Updated 6:33 p.m.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. said this afternoon he supports the president's request for a short-term legislative change that would allow FBI Director Robert Mueller III to extend his 10-year service another two years. Mueller's term is set to expire Sept. 4.
Holder, responding today to President Barack Obama's request, said Mueller's continued service for another two years will allow the administration’s counterterrorism team "to work together seamlessly."
“The United States faces ongoing threats from terrorists intent on attacking us both at home and abroad, and it is crucial that the FBI have sustained, strong leadership to confront that threat,” Holder said in a statement. “There is no better person for that job than Bob Mueller.”
Obama, in a statement, said “continuity and stability at the FBI is critical at this time. Bob transformed the FBI after September 11, 2001 into a pre-eminent counterterrorism agency, he has shown extraordinary leadership and effectiveness at protecting our country every day since.”
The president also asked “Democrats and Republicans in Congress to join together in extending that leadership for the sake of our nation’s safety and security.”
Last month, Holder told reporters at a meeting at the Justice Department that the search was underway for a replacement for Mueller. Holder described Mueller as a friend and said he would be a “hard person to replace.”
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, called Obama's request "an unusual step" and said it "is somewhat of a risky precedent to set." Congress, Grassley said, imposed a limit on the FBI director's tenure 35 years ago to block against "improper political influence and abuses of the past."
"There’s no question that Director Mueller has proven his ability to run the FBI. And, we live in extraordinary times," Grassley said. "So, I’m open to the President’s idea, but I will need to know more about his plan to ensure that this is not a more permanent extension that would undermine the purposes of the term limit.”
The American Civil Liberties Union this afternoon issued a statement in opposition to the president's request to extend Mueller's service.
“It was for good reason that Congress chose to limit the tenure of future FBI directors," ACLU director Anthony Romero said. "By setting a 10-year term, Congress sought to protect both the FBI director from undue political influence and our democratic institutions from allowing an unelected official to hold the power to examine the lives of Americans, including political leaders, for longer than is appropriate."
Congress, Romero said, "should respectfully decline President Obama’s request to extend it.”
Mueller, a University of Virginia Law School graduate, is the sixth FBI director. Prior to his appointment in 2001, a week before the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Mueller was serving the U.S. attorney in San Francisco, where he handled financial fraud, terrorist and public corruption cases.