(FILES) In this file photo taken on June 19, 2013 Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) Director Robert Mueller testifies before the US Senate Judiciary Committee on oversight during a hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. Twelve Russian intelligence officers have been indicted by a grand jury for hacking Democratic Party emails ahead of the 2016 US presidential election, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced July 13, 2018. The indictment was drawn up by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the former FBI director who is looking into Russian interference in the November 2016 vote. Mueller was appointed on May 17, 2017 as special counsel to lead the investigation into links between President Donald Trump's election campaign and Russia. / AFP / Saul LOEB Image Credit: AFP

In 1978, I was asked to head the FBI at a perilous time. The bureau was mired in controversy, stung by criticism over Watergate and warrantless wiretaps, beleaguered by congressional investigations. I took on the job because, as I said back then, “this institution was too important to lose”.

We worked hard to restore trust. Ronald Reagan later appointed me to do the same at the CIA after the Iran-Contra scandal. Having served my country through these challenging chapters in American history, I am saddened by what I see happening today to the investigation led by the Special Counsel, Robert Mueller. From United States President Donald Trump’s tweets to broadsides from his lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, denouncing the investigation, to calls from congressional Republicans for the ouster of Mueller’s boss, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, it’s destructive.

I was disappointed to see Trump this week appear to express greater confidence in the word of Russian President Vladimir Putin than in the unanimous judgement of the men and women of America’s intelligence community, whom I once led. Faith in the justice system and in America’s intelligence agencies cannot be collateral damage in a partisan grudge match. No matter which party wins, America loses; trust in the rule of law is always too important to lose. Sixty years ago, I was just one of many young Americans who enlisted and put on a uniform to defend America’s values in the world. Today, we must defend those values at home in America.

I’m a lifelong Republican. Giuliani was a fine federal prosecutor during the years I led the FBI. It is because he knows better that I expect him to do better than to demand that the Justice Department shut down an investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. That investigation has already led to 35 indictments — including those last week of 12 Russian intelligence officers in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign — as well as five guilty pleas and one prison sentence. To accuse Mueller of trying “to frame” Trump is wrong.

Mueller’s service to the country should not require defending. Leading the criminal division of the Department of Justice under former president George H.W. Bush, he shut down the illegal bank that laundered Osama Bin Laden’s blood money. Under another former president George W. Bush, after September 11, Mueller led the FBI through one of the most difficult times in America’s history. As mayor of New York, Giuliani himself stood with Mueller in the rubble of the World Trade Center.

Mueller, a former Marine and decorated Vietnam combat veteran, was unanimously confirmed twice by the Senate to run the FBI. He’s a no-nonsense prosecutor with unquestioned integrity who calls balls and strikes devoid of ideology. Lest anyone wonder, he is of the same political party as the president and the majority in Congress. These are facts, and as John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things.”

Most important, I worry where today’s rhetoric takes America. I’ve been very proud to serve as a US attorney and as a federal judge. I saw first-hand how important it is that average Americans trust that justice is delivered with fairness and impartiality. America works when we can all put our faith in a common set of facts and know that committed public servants are determined to find them.

Americans need to know that we are all still united in the pursuit of justice. We should not run down our own institutions, trivialise the impartial actions of our own grand juries, degrade our own justice system, or bully a free press for doing its job. We do so at our peril. The president should want this investigation to follow the facts where they lead and bring America the answers we all deserve.

I’ve humbly served my country all of my adult life. The proudest title I’ve ever held is one Americans share: Citizen. In times like these, citizens have a duty — to serve, and to speak up. Mueller is doing his duty. We need to do ours. When I was sworn in as director of the FBI, I said we would “do the work the American people expect of us in the way the Constitution demands of us”. That means defending values like truth, justice and civility, because the idea of an America united by the rule of law is too important to lose.

— New York Times News Service

William Webster, a former federal judge, was director of the FBI from 1978 to 1987, and director of the CIA from 1987 to 1991.