THE BLOG
08/27/2007 06:34 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

The Man Who Should Be Attorney General

There is an outstanding candidate for the office of Attorney General. His name is Robert S. Mueller III, and he currently serves as director of the FBI. He is everything that Alberto Gonzales was not -- well, maybe not everything.

He is, like Gonzales, a Republican. He joined the Justice Department under Richard Nixon and served in the U.S. Attorney's office in San Francisco for twelve years, rising to chief of its criminal division. In 1982, Ronald Reagan named him Assistant U.S. Attorney in Boston. Under President Bush's father he served as assistant to the then Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, then took charge of its Criminal Division. He oversaw the convictions of Manuel Noriega, John Gotti, and Libya in the PanAm 103 bombing case.

After Bill Clinton was elected, Mueller left the Justice Department only to return after the G.O.P. took control of Congress. He first served as a senior litigator in the Homicide section of the D.C. U.S. Attorney's office and then was named U.S. Attorney for Northern California. Conservative Republican John Ashcroft brought him back to the Justice Department in Washington until this President Bush named him Director of the FBI. Sounds like great Republican credentials to me.

But he does differ from Gonzales: most importantly in that he isn't from Texas; he hasn't known George Bush for twenty years. Both Mueller and Gonzales got first-rate educations, Mueller at Princeton and University of Virginia Law School, Gonzales at Rice and Harvard Law.

It is worth noting that Gonzales enlisted in the Air Force, two years later was accepted into the Air Force Academy, and then got two years of free schooling before dropping out. (If he'd stayed on for a third year he would have been obliged to go back on active duty in the Air Force.) Mueller, on the other hand, served three years as an officer in the Marines and led a rifle platoon in Vietnam. He won the Bronze Star, the Purple Heart and the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry.

As for legal experience, Gonzales was a political lawyer, serving George Bush in Austin and in Washington. He wrote and lobbied for the legislation his boss wanted: the Terrorism Act, the redefinition of the Geneva Convention, and then the new wiretapping laws. Mueller, on the other hand, is a veteran of the Justice Department, an investigator, a prosecutor used to courtrooms and sending wrongdoers to jail.

When the midnight raid on Attorney General Ashcroft's hospital room became public and Congressional committees demanded testimony, both Gonzales and Mueller appeared. The White House had insisted that the Justice Department sign off on a warrant-less surveillance program which was of doubtful legality. Ashcroft was in the hospital recovering from surgery, and Acting Attorney General James Comey refused. Both Comey and Gonzales rushed to Ashcroft's bedside -- Gonzales to get a signature and Comey to prevent it.

Mueller got involved when Comey asked him to tell the FBI agents guarding Ashcroft not to evict Comey, no matter what Gonzales said. At the hospital Ashcroft refused to approve the wiretapping program. Mueller, Comey and Ashcroft told the White House they would quit if the program went through without certain changes. Mueller then spoke with the president, who agreed to make the changes. The crisis ended.

In 2006 the Democrats won control of Congress and launched an investigation into the affair. Under oath Alberto Gonzales told Congress that there had been no disagreement within the Bush administration about the program at any time. Robert Mueller, under oath, testified that the warrant-less surveillance program was, quoting the Washington Post, "the subject of a dramatic legal debate" within the Bush administration. They couldn't both be telling the truth. Gonzales said later that he was referring to a different program when he testified. That's an awfully weak excuse. Gonzales should have resigned months ago, but now that he's done it and the president has to replace him I suggest he consider Robert Mueller, the man who did tell the truth.

If the president wants to end political partisanship and find some middle ground, he should embrace Mueller. Democrats, Republicans, Senators, Representatives will join him in that embrace. The lion and the lamb will lie down together, and there will be peace in Washington, at least for a while.

This is not going to happen. The Bush administration is the most vengeful administration of my entire lifetime. It forgets nothing and it forgives nothing. The president recognizes the biggest difference between Gonzales and Mueller: Alberto Gonzales owes his loyalty to George W. Bush, and Robert Mueller is loyal to the American people. I don't think George W. Bush can live with that.