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San Francisco U.S. Attorney Robert Mueller III was nominated Thursday to be the sixth director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The selection follows weeks of speculation that Mueller was the leading candidate to assume the reins of an agency beset by a series of missteps in high-profile cases. He was saluted Thursday by the San Francisco legal community — and President Bush — for his steadying hand and no-nonsense leadership. “He assumes great responsibilities. He was chosen with great care, and he has my full confidence,” Bush said. “As a lawyer, prosecutor and government official, he has shown high ideals, a clear sense of purpose and a tested devotion to his country.” Mueller will continue to serve as San Francisco’s top federal prosecutor throughout the confirmation process. Many expect him to be received well by the Senate, and Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., has already announced that she will introduce Mueller to the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I am deeply honored by the trust that President Bush has shown in nominating me to the head of the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Mueller said at a press conference Thursday in the White House Rose Garden. If confirmed, Mueller will take over an FBI suffering from a crisis of public confidence. It has been widely criticized for its handling of the investigation of Los Alamos National Laboratory scientist and accused spy Wen Ho Lee and the delay in turning over documents in the bombing of the Oklahoma City federal building, which delayed the execution of Timothy McVeigh by several weeks. The verdict in San Francisco is nearly unanimous: Mueller is the right man for the job. “He’s just very professional in what he does,” Chief Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said. “I trust him. That’s very important.” Most expect a quick confirmation following an FBI background check. A former Marine, Mueller served two tours in the Vietnam War, where he received the Purple Heart, before getting his law degree from the University of Virginia School of Law. He began his public service career in the U.S. attorney’s office in San Francisco. He later worked in the U.S. attorney’s office in Massachusetts, later serving as an interim U.S. attorney there. He began his assent through the Justice Department as an assistant to Attorney General Richard Thornburgh, and in 1990 was placed in charge of the Criminal Division of the Justice Department. He later returned to become a line prosecutor in the District of Columbia U.S. attorney’s office. In little more than a year, he was put in charge of the homicide unit. Earlier this year, Mueller was named acting deputy attorney general during the post-election transition, a job cited favorably by both President Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft on Thursday. Patel and Senior Judge D. Lowell Jensen are owed some of the credit for bringing Mueller back to San Francisco. They pressed the Justice Department for a quality replacement after the rocky tenure of Michael Yamaguchi. When Mueller was a prosecutor in Washington, D.C., he worked with his friend, Eric Holder, who later became deputy attorney general under Janet Reno. Holder named Mueller the interim U.S. attorney, and the Republican prosecutor quickly won over the state’s two Democratic senators. In doing so, Mueller cemented his reputation as a top prosecutor and established ties on both sides of the political aisle. Holder, now at Washington, D.C.’s Covington & Burling, praised the selection. “Obviously, it’s a good choice,” he said. In a story many say illustrates Mueller to a T, the man who had already made a name for himself at Main Justice refused a window office normally reserved for senior prosecutors when he became a line prosecutor in the homicide division of Holder’s office. “He didn’t want to be a supervisor. He didn’t want anything special done for him,” Holder said. Holder also said there’s more to Mueller than his stoic image might suggest, which he saw while the two were working in one of the most violent districts in the country. “I saw him interact with poor African- Americans here in D.C. I saw a side of him I don’t think many people see � a sensitive side.” Once situated in San Francisco, Mueller began to shake up the office, improving diversity. Now, nine of the 15 supervisors are women, and half the assistants hired under him are women. One-third are minorities. Mueller also made it a habit of reassigning prosecutors within the office on an annual basis. Last year, Mueller created a Computer Hacking and Intellectual Property (CHIP) unit and a securities fraud unit. “There is talk about replicating [the CHIP unit] in other offices,” said Assistant U.S. Attorney Ross Nadel, who heads the division. Last year, the San Francisco office brought indictments in one of the largest alleged securities fraud casesin history, centering on McKesson Corp.’s acquisition of Georgia-based HBO & Co. It has also prosecuted several public officials, with a major indictment over the handling of minority contracts at San Francisco International Airport yet to go to trial. The office also indicted the head of Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May’s patent practice for insider trading. Despite his quiet leadership and aversion to public proclamations, Mueller is a hands-on manager. He helped create the Alcatraz computer system, first employed in the Northern District, which helps managers track the progress of line prosecutors’ cases. The software is now used throughout the country. Thursday’s announcement was bittersweet for the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California. “I’m pleased for the FBI and I’m pleased for him, but I’m saddened for the district,” Patel said. That sentiment was shared by Federal Public Defender Barry Portman, who first tried cases against Mueller more than two decades ago. “Good news for the country. Not necessarily good news for the district,” Portman said. “It’s great for the FBI. And San Francisco is losing one of its best U.S. attorneys,” said Milberg Weiss Bershad Hynes & Lerach partner Sanford Svetcov, who worked with Mueller in the U.S. attorney’s office here decades ago and lobbied Boxer to keep him aboard. “I have mixed feelings about it.” Respect for Mueller is found throughout the defense community. Solo Jerrold Ladar credits the office’s record-keeping with aiding in the discovery that a defendant in a high-profile case had suffered from a previously unknown medical condition. In 1998, the office brought 672 cases and took 32 to trial. Last year, Mueller’s second year at the helm, those numbers doubled to 1,253 and 59, respectively. The amount of civil and criminal penalties recovered increased from $7 million to $208 million, due in large part to a $170 million health-care fraud settlement with Beverly Enterprises Inc. “I would like to say he’s rejuvenated the office, but it was never juvenated,” said John Keker, of Keker & Van Nest, who attended Princeton University with Mueller. Mueller briefly worked under former U.S. Attorney Joseph Russoniello, who now heads a committee that will search for Mueller’s replacement. “He was obviously a star,” Russoniello said. “He took tough assignments and saw them through � He was a great role model for the younger assistants.” Russoniello agrees that the next U.S. attorney will have big shoes to fill. The three Republican-appointed members of a committee charged with recommending candidates for judgeships will also select candidates for U.S. attorney. “It’s a great opportunity for a lawyer to show what they have,” said Russoniello. No one so far has contacted the committee, he added. Yet rumors have already begun. Many center on Ropers, Majeski, Kohn & Bentley partner James Lassart. “Nobody’s talked to me about it. I haven’t talked to anyone,” Lassart said. “It was a good rumor. I heard it a bunch of times,” he laughed, later saying: “Let the process work and see what happens.”

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