Washington — Following a private, one-on-one meeting with FBI director Robert Mueller, Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., said Thursday he will no longer block an extension of the agency director's term.
Paul had vowed to stall the agency head's two-year extension of his term until Mueller answered questions on how two Iraqi nationals — one with a history of terrorism — gained refugee status and lived for several years in Bowling Green, Ky. The move might have meant Mueller would have had to step down temporarily in anticipation of his term ending just before Labor Day.
Paul described his private session with Mueller as "very constructive" and came away assuaged that the FBI has worked to put improve the vetting process of thousands of Iraqi nationals who've come to the United States under refugee status.
"I came away that the FBI is going to be looking at those being admitted, and the ones coming in will be screened more thoroughly than before," Paul said in an interview with the Herald-Leader.
The FBI declined to comment.
Paul, a libertarian-leaning, freshman lawmaker, employed a similar blocking tactic earlier this year. He delayed the Senate from reauthorizing parts of the Patriot Act that were set to expire until the chamber first voted on several of his amendments, which would have excluded certain gun records from search under the law. Paul's amendments ultimately failed, and the president was forced to sign the bill re-authorizing sections of the Patriot Act at the eleventh hour.
This time, however, Paul's objections echo those of some other Senate Republicans over extending Mueller's 10-year term when it expires Sept. 4. Last month, several Republicans, including Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., expressed concern that President Barack Obama's move in extending Mueller's term for an additional two years might not pass legal muster.
Paul's objections are less academic and rooted more in his concerns that information about two terrorist suspects was lost amid the deluge of information contained in dozens of federal databases.
Waad Ramadan Alwan, 30, and Mohanad Shareef Hammadi, 23, were arrested in May, several years after they were granted refugee status. The men pleaded not guilty on charges of plotting to send arms to their home country to be used against U.S. troops. They could face life in prison if convicted in federal court.
Among other questions to Mueller on Thursday, Paul asked how many agency databases the FBI has access to and whether Alwan and Hammadi's fingerprints were run through the FBI terrorist screening database at any point before or after they were granted refugee status.
In January of this year, FBI analysts identified two fingerprints from Alwan on a piece of an unexploded IED that troops found in Iraq in September 2005. Paul questioned the lag time.
Paul declined to give specifics in the interests of national security, but he said Mueller offered assurances that the problems that led to a delay in entering information about the suspect into the FBI database were corrected.
Paul said he also had questions on the FBI's role in investigating al Qaida operative Zacarias Moussaoui just before the 9/11 attacks, so-called "roving" wiretaps and a report that identified several third-party anti-immigration and anti-abortion political groups — including those that back his father, Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, as potential sources of domestic terrorism.
"We're looking for a needle in a haystack, and that's a tough job," Paul said of terrorism suspects. "My goal, and I told (Mueller) that I will continue to ask him, is that the haystack be smaller."
Paul said his session with Mueller further convinced the lawmaker that the Obama administration needs to further limit the number of asylum seekers and those traveling on student visas from countries that have been identified as high risk.
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