Another pillar of American democracy had the wrecking ball taken to it yesterday by the Trump Administration, after Trump’s unprecedented firing of Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) James Comey.
The FBI’s long-cultivated standing as an independent watchdog of corruption within our government is now rubble. Their “Untouchables” are now very much touchable.
The Bureau, and its place in government, was largely the invention of its longest steward, J. Edgar Hoover. Appointed as the sixth director, in 1924, of the Bureau of Investigation (the FBI’s predecessor). He was the first director of the modern Bureau when it was founded in 1935, and he remained there until his death in 1972 at the age of 77.
Hoover shaped the Bureau to tackle organized crime’s Mafia bosses and the violence that prohibition unleashed over the production and distribution of illegal booze.
Self-anointed shepherd of the American way of life, Hoover used the relaxed surveillance rules of WWII that allowed the Bureau to keep tabs on Americans suspected of collaboration with the Axis powers as a mandate to spy on thousands of Americans as suspected communists from Cold War until his death in 1972.
Those investigations formed the basis of the Bureau’s independence. Bureau investigations were held on pretty much every notable politician, judge, millionaire, and journalist in America. Everyone had to wonder what Hoover “had” on them.
While many pundits will draw comparisons to Watergate, the turmoil of that time was over the ethics of Nixon, not the Bureau.
In the entire history of the FBI, only Director William Sessions was fired by President Clinton when he refused to step down voluntarily amid ethics violations charges.
Watergate helped solidify the post-Hoover, post-Watergate Bureau. Even without their feared “dirt files,” the FBI was the investigative body that could hold corrupt politicians accountable, and rout out attempts to subvert the government of the United States.
The director’s decade term of office was put in place by Congress to keep the FBI above the political fray,for that mission.
It was also to prevent the Attorney General, a political appointee who could be subject to greater influence from their boss ― the President ― from having complete control of the federal police.
Until last night, when President Donald J. Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions surprised the world by firing James Comey.
Comey had been highly controversial. He certainly earned many enemies on the left and unwarranted fans on the right over his handling of the Hillary Clinton email server investigation. He earned Trump’s ire when he did not backstop the boss’ delusional claims that President Obama had wiretapped Trump Tower.
It was his confirmation that the Bureau, in spite of Trump’s daily Tweet rants that Russia was “old news,” was investigating links between the Trump campaign, and members of the administration with the Putin regime and Russian oligarchs, that likely caused the unexpected firing.
Comey had six years remaining on his term as Director.
Trump’s Tuesday Afternoon Massacre, the letter that notified Comey, was released before Trump or Attorney General Jeff Sessions or anyone in the Trump Administration even notified Comey directly that he had been fired.
He found out via TV news reports at a meeting in California.
Questions about Attorney General Sessions’ involvement with the Russians and his lies under oath about same forced him to recuse himself from the Trump-Russia investigations.
His letter last night to the president (see above letters) violated that pledge. It further implies strongly that he has motive to keep the investigation of the communications between himself and other members of the Trump team buried.
There will be a lot of post-mortem news and op-eds about the firing, its handling, and what it means relative to the investigation of the Trump team’s involvement with the Russians and/or Putin.
The unprecedented damage to the FBI, to its role in preserving our democracy and the Republic, and to the Bureau’s independence is going to be lasting and profound.
Few may remember that Comey, a conservative, was appointed by President Obama in large part because as deputy Attorney General, he had stopped George W. Bush’s push to reauthorize the Domestic Surveillance Program by sending Alberto Gonzalez and Andy Card to Attorney General John Ashcroft’s hospital to sign papers for it on his deathbed. Warts and all, he understood the role of the FBI, and was trying to preserve the independence of the institution in highly partisan times.
His miscalculation: Trump does, indeed, have the stones to smash the Bureau to bits.
If the Donald was trying to quash rumors that Russia may be connected more closely to his administration than we believed, he just poured gasoline on them. Had he left the integrity of the FBI intact, he might have more allies in his fight to stay in office.
Trump, in one of his Russia panics, chose his personal political survival over his stewardship of our Republic. It not only makes him a coward. At best, he is unfit to serve the office that he holds. At worst, he is a traitor who sold his soul to the Russians, possibly for as little as golf course money:
The broken tradition, to respect the independence of the FBI, will allow any other aspiring despot the precedent to dismiss an FBI Director if the agency has cause to investigate them or their administration. Agents and administrators of the FBI will, forever forward, be subject to worries about their own security tackling political corruption.
Firings are only the beginning. What is to keep some future despot from jailing agents who don’t play partisan games with the law? It is common in Russia and China and in the banana republics of the world. That we feel immune to it has been because our politicians respected the FBI as an institution that separated us ethically from the more corrupt societies of the world.
Even the interim director, Andrew McCabe, is now subject to imperial whim. The investigation could be slowed down, or quashed altogether. Whatever permanent director is chosen, an unenviable job that will not find many good candidates, will be forever suspect.
Unless there is a law expressly forbidding executive action, Trump has demonstrated that his power is all-important.
As of yesterday afternoon, the FBI is no longer that independent defender of the American Way, the wall between corruption and power and the people. The Elliot Ness image is no more.
Capone is president, and he just took a baseball bat to James Comey and the Bureau.
Trump has handed a gift to the Russians, Chinese or any other country in future that wants to buy power or full control of the United States government.
The Republican majority in Congress, with the Garland appointment stall, and the Gorsuch Supreme Court appointment, has demonstrated that it puts partisan power ahead of country.
The firing has escalated the timetable for the shootout between Republicans propping up perhaps the most corrupt president in U.S. History and the minority Democrats frantically trying to preserve the institutions of that Republic.
It is going to escalate into open warfare where Democracy, the baby in the basket, is caught in the crossfire.
The Republic is in peril not from Nazis or Commies, but from corporate and Russian oligarchs who engineered this catastrophe to their benefit, and the FBI, which could stop that, has taken a hit big enough that it is sinking into the same far-Right-manufactured credibility swamp that has consumed the rest of government.
Mark that today James Comey is the first fallen warrior in a Civil Cold War that just entered its open combat phase.