Is the FBI corrupt?
Did they corruptly target President Trump’s 2016 campaign?
Are Republicans bashing the FBI in an attempt to cover for Trump’s alleged obstruction of justice or campaign criminal activity?
Thanks to the blanket media coverage of all things related to President Trump, the election of 2016, and supposed collusion with Russia, it’s easy to be confused. And thanks to the conservative focus on FISA warrants, James Comey, and Hillary Clinton, it’s even easier to be confused. So, let’s take a moment to separate out the various strands of the narrative.
1. The FBI’s Investigation of Hillary Clinton. During the 2016 election cycle, the FBI recommended no charges against Hillary Clinton for her misuse of classified information; she placed classified information on an unsecured private email server. With the help of anti-Trump FBI agent Peter Strzock, the oversight of Obama Attorney General Loretta Lynch, and the tacit approval of President Obama, FBI director James Comey rewrote the law to allow Hillary to escape prosecution. Essentially, Obama knew that he had corresponded with Hillary using a non-approved email address, which meant that he knew she had violated the law. The FBI and DOJ worked diligently to protect Hillary, and by proxy, Obama. What’s the evidence? Andy McCarthy of National Review lays it out here. And the resignation of deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe this week, presumably thanks to a damning inspector general report on the FBI’s behavior during the Hillary investigation, backs McCarthy’s case.
2. The FBI’s Investigation of President Trump’s Campaign. The Trump-Russia collusion investigation was launched with a FISA warrant against Trump foreign policy advisor Carter Page. A previous FISA warrant had been issued against Page in 2014, so the intelligence community obviously worried that Page was dirty. The question is whether the new FISA warrant was issued based on an FBI and DOJ application, itself based on the so-called Steele Dossier, an opposition research memo compiled against Trump by the firm Fusion GPS and paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Now, even if the application had been made on those grounds, that wouldn’t necessarily discredit the rest of the Trump-Russia investigation; it’s also quite possible that the FISA warrant against Page was granted on more grounds than one, and that one of those grounds was the dossier. In any case, the FBI’s malfeasance in the Clinton investigation doesn’t necessarily mean malfeasance in the Trump-Russia investigation.
3. The Republican Response. House Intelligence Committee chairman Devin Nunes (R-CA) is at the center of the Republican pushback on the Trump-Russia collusion investigation. In April, Nunes went to the White House to view documents regarding the Russia investigation, and then stated that the Obama administration had participated in “unmasking” members of the Trump administration for partisan purposes. After blowback, he said he would step away from leading the Russia investigation, since it would conflict with his investigation into unmasking