FBI Director Gets Jury Duty

Don't ever accuse Robert Mueller of shirking his civic duty. Smack in the middle of last week's constitutional crisis over the FBI raid of Rep. William Jefferson's Capitol Hill office, the conscientous FBI director didn't show up at the office one morning. The reason: he was down at a Washington, D.C., courtroom patiently waiting with other citizens who had been called for jury duty.

Much to the surprise of top bureau officials, Mueller didn't immediately get struck for progovernment bias either. Even though he showed up late for his jury duty call on May 25 (he had a valid excuse: he needed to give President Bush his regular morning terrorism briefing), Mueller was processed into the jury pool and made it through the first round of dismissals, according to FBI spokesman John Miller. He was then assigned to a murder case. He even took his seat in the jury box to be questioned in the voir dire process by lawyers in the case. Mueller said he could be "fair and impartial as to the evidence," Miller said. "There were other people eliminated before him."

But in the end, Mueller—who was accompanied the whole time by his usual security detail—did have a bias problem: in his prior life, after serving as chief of the Justice Department's criminal division during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, Mueller had forsworn a career with a fancy white-collar law firm in order to join the U.S. Attorney's Office in Washington, D.C., and prosecute homicide cases. It turned out Mueller had tried cases in front of the judge handling last week's murder case. He had also worked with the prosecutor and police detective involved with the case and knew the defense lawyer, having tried cases against him. "So, finally at some point, they cut him," said Miller. Having shown up at 10 a.m., Mueller wasn't let go until 3:30 p.m., Miller said.

Mueller's call for jury duty came on the very day the furious row between House leaders and the Justice Department over the Jefferson raid had reached the boiling point. House Speaker Dennis Hastert had complained to the White House that the FBI search of Jefferson's office in a federal corruption probe—which had been approved by Mueller and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales beforehand—had violated the constitutional principle of separation of powers. Hastert demanded that the FBI return the evidence seized in the search—a move that Mueller, Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said was unacceptable. At one point last Wednesday night, after Vice President Dick Cheney's chief of staff David Addington sided with Hastert, Justice officials floated the idea that Gonzales and Mueller might even resign if the bureau was forced to hand back evidence seized in a criminal probe, according to a senior Justice official.

Had Mueller actually resigned, it presumably would have taken away another possible excuse he could have raised to get out of jury service: that he had pressing demands at work. But not only did Mueller not need the excuse, the Jefferson crisis was resolved the same day when President Bush struck a compromise and ordered the bureau to hand over the disputed Jefferson evidence to the solicitor general's office for a cooling-off period while the issue is litigated. Mueller was monitoring developments in the Jefferson crisis all day Thursday by cell phone and BlackBerry, according to Miller. Then the civic-minded director headed straight back to the J. Edgar Hoover Building to finish up the day's work.