I retired from the FBI almost 20 years ago after about 30 years as an agent. I have no inside information about what is going on in the FBI but, like most of us, have been following the recent troubling news and struggling to figure out what the hell is going on with the FBI that I thought I knew so well.
Since it is fundamental to the FBI culture that agents never allow politics to influence their investigations, the facts that have emerged recently are troubling. Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has been removed after a storm of criticism over two highly charged political cases. Two senior FBI employees, Lisa Page, an FBI attorney, and Peter Strzok, an agent and key member of the investigative teams that were involved in these two important investigations of our political leaders, Secretary Clinton and President Trump, exchanged text messages that reveal strong political bias. At least one of those investigations, the one involving Mrs. Clinton, was deeply flawed.
Who is responsible for this mess that has tarnished the reputation of the agency I care so much about? How has this happened?
The exchange of texts between Page and Strzok, lovers engaged in an illicit affair, reveals personal political views that they held and shared. While it is troubling that these two so politically motivated people were involved in these important cases, we don’t know yet if their views influenced their actions. What we know about them is disturbing, but the real question is did they do anything to adversely affect these investigations? Did they put their hand on the scale to influence the outcome of an investigation to aid or hinder a candidate? It looks bad, but we don’t know the answer yet. We must wait for more information before we reach final conclusions about them.
We do, however, have enough facts about the investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s emails to make some solid judgments about Director Comey’s performance as the leader of the FBI in these important cases, or “matters,” as he might say. It was dismal.
Director Comey should have recognized the importance of these investigations and ensured only the most capable people were assigned to them. Rather than allow the case to be handled by field agents, Director Comey had a group at FBIHQ conduct the investigation. As the leader, he is responsible for the work of the agents that were selected to perform it.
The work of the FBI in the emails investigation was a joke. It lacked much that the DOJ is responsible to authorize or approve. There was no grand jury, no subpoenas, no search warrants, vigorous interviews do not appear to have been performed and many accepted FBI procedures were violated, apparently to accommodate Mrs. Clinton. Cheryl Mills, a subordinate who should have been considered a subject, was allowed to observe the interview of Mrs. Clinton as her lawyer. Mrs. Clinton’s explanation that she didn’t know what the “C” following a paragraph meant in a classified document appears to have been accepted without challenge. Deals that were unnecessary were made to obtain access to Clinton’s senior subordinates’ laptop computers. It appears the decision not to prosecute was made before she, the principal subject of the case, was interviewed.
It was Director Comey’s responsibility to ensure that a vigorous, fair and complete investigation took place and, if the DOJ resisted by refusing to authorize such techniques as a grand jury, subpoenas or search warrants, it was his responsibility to persuade the DOJ to correct it or resign.
Finally, when the Attorney General made the mistake of meeting with President Clinton and deferred the prosecutive decision in Hillary’s case to the FBI, Director Comey departed from many years of established FBI/DOJ precedent and accepted the responsibility to make the decision. In my 30 years as an FBI agent, I never saw a single instance where the FBI made the prosecutive decision or publicly detailed facts about the misbehavior of the subject of an investigation where prosecution was declined. We argued with prosecutors occasionally but, in the end, these decisions were always made by the prosecutors and, if there was no prosecution, there was no detailed public articulation of what the investigation found.
Director Comey should have insisted that DOJ make, and take responsibility for, the decision to prosecute or not to prosecute Hillary Clinton. If he thought it important that the facts of the investigation be released to inform the public, he could have said everything contained in his public statement when he was questioned about the case by Congress, as he surely would have been.
I have always believed that FBI agents would never allow politics to intrude on an investigation. So how could this happen? It could not have happened unless the FBI Director was corrupted and set the course that determined how his subordinates would proceed. Once the course was set by the Director, where could his subordinates go with complaints?
This case would not have failed unless the Director failed. The truth is Jim Comey cared more about his job than the integrity of the FBI and did not provide the courageous leadership when the FBI needed it. Apparently, like Pat Grey, he failed the agency when it really counted because he wanted the job too much.
I have no doubt that the FBI culture of integrity remains strong in the ranks. What is needed now is a leader strong enough to do the right thing. I hope Chris Wray is that guy.