- The Washington Times - Monday, February 5, 2018


The mere suggestion that anyone at the Justice Department or the Federal Bureau of Investigation might have acted improperly in an effort to keep Donald J. Trump out of the White House is being denounced these days as “unpatriotic” by congressional Democrats and left-wing media pundits. Such charges are coming from Trump supporters willing to undermine or even destroy our most important and heretofore trusted institutions to defend a president they see as a madman.

An MSNBC analyst even charged that House Intelligence Committee Chair Devin Nunes had been “compromised by the Russians” because he was insisting the public had a right to know just how the FBI went about securing the warrant needed to investigate Mr. Trump’s campaign workers in the run-up to the 2016 election. Releasing the memo prepared by the committee’s Republican staffers, we were told, would compromise our national security, undermine public confidence in the FBI and make it even harder to “prove” that Mr. Trump had colluded with Vladimir Putin’s regime in his quest for the presidency.

Media outlets that argued that “the public’s right to know” during previous administrations had to take precedence over the government’s national security concerns reversed course and denounced the very idea that the public should have access to the memo which they claimed would be nothing but a “political” document anyway. It was in the sense that all such documents and committee reports are “political.” It was, after all, drafted by the committee’s Republican majority staff just as reports drafted when the Democrats controlled the House were prepared by their staffers.

What strikes one as more interesting is the hysterical defense of the FBI as an agency that should never be criticized by many who have never hesitated to criticize it in the past. Rallying around the FBI as above reproach ignores the bureau’s history and record of past abuse.

It is not that there aren’t thousands of extraordinarily able agents working within the FBI or that their work isn’t vital, but to suggest that there never have been or aren’t some within the institution who abuse the power with which they have been entrusted is absurd. Every institution is staffed by men and women with their own biases, agendas and interpretation of the mission assigned them and some inevitably let their own desires influence their actions. It has always been thus and given human nature always will be.

During J. Edgar Hoover’s reign at the FBI, the bureau wiretapped Republican presidential candidate Barry Goldwater’s campaign plane and shared embarrassing surveillance tapes of the Rev. Martin Luther King with President Lyndon Johnson and Attorney General Robert Kennedy not to further any law enforcement purpose, but for their amusement. In those days, the FBI didn’t have to seek permission from a special court to spy on American citizens; that was a requirement imposed on the bureau in 1978 by a Congress outraged by decades of abuse.

The ink on the new rules imposed by Congress to protect the constitutional rights of Americans was hardly dry when the FBI and the Department of Justice began “reinterpreting” and twisting them to find a way back to what had become business as usual.

One would think that the FBI has always scrupulously followed the rules and has never lied to the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court to get a warrant and that the allegation that FBI officials were less than honest in applying for a FISA warrant to eavesdrop on Trump associates is simply outrageous and that Republicans like Mr. Nunes are irrationally, unfairly and perhaps even cynically maligning the FBI for their own purely political purposes.

In fact, however, in 2002, the FBI confessed to doing the same thing in at least 75 cases during the Clinton years and many suspect the practice continued during the Bush and Obama administrations. The misrepresentations apparently employed to secure the warrant to spy on Mr. Trump’s associates and the motive for doing so may be spectacular, but those questioning the just released memo should ponder the similarity of what it charges with the FISA court’s finding back then.

In 2002, the FISA Court for the first time since its creation in 1978 released an opinion in which it said, according to The New York Times, that the FBI had admitted to some 75 false applications that included “erroneous statements” relating to “misstatements and omissions of material facts.”

The court went so far as to bar one FBI official from ever appearing before it again. The FISA Court recognized that the vast majority of FBI agents and officials deserve public, private and congressional support, but that those who abuse their power not those who bring their abuses to light are the ones undermining public support for the bureau and must be weeded out.

David A. Keene is an editor at large at The Washington Times.

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