A graduate of Princeton University, Mueller served as a Marine Corps officer during the Vietnam War, receiving the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V" for heroism and the Purple Heart Medal. After graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law in 1973, he worked at a private firm in San Francisco for three years until his appointment as an assistant U.S. Attorney in the same city. Prior to his appointment as FBI director, Mueller served as a United States Attorney, as assistant attorney general for the Criminal Division and as acting deputy attorney general.
He earned a reputation as a no-nonsense, strait-laced attorney and investigator, as well as the nickname "Bobby Three Sticks," in reference to his name's suffix. Lauded for his non-partisan and non-political approach, he has been credited with transforming the FBI from an agency primarily focused on law enforcement into one of the world's top organizations handling counterespionage and counterterrorism.
In May 2017, Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department as special counsel, overseeing the investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections and related matters.
Mueller was born at Doctors Hospital in Manhattan, the first child of Alice C. Truesdale (1920–2007) and Robert Swan Mueller Jr. (1916–2007). He has four younger sisters: Susan, Sandra, Joan and Patricia. His father, an executive with DuPont, was class president at Princeton before serving in the Navy during World War II.
Mueller is of German, English and Scottish descent. His paternal great-grandfather, Gustave A. Mueller, was a prominent physician in Pittsburgh, whose father August C. E. Müller had immigrated to the United States in 1855 from Pomerania, Germany. On his mother's side, he is a great-grandson of the railroad executive William Truesdale.
Mueller grew up outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. In 1962, he graduated from St. Paul's School in Concord, New Hampshire, where he was captain of the soccer, hockey, and lacrosse teams, and won the Gordon Medal as the school's top athlete in 1962.
He went on to study at Princeton, receiving an A.B., in 1966, where he continued to play lacrosse. He has cited his teammate David Spencer Hackett's death in the Vietnam War as an influence on his decision to pursue military service. Hackett was a Marine Corps first lieutenant in the infantry and was killed in 1967, by small arms fire. Mueller earned an M.A. in international relations from New York University in 1967 before pursuing his Juris Doctor degree. In 1973, after a period of military service, he graduated from the University of Virginia School of Law, where he served on the Virginia Law Review.
Mueller enlisted in the United States Marine Corps in 1968, attending training at Parris Island, Officer Candidate School, Army Ranger School, and Army jump school.
In July 1968, he was sent to South Vietnam where he served as a rifle platoon commander with Second Platoon, H Company, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division; he eventually became aide-de-camp to 3rd Marine Division's commanding general. In April 1969, he received an enemy gunshot wound in the thigh, recovered, and returned to lead his platoon until June 1969. For his service in and during the Vietnam War, his military decorations and awards include: the Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V", Purple Heart Medal, two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals with Combat "V", Combat Action Ribbon, National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with three 3⁄16" bronze stars, Republic of Vietnam Gallantry Cross, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and Parachutist Badge.
After receiving his law degree in 1973, Mueller worked as a litigator at the firm Pillsbury, Madison and Sutro in San Francisco until 1976. He then served for 12 years in United States Attorney offices. He first worked in the office of the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California in San Francisco, where he rose to be chief of the criminal division, and in 1982, he moved to Boston to work in the office of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Massachusetts as Assistant United States Attorney, where he investigated and prosecuted major financial fraud, terrorism and public corruption cases, as well as narcotics conspiracies and international money launderers.
After serving as a partner at the Boston law firm of Hill and Barlow, Mueller returned to government service. In 1989, he served in the United States Department of Justice as an assistant to Attorney General Dick Thornburgh. The following year he took charge of its criminal division. During his tenure, he oversaw prosecutions that included Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega, the Pan Am Flight 103 (Lockerbie bombing) case, and the Gambino crime family boss John Gotti. In 1991, he was elected a fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers.
In 1993, Mueller became a partner at Boston's Hale and Dorr, specializing in white-collar crime litigation. He returned to public service in 1995 as senior litigator in the homicide section of the District of Columbia United States Attorney's Office. In 1998, Mueller was named U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of California and held that position until 2001.
Mueller was nominated for the position of FBI director by George W. Bush on July 5, 2001.
At the time he and two other candidates, Washington lawyer George J. Terwilliger III and veteran Chicago prosecutor and white-collar crime defense lawyer Dan Webb, were up for the job, but Mueller was always considered as the front runner.
Terwilliger and Webb both pulled out from consideration around mid-June, while confirmation hearings for Mueller before the Senate Judiciary Committee were quickly set for July 30, only three days before his prostate cancer surgery. The vote on the Senate floor on August 2, 2001, passed unanimously, 98–0. He served as acting deputy attorney- general of the United States Department of Justice for several months before officially becoming the FBI director on September 4, 2001, just one week before the September 11 attacks against the United States.
