Mueller, 68, will step down Sept. 4 after 12 years on the job. Since taking the helm a week before the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, Mueller has overseen the bureau’s transformation into a worldwide counterterrorism operation.
The director’s job is limited to 10 years by law, but the Senate in 2011 extended Mueller’s term for two years at the request of President Obama after a search for a replacement failed.
Officials said the administration wants to find a successor soon so that person can be vetted, nominated and confirmed before Congress goes on summer recess. In the early stages, the process is being coordinated by the Justice Department.
“Mueller will leave very big shoes to fill,” said one Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the press. “Two years ago, he was portrayed as the indispensable man. Now, the FBI is going to have to do without the indispensable man in a matter of a few months.”
Among the names that have surfaced as contenders are Monaco, who oversaw the National Security Division at Justice before moving to the White House; Merrick B. Garland, chief judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit; James B. Comey, deputy attorney general in the George W. Bush administration; Neil MacBride, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia; and Patrick J. Fitzgerald, former U.S. attorney in Chicago.
Spokeswomen for the White House and the Justice Department declined to comment on the search. Other current officials described the process on condition that they not be identified when talking about internal deliberations.
“The problem we quickly ran into two years ago is that there just aren’t a lot of people who have Bob Mueller’s stature, but eventually you have to face the fact that he can’t stay in the job forever,” said Matthew Miller, a former Justice spokesman. “No one can fill his shoes on day one, but we’re four years into the administration now, and there are a number of talented people who have added some significant experience to their résumés.”
The next FBI director will lead an agency with a more complex and demanding mission than the agency Mueller took before the Sept. 11 attacks. Since then, he has led the bureau’s evolution from traditional crime fighting to a heavy focus on preventing terrorist attacks.
While Mueller has won bipartisan support through two administrations, the bureau has increased its surveillance operations in ways that critics say sometimes violate civil liberties.
Law enforcement experts said that the new director will need to be experienced in both law enforcement and management, given the vast expansion of the FBI’s operations over the past decade.