Certain divisions of the FBI, particularly those at the top, are hotbeds of politicization and cruel treatment of citizens. A National Review editorial suggests one key remedy, and a House Republican report identifies some of the issues.
A 1,000-page report on the “politicization of the FBI and Justice Department” was made public on Friday by the Republican members of the House Judiciary Committee. The report’s fundamental premise that “the Federal Bureau of Investigation, under the leadership of Director Christopher Wray and Attorney General Merrick Garland, is dysfunctional” is largely supported, even moments when it is overheated and overbroad in its claims. The politicized bureaucracy of the FBI is the problem, not the majority of front-line agents who protect our nation.
Garland and Wray have consistently obstructed legitimate congressional oversight efforts, at times (in the opinion of this observer) almost criminally. Jim Jordan, the ranking Republican on the committee, of Ohio, detailed an astounding 32 unanswered demands for information in a letter to Garland on November 2. These requests derive from eight different letters of inquiry from Republicans on the committee. Wray has also ignored 38 requests for information contained in eight additional letters.
Even taking into account the minority party in Congress’ propensity to make requests for information that seem more designed for political “gotcha” theatre than for proper oversight, Garland and Wray’s resistance to demands that are manifestly serious is an insult to the general public. This practice appears to be the type of cover-up typical of authoritarian control rather than the transparency expected in a government founded on the agreement of the populace.
For instance, Republicans have requested department emails pertaining to the aggressive Justice Department campaign to target anti-abortion demonstrators, which has included risky use of heavily armed SWAT team raids on homes with children getting ready for school. Garland has disobeyed. Republicans on the committee asked Wray for instructions and training materials for FBI agents on how to utilize the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act against citizens of the United States. Stonewalls in Wray. They questioned why only right-wing organizations were represented in the FBI’s Domestic Terrorism Symbols Guide on Militia Violent Extremism, but not “left-wing violent extremist” organizations. No response.
Republicans on the committee generally present ample evidence of “political bias [by the FBI’s senior leadership] [against conservatives or Republicans], of a pervasive culture of unaccountability, and of endemic corruption, manipulation, and abuse” while citing several whistleblower claims. The most common grievances involve the persecution of parents who dared to voice their opinions during school board meetings, the serious crimes committed during the portion of the “Russia probe” that focused on former President Donald Trump (rather than just Russian election interference more generally, which was significant), and the outrageous denial of concerns regarding the presidential son Hunter Biden’s laptop and international business dealings.
Republicans frequently claim that “the FBI is misusing its international surveillance authorities” in a broader sense. Space does not permit a detailed account of their supporting documentation, but Andy McCarthy’s National Review essay, “How to Fix the FBI,” is centered on this grievance. According to McCarthy, a former federal prosecutor who secured convictions for the World Trade Center bombers from 1993 (not those from 9/11/2001), the FBI should not be engaged in any foreign counterintelligence activities.
Foreign counterintelligence and domestic law enforcement are not merely dissimilar; they also frequently work against one another, according to McCarthy. He adds that the majority of domestic law enforcement is a response to crimes that have already been committed, and that there are several (and essential) rights to due process of law. However, intelligence can also entail proactive interference with criminal behavior, frequently through the use of monitoring that violates standard constitutional safeguards for political activism and domestic dissent.
McCarthy claims that the FBI “is not a successful intelligence organization, and its preference for secrecy over due process has damaged its competence and reliability as a law-enforcement agency.” (Italics inserted.)
Furthermore, the FBI’s already excessive sense of being a law unto itself — think of the widespread abuses committed by the FBI under longtime Director J. Edgar Hoover — grows into a force dangerous to a free citizenry as it inevitably erodes some of those due process protections in the name of counterintelligence.
Hence McCarthy’s suggestion. McCarthy believes that lawmakers “should be ready to limit the FBI to its essential mission of law enforcement.” “In a way comparable to Britain’s MI5, the domestic security mission should be managed by a pure intelligence organization with no legal enforcement authority. The Justice Department and Congress should have strong oversight over that intelligence organization, with very limited law enforcement contact that is only allowed in the case of serious risks to national security.
The FBI is a highly valuable organization with thousands of competent employees. Its consolidated upper levels, however, have been tainted by an excess of authority and a lack of accountability. Republicans in the House are right to restrict its excesses, and McCarthy is right to suggest that its objective be scaled back.