdulmutallab, but he said there were qualified agents in place to work immediately.

“One of the things that I do think is lost in some of this is that we have to make decisions relatively quickly in order to maximize the opportunity to get information and intelligence,” Mueller said.

Rep. Frank Wolf of Virginia, the ranking Republican on the subcommittee, commended the efforts of the FBI agents who handled Abdulmutallab, but said FBI experts should have been brought to Detroit.

“As great as they may very well be, they were not the best people in the nation at that time to interrogate the Christmas Day bomber because they were on vacation,” Wolf said. “They were celebrating the birth of Christ Jesus on Christmas Day.”

Rep. Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the panel chairman, lauded the FBI for how it treated Abdulmutallab.

“I would like to think that much of the current criticisms and misrepresentations are just the result of some misunderstandings about what has taken place in this case,” Mollohan said. “The fact of the matter is the FBI has made it clear that it has … knowledgeable agents to question Abdulmutallab.”

Mueller appeared before the subcommittee Thursday as part of the panel’s review of the FBI’s fiscal year 2011 budget. The FBI budget request calls for $8.3 billion to carry out its mission and support almost 34,000 employees.

Read Mueller’s full testimony here.

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