Robert S. Mueller III: The Director (Part 2)

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Robert S. Mueller III – Bob Mueller – is an American hero. Though best known as the sixth Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and as the Special Counsel that led the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, the story of Bob’s public service starts half a century earlier.

As recounted in the first episode, Bob was born in Manhattan and raised in Princeton, New Jersey. The oldest of five children, and the only boy, he was a star three sport athlete in high school and excelled in the classroom and on the lacrosse fields of Princeton, where he went to college. Following the death of a Princeton teammate in Vietnam, Bob volunteered for service there.

In 1968, after officer training, including graduation from the rigorous Army Ranger School, the Marines deployed Bob to Vietnam. There, as a young second lieutenant, he led a rifle platoon along the Demilitarized Zone. Bob did not fear death in Vietnam – though death was all around him. He feared failure, which meant he had to do all he could to ensure that the young Marines under his command survived the war and made it home.

A recipient of the Bronze Star (with valor) and the Purple Heart, Bob returned to the United States after his service in Vietnam and graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law. He became a federal prosecutor in San Francisco, and embarked on a career that would take him to the heights of federal law enforcement in this country, and to the helm of the FBI.

This episode – the second part – begins as Bob becomes the Director of the FBI, just a few days before the devastating attacks of 9/11. A meeting with President Bush in the White House on the morning of September 12 dramatically changed Bob’s assessment of what the FBI needed to do to prevent another attack and led to an extensive restructuring of the FBI – one that was not immediately embraced in all corners of the organization.

Bob navigated difficult challenges as he led a post 9/11 FBI, including an effort – that he opposed – to split the FBI into two agencies along the lines of Britain’s MI-5 and MI-6. He also forbid FBI special agents from conducting interrogations of terrorist subjects that did not adhere to well established constitutional rules and procedures – a decision that was not particularly popular within certain quarters of the FBI at the time, but that turned out to be wise and prescient.

It is fascinating to see the FBI through the eyes of the man who served for 12 years as its Director – the second longest tenure in history – and the only person ever to be nominated as FBI Director by two presidents – George W. Bush and Barack Obama.

I should again add a word about what is not in either episode – any detailed discussion of Bob’s work as Special Counsel leading the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. Bob was clear when he testified before Congress about this work and his report, and that the report spoke for itself. He did not opine about his findings and does not do so here, either. One of the things I learned while working for Bob Mueller at the FBI is that you take this decent, honorable, and courageous man at his word. Because he is a man of few words, each word matters a lot and so it is worth listening carefully.

Bob shares with host Chuck Rosenberg in this second part (of a two-part interview) the story of his tenure at the FBI, leading it through a challenging and difficult post 9/11 period.

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A postscript:

On February 2, 2021, the day before we published this episode, heartbreaking news out of Sunrise, Florida, underscored the sacrifices that men and women who take the oath often make in service to our nation: two FBI special agents, Daniel Alfin, 36, and Laura Schwartzenberger, 43, were killed in the line of duty while serving a court-authorized search warrant in a child predator investigation. Three additional FBI special agents were injured. Bob Mueller spoke in this final Season Four episode of the anguish he felt when FBI special agents – indeed any law enforcement officer – were killed in the line of duty. Though not widely known within the FBI, Bob kept pictures of these fallen heroes in his office during his tenure. Special Agents Alfin and Schwartzenberger avowed the same oath so many of our other guests avowed – to support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. On the morning of February 2, 2021, after years of selfless, noble, and honorable service to the FBI and to the nation, they made the ultimate sacrifice. May they rest in peace.

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Find the transcript and all our previous episodes at MSNBC.com/TheOath

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