Mueller faces sharp questioning from lawmakers
WASHINGTON – FBI Director Robert Mueller defended the bureau Tuesday under sharp, wide-ranging questioning from lawmakers that included the bureau’s effort to access columnist Jack Anderson’s files and problems with informants.Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, who often spars with Mueller at congressional hearings, said FBI agents tried to get permission to look at Anderson’s voluminous files by “tricking” his widow, Olivia, into signing a consent form that she didn’t understand.”They did this by returning to speak with Mrs. Anderson alone after her son, who is also her attorney, made it clear that any permission to take documents would have to be discussed with the entire family,” Grassley said at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.Mueller said the agents were doing their job in pursuing access to Anderson’s papers, but did not specifically answer Grassley’s claim. “I would have to go back and find out more facts,” Mueller said.Olivia Anderson told The Associated Press that she thought she was allowing the FBI to examine a limited number of files from the 1970s, not broad access to the nearly 200 boxes of her husband’s papers.Anderson, 79, said she met with FBI agent Leslie Martell twice and, indulging her passion for genealogy, determined that they could be distant cousins because they trace their families to the same vicinity of West Virginia.”She didn’t ask me to sign anything the first time. Maybe that’s because I claimed her as a cousin,” Anderson said.Martell called a few days later to set up a second meeting at Anderson’s home in Bethesda, Md., and said she had a form she wanted Anderson to sign.”I don’t feel like she was up front because she didn’t say what they wanted to do,” Anderson said. “They wanted to take all the papers, look at all the files.”FBI spokeswoman Debra Weierman said Martell never misrepresented herself and treated Anderson respectfully during both meetings.But Kevin Anderson, a Salt Lake City lawyer, said Martell never should have asked his mother to sign the form because he had made clear to the agent that he was representing his mother.”It’s an issue of inappropriate behavior by the FBI,” Anderson said, adding that the bureau has given several reasons for why it wants access to his father’s papers.On other issues, Mueller said the FBI has tightened its rules for dealing with confidential informants after recent scandals on both coasts, including a retired agent’s indictment on murder charges.The unspecified changes followed embarrassing revelations of a love affair and gangland killings that an earlier overhaul of informant guidelines was intended to prevent.”Given the circumstance in New York, the protocols relating to our handling of informants changed dramatically,” Mueller said.Retired FBI agent R. Lindley DeVecchio was indicted in March in state court in Brooklyn, N.Y., on charges of helping a mobster – who also was an FBI informant – plot four murders in the 1990s. DeVecchio has pleaded not guilty to the charges.In Los Angeles, another informant, Katrina Leung, admitted in December that she lied to the FBI about her intimate relationship with her FBI handler, James J. Smith.Last year, Justice Department inspector general Glenn A. Fine found that FBI agents frequently violate the bureau’s rules on informants.Those rules were rewritten in 2001, after celebrated cases in which FBI agents protected mobsters from prosecution or tipped them off to investigations while simultaneously using them as informants.In one case, former FBI agent John J. Connolly Jr. tipped off Boston mobster James “Whitey” Bulger to a looming racketeering indictment, causing Bulger to flee. He remains at large.Senators also raised questions about the government’s new consolidated terrorism watch list, the National Security Agency’s warrantless eavesdropping program and mistakes in fingerprint identification in a terrorism case.Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., said it would not take a corporation five years to fix problems in the terrorist watch list, which is intended to combine lists from many government agencies.Mueller acknowledged there are inaccuracies that would take several years to weed out, as Fine has reported.”There are 200,000 names to be vetted,” Mueller said.Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., the committee chairman, lectured Mueller at length on his belief that the eavesdropping program violates federal law. Specter also voiced irritation that Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has been unwilling to answer his questions. Gonzales has said he is constrained from answering fully because so much of the NSA program remains classified.”We haven’t found out very much because the attorney general wouldn’t tell us anything,” Specter said, adding that he would not call Gonzales back for another hearing because doing so would be “futile.”Vail, Colorado
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