Biographer Outlines Robert Mueller's 12 Years As FBI Director NPR's Audie Cornish talks to Garrett Graff, who wrote about Mueller in his book, The Threat Matrix. Mueller was named special counsel to oversee the FBI's probe into Russian meddling in the election.
NPR logo

Biographer Outlines Robert Mueller's 12 Years As FBI Director

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/528855474/528865247" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Biographer Outlines Robert Mueller's 12 Years As FBI Director

Biographer Outlines Robert Mueller's 12 Years As FBI Director

Biographer Outlines Robert Mueller's 12 Years As FBI Director

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/528855474/528865247" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

NPR's Audie Cornish talks to Garrett Graff, who wrote about Mueller in his book, The Threat Matrix. Mueller was named special counsel to oversee the FBI's probe into Russian meddling in the election.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Now for more on the newly appointed Special Counsel Robert Mueller, we turn to journalist and author Garrett Graff. He wrote a biography of the former FBI director called "The Threat Matrix: The FBI At War In The Age Of Global Terror." Garrett, thanks for joining us.

GARRETT GRAFF: Pleasure to talk to you, Ari.

SHAPIRO: So Robert Mueller served 12 years as FBI director - two more than the typical term - from, as we heard, a week before 9/11 up until well into the Obama administration. What was his reputation during that time?

GRAFF: Bob Mueller is as straight an arrow as they come. He is the longest serving FBI director since J. Edgar Hoover himself and certainly the most influential. He took the FBI from a agency primarily focused on law enforcement and after-the-fact prosecutions and investigations into, really, what is a global intelligence agency deeply focused on counterespionage and counterterrorism cases.

SHAPIRO: This particular investigation into Russia has been so politically charged with breadcrumbs that lead right up to the president's closest aides. How is Mueller's reputation for handling sensitive issues like that?

GRAFF: Well, Mueller is deeply nonpartisan, deeply apolitical. He is a career prosecutor and actually has been - sort of the origin story of his - sort of what made his career was he was George H.W. Bush's head of the criminal division in the Justice Department and then within a year got so fed up with private practice that he went back as a junior starting line prosecutor in the U.S. district attorney's office - or the U.S. Attorney's Office in the District of Columbia trying homicide case. I mean, he went from the top of a 30,000-person division to basically the equivalent of a job two years out of law school.

SHAPIRO: And how did he get along with Congress when he was FBI director for those 12 years?

GRAFF: Well, he's always been very deeply respected by both parties. I mean, he has served as a Republican appointee in most of his Justice Department jobs but was reappointed to the job as FBI director for a special two-year extension, as you said, beyond the normal 10-year term by Barack Obama which required a special act of Congress that passed overwhelmingly. He is deeply, deeply respected on the Hill.

SHAPIRO: Given what you know about the kind of FBI director that he was, how do you expect that he will approach this Russia investigation which seems to be so big, so far reaching, so politically sensitive?

GRAFF: Well, I think that the main thing, Ari, is that he will do this by the book. There will be no hint of partisanship. There will be no hint of politicization. He will work independently and quickly, two attributes that have always guided his investigations and the way that he led FBI cases as director. But he will also go wherever they lead.

He was actually a close ally of Jim Comey during their years working in the Bush Justice Department in the early 2000s while Jim Comey was deputy attorney general and Bob Mueller was FBI director. And they together really forced the Bush administration and Vice President Cheney to back down from that terrorist surveillance program known as Stellar Wind in the famous showdown at John Ashcroft's bedside in March 2004. That was really Bob Mueller and Jim Comey working side by side together.

SHAPIRO: Finally, Garrett, you spent so many hours interviewing Bob Mueller for your book. In the coming days, we're likely to hear lots of stories about what he's like with the klieg lights on him in front of a microphone. Can you tell us one brief story about what he's like when he's not in front of a microphone?

GRAFF: He is exactly the same in both settings. I mean, he is very straight and narrow. He was famous in the FBI for always wearing a white shirt, dark suit and red or blue tie and would question any of his staff who showed up in the office not wearing a white shirt just like him.

SHAPIRO: (Laughter) All right. Garrett Graff, thank you very much.

GRAFF: My pleasure, Ari.

SHAPIRO: That is Robert Mueller biographer Garrett Graff. The biography is called "Threat Matrix: The FBI At War In The Age Of Global Terror." And Graff's latest book is called "Raven Rock."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

Copyright © 2017 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.