The FBI’s news cycle just ain’t the same as it once was.
Mere moments after the Department of Justice and FBI released the near-completely redacted affidavit they used to justify raiding former President Donald Trump’s home, their super-dooper-secrecy was the subject of widespread ridicule.
They didn’t even catch a full minute’s peace. No Republican senators rushed to their defense (though a few were notably quiet). There was no “let’s wait and see” from the usual deep state apologists.
Instead, both Republican politicians and center-right media were quick to hit back against what they correctly viewed as a middle finger to both the court that ordered the affidavit’s release, and the American people who expect transparency when the state raids its political opponents.
It’s good to see. It’s strong and healthy that not all Americans nod along when the FBI targets former presidents, murmuring that he must have done something wrong. This wasn’t always the case, though.
Just a few short years ago, the Department of Justice would enjoy the benefit of the doubt, from voters and politicians alike. Seven short years ago, we would have wondered what Trump had done that was so bad the straight-shooters at the DOJ couldn’t even tell us.
Today, however, a plurality of independent voters, a strong majority of Republican voters, and 20 percent of Democrats believe the DOJ and FBI “are too political, corrupt, and not to be trusted,” according to Trafalgar Group polling.
The impact of this shift — and the boost it brings to the republic’s health — is measurable in the speed of the news cycles covering the latest twists and turns. Years ago, when the attacks on then-candidate Trump first began, with articles the FBI placed in Mother Jones and Yahoo! News (before using those articles to “corroborate” and justify an FBI investigation), Republicans squirmed and called for more time; center-right reporters and pundits cringed and wondered; and the American people worried that Trump might have a dangerous relationship with the Kremlin.
As the years wore on and the Trump administration came into office, the scandal expanded. General and National Security Adviser Michael Flynn resigned under a cloud of FBI-induced suspicion. A year later, he was framed for allegedly lying to now-disgraced FBI agent Peter Strzok. (It would take two years before transcripts were made public that showed Special Investigator Robert Mueller’s team had lied to the public about the very basis of the FBI’s investigation into the general.)
Weeks after Flynn resigned, the FBI-, Democrat- and media-driven Russian narrative took another head, when Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the case. Sessions was “a good Republican.” He trusted the FBI and the reporting he’d read in the media. He even wondered if he’d fallen afoul of the law by speaking to the Russian ambassador in a D.C. handshake line.
The following month, Sessions’ deputy appointed Special Counsel Mueller to lead the investigation of just how treasonous President Donald J. Trump really was.
His investigation would eventually come to naught (because there was no Russian collusion to be found). But while it went on — while the Steele dossier was exposed as a laughable hoax, while FBI informant Stefan Halper’s lies fell apart, while media report by media report were proven false — the majority of “good Republicans” (and a good number of center-right reporters and pundits) remained silent.
“Let the investigation run its course!” they said, because they believed the investigators. A decent number among them who hated their new president even hoped the investigators were right.
The shadow of Mueller hung over the president for two full years before the big day, when the man America had trusted to expose all the evil doings of the president was exposed on national television as a clueless man with no evidence for the charges (and early symptoms of dementia).
Neither the Democrats nor their media friends were done, however; and less than two months after the final collapse of the Mueller probe, they launched a new round of investigations, this time into the president’s dealings with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
For months, the investigations dragged on, while leakers and Democrat politicians rotated through the media dropping false accusations and making terrible predictions.
“Let the investigation run its course!” a smaller-but-still-prominent number of Republicans and center-right pundits said because once again they believed the investigators. Once again, those among them who hated the president even hoped the investigators were right.
But five years in, the spell was breaking. In the end, it came down to a vote, where Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic House impeached the president on partisan lines and the Republican Senate acquitted him, with only Republican Mitt Romney joining the Democrats in their guilty votes. Ever-loyal Mitt was still a “good Republican.”
Along the way, lie after lie and hoax after hoax was thrown Republicans’ way. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was a gang rapist; Trump was ignoring Russian murder bounties on American soldiers; and on and on. Each time, fewer and fewer Republicans and center-right pundits went along.
Each time, the “good Republicans” made more of a mockery of themselves and their much-cited “principles.”
Each time, the movie was a little shorter. The years the Democrats and the FBI had once had to peddle their lies had turned to mere months.
The suspicion didn’t stop the lies, of course, but when the FBI finally raided the president’s home, they found those months had turned to mere hours. While Republican leaders who hated Trump, like Sen. Mitch McConnell, were still willing to give the feds a few days, within hours of the raid Republicans as mainstream as Sen. Marco Rubio and as pro-FBI as Sen. Lindsey Graham were denouncing the FBI.
In this new atmosphere, the movie played in fast-forward. When the DOJ’s accusations of misplaced records met broad scrutiny, they became accusations of nuclear danger. When even those met broad skepticism, they morphed into accusations of active Russian treason. No one was buying a ticket this time, though, and by the time a judge forced the FBI to release the affidavit they’d used to justify the raid, expectations were low.
When the FBI finally released its joke-of-an-affidavit, its antics had become a full-blown internet meme.
It’s generally a dangerous thing for a public to distrust its institutions, but in this case, it’s just the opposite. The reality is while the FBI has indeed accomplished a thing or two in the near-century it’s existed in its modern form, it’s always been highly politicized.
More than 70 years ago, then-Congressman Richard Nixon didn’t trust the FBI with the damning evidence he’d gathered to indict top State Department official Alger Hiss as a Communist spy, because he knew they’d bury the embarrassing facts to protect the administration.
More than 50 years ago, the FBI bugged Sen. Barry Goldwater’s campaign phones and placed a spy on the team he’d built to defeat President Lyndon Johnson. That same year, they sent a letter to Dr. Martin Luther King and his wife, seemingly implying he should commit suicide within 34 days — and threatening to expose tape-recordings of his multiple sexual affairs if he did not.
By 1975, the FBI had become so politicized, and its use of power so abusive, the Senate launched the bipartisan Church Committee to investigate theirs and other American intelligence community abuses. Among the Senate investigators: Goldwater, and fellow conservative icon Sen. John Tower.
In the years that followed, a chastised FBI would shift its focus to law enforcement over intelligence gathering — a transformation that was rapidly reversed after the 9/11 attacks. The FBI of today carries the institutional distortion this change brought down on the institution.
Politicians such as former Vice President Mike Pence might still believe the public’s skepticism of long-politicized law enforcement is a threat to our country, but neither history nor more recent facts bear them out.
Republican midwits can cite law and order to justify their servility and their ambitions all they like. In a healthy country, the people are deeply skeptical of opaque power — especially when it’s repeatedly used to lie and persecute political opponents. We’re far from healthy today, but a collective laugh at the FBI’s joke of an affidavit is a long-needed step in the right direction.