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Who Is Robert Mueller? Special Counsel Hailed by Both Parties as Straight-Shooting Prosecutor

Republicans and Democrats alike praised Robert Mueller's appointment as special counsel — rare bipartisan support for someone so prominent.
Image: Robert Mueller
Robert Mueller, then the director of the FBI, testifies before Congress in April 2011.Alex Brandon / AP file

Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed Wednesday to run the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign, is widely respected by both parties after more than 20 years at the forefront of U.S. law enforcement.

Mueller — who takes over a sprawling team of prosecutors and FBI agents working on the Russia investigation — ran the FBI for 12 years, taking over the agency just a week before the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

A survivor of one of the more contentious periods in recent U.S. political history, Mueller, 72, commands rare bipartisan support for someone who has been so prominent in national affairs for so long.

Mueller is "a great selection," Rep. Jason Chaffetz, R-Utah, chairman of the Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said on Twitter. The ranking Democrat on Chaffetz's committee, Elijah Cummings of Maryland, called Mueller's appointment "a solid choice" in a statement Wednesday night.

Rep. Adam Kinzinger of Illinois, one of the first Republicans to call for appointment of a special counsel, called Mueller "a fantastic person."

"I don't know him personally, but I think it's a good move," Kinzinger told reporters in Washington.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, a member of the Judiciary Committee, told MSNBC: "Bob Mueller has the experience and expertise, the guts and backbone, to ensure the independence of this investigation."

Even Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union — which sued the FBI numerous time during Mueller's tenure as director — said, "We applaud the selection of Robert Mueller," adding: "We are confident that he can and will carry out an independent investigation."

Trump didn't mention Mueller by name in a statement Wednesday night, which said: "As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know — there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity. I look forward to this matter concluding quickly."

Mueller was appointed to head the FBI by Republican President George W. Bush and was asked to stay on by Democratic President Barack Obama in 2011. His 10-year term was extended by two years, and he finally retired in September 2013 — making him the second-longest-serving FBI director behind only its founder, J. Edgar Hoover.

Mueller came to the FBI job after having served as U.S. attorney in San Francisco. Two leading members of Congress from California, Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, both hailed his appointment as special counsel.

Feinstein called Mueller a "respected and talented" prosecutor, while Pelosi praised him as "a respected public servant of the highest integrity."

In what some may see as an ironic twist, Mueller takes over a case that is likely to significantly involve his successor as FBI director — James Comey, whom President Donald Trump fired last week.

Mueller was widely reported to have threatened to resign in the face of pressure from the Bush administration to endorse renewal of Bush's controversial warrantless wiretapping program in 2004.

Comey, then deputy attorney general, became nationally famous when he rushed to the hospital bed of then-Attorney General John Ashcroft to intercept White House envoys seeking to get a seriously ill Ashcroft to sign off on the program.

Mueller is the first special counsel to have been appointed for any reason since 2003, when Patrick Fitzgerald was named to investigate the leaking of a CIA operative's name.