Although FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III has been known to lose his temper with subordinates, the former Marine and prosecutor rarely gets carried away in public. But earlier this week, a long-winded harangue from Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) apparently got the best of him.

Edwards, taking over the microphone during a "Worldwide Threat Assessment" hearing by the Senate intelligence committee on Tuesday, aimed a lengthy critique of the bureau's performance at Mueller and argued that "the FBI's effort at reform is too little, too late."

The Democratic presidential contender put in a plug for his own proposed legislation, which would create a new "Homeland Intelligence Agency" along the lines of Great Britain's MI5, taking away responsibility for domestic intelligence from the FBI.

After first accusing Edwards of overlooking the bureau's accomplishments, Mueller raised his voice a notch.

"I've offered you personally to come down to the bureau and be briefed on the changes that we've made since September 11th. You have declined . . . to come down," Mueller said, plowing past an interruption by Edwards. "And I asked you in particular, before you introduced the legislation, that you come down and see the changes we have made. So I ask you to do that before you submit the legislation."

Two days later, Edwards formally unveiled his proposed bill, alleging in a statement that the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks showed how the FBI "failed as an intelligence agency."

An Edwards spokesman said Friday that the senator plans to visit FBI headquarters to talk about the issue sometime next month.

Fitzgerald Gets Boost From White House

Sen. Peter Fitzgerald (R-Ill.) is considered one of the most vulnerable senators facing reelection next year. Now, however, he appears to have the White House's backing.

In an interview with the Springfield State Journal-Register, Ken Mehlman, a political adviser to President Bush, gave the iconoclastic senator his support. "Peter Fitzgerald's a good man," he told the newspaper. "He's somebody who we like working with."

Those comments may complicate efforts by some GOP activists -- who consider Fitzgerald insufficiently loyal to the party -- to replace him in the 2004 primary.

It won't stop Illinois Democrats, however, who have eagerly eyed Fitzgerald's seat since last year's election, when they bucked national trends and routed their Republican opponents in the Land of Lincoln. At least three Democrats have formed exploratory Senate campaign committees, and others are expected to follow.

Staff researcher Brian Faler contributed to this report.