Mueller, along with deputy attorney general James Comey, threatened the administration to resign from office, in March 2004, if the White House overruled a Department of Justice finding that domestic wiretapping without a court warrant was unconstitutional. Attorney General John Ashcroft denied his consent to attempts by White House Chief of Staff Andrew Card and White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales to waive the Justice Department ruling and permit the domestic warrantless eavesdropping program to proceed. On March 12, 2004, George W. Bush gave his support to changes in the program sufficient to satisfy the concerns of Mueller, Ashcroft and Comey.
In May 2011, President Barack Obama asked Mueller to continue at the helm of the FBI for two additional years beyond his normal 10-year term, which would have expired on September 4, 2011. The Senate approved this request on July 27, 2011. On September 4, 2013, Mueller was replaced by James Comey.
On June 19, 2017, Mueller was cleared from potential prosecution by the Supreme Court for post-9/11 detention of Muslims under policies then brought into place.
After leaving the FBI in 2013, Mueller served a one-year term as consulting professor and the Arthur and Frank Payne distinguished lecturer at Stanford University, where he focused on issues related to cybersecurity.
In addition to his speaking and teaching roles, Mueller also joined the law firm WilmerHale as a partner in its Washington office in 2014. Among other roles at the firm, he oversaw the independent investigation into the NFL's conduct surrounding the video that appeared to show NFL player Ray Rice assaulting his fiancée. In January 2016, he was appointed as Settlement Master in the U.S. consumer litigation over the Volkswagen emissions scandal; as of May 11, 2017, the scandal has resulted in $11.2 billion in customer settlements.
On October 19, 2016, Mueller began an external review of "security, personnel, and management processes and practices" at government contractor Booz Allen Hamilton after an employee was indicted for massive data theft from the National Security Agency. On April 6, 2017, he was appointed as Special Master for disbursement of $850 million and $125 million for automakers and consumers, respectively, affected by rupture-prone Takata airbags.
Mueller received the 2016 Thayer Award for public service from the United States Military Academy. In June, 2017, he received the Baker Award for intelligence and national security contributions from the nonprofit Intelligence and National Security Alliance.
On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Mueller to serve as special counsel for the United States Department of Justice. In this capacity, Mueller oversees the investigation into "any links and/or coordination between Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation".
Mueller's appointment to oversee the investigation immediately garnered widespread support from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) said, "Former Director Mueller is exactly the right kind of individual for this job. I now have significantly greater confidence that the investigation will follow the facts wherever they lead." Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) stated, "Bob was a fine U.S. attorney, a great FBI director and there’s no better person who could be asked to perform this function." She added, "He is respected, he is talented and he has the knowledge and ability to do the right thing."
The appointment followed a series of events which included the firing of the FBI director and the "disclosure that Mr. Trump asked Mr. Comey to drop the investigation of his former national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn." Upon his appointment as Special Counsel, he and two colleagues (former FBI agent Aaron Zebley and former assistant special prosecutor on the Watergate Special Prosecution Force James L. Quarles III) resigned from WilmerHale. On May 23, 2017, the U.S. Department of Justice ethics experts announced they had declared Mueller ethically able to function as special counsel. The spokesperson for the special counsel is Peter Carr, who told NBC News that Mueller has taken an active role in managing the inquiry. In an interview with the Associated Press, Rosenstein said he would recuse himself from supervision of Mueller, if he himself were to become a subject in the investigation due to his role in the dismissal of James Comey.
On June 14, 2017, The Washington Post reported that Mueller's office is also investigating President Trump personally for possible obstruction of justice, in reference to the Russian probe. The report was questioned by Trump's legal team attorney Jay Sekulow, who said June 18 on NBC's Meet the Press, "The President is not and has not been under investigation for obstruction, period." Sekulow is Chief Counsel for the American Center for Law & Justice (ACLJ) in Washington, D.C.
During a discussion about national security at the Aspen security conference, on July 21, 2017, former CIA director John Brennan reaffirmed his support for Mueller and called for members of Congress to resist if Trump fires Mueller. He also said it was “the obligation of some executive-branch officials to refuse to carry out some of these orders that, again, are inconsistent with what this country is all about.”
Mueller met his future wife, Ann Cabell Standish, at a high school party when they were 17. Standish attended Miss Porter's School in Farmington, Connecticut, and Sarah Lawrence College, before working as a special-education teacher for children with learning disabilities. In September 1966, they married at St. Stephen's Episcopal Church in Sewickley, Pennsylvania. They have two daughters, Cynthia and Melissa, and three grandchildren. One of their daughters was born with spina bifida.
In 2001, Mueller's Senate confirmation hearings to head the FBI were delayed several months while he underwent treatment for prostate cancer. He was diagnosed in the fall of 2000 but postponed being sworn in as FBI director until he received a good prognosis from his physician.