Yesterday, FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee to grovel for forgiveness. Over the past several years, the FBI has used thousands of National Security Letters to improperly obtain private information on citizens. The reasons, according to Mueller: "mistakes, carelessness, confusion, lack of training, lack of guidance and lack of adequate oversight."
The senators spent some time scolding him, but relented after it was clear he wouldn't fight back. Mueller's penitence, Chairman Pat Leahy (D-VT) soothingly observed, "seems to be a break from many in this administration now."
But the hearing was also a golden opportunity to grill Mueller on the firings of the U.S. attorneys.
Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) wanted to know whether Mueller had ever gotten wind of election fraud cases that should have been indicted, but were not (remember, U.S. attorneys work hand-in-hand with the FBI). Mueller responded that he'd never heard, nor asked about such a thing. Schumer followed up, asking whether the administration had consulted him about the prosecutors' performance on election fraud investigations. Again, no. Was he consulted at all about any of the prosecutors' performance before the firings? No.
The bottom line: though powerful Republicans were upset with the decisions not to indict Democrats for voter fraud, the investigators on the ground were not. Mueller said that regional offices do customarily pass complaints about U.S. attorneys up the chain for "serious cases."
There was another fruitful line of questioning.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-PA) wanted to know why the bureau chief for San Diego Dan Dzwilewski had complained to the press about Carol Lam's firing, said that he "guaranteed" politics was involved, and that without her, a number of ongoing investigations might be jeopardized. Specter didn't want to hear that from the press -- he wanted to hear that sort of thing from Mueller.
Mueller responded that Dzwilewski hadn't passed such complaints up the chain, and that "my understanding is that our chief out there believes he was misquoted, but that our investigations were continuing, without any diminishment."
Misquoted? Sen. Dianne Feinstein followed up:
FEINSTEIN: Well, we followed up and I had my chief counsel call them to verify what they said. And they said, yes, they said it. But they also said they'd been warned to say no more. Are you aware that they had been warned to say no more?
MUELLER: Yes, I am.
FEINSTEIN: And why would that be?
MUELLER: Because I do not think it's appropriate for us to comment on personnel decisions that are made by the Department of Justice....
FEINSTEIN: Well, I profoundly disagree that he was commenting on a personnel matter per se. He was simply saying that it would affect cases that were ongoing. And I think he's entitled to his opinion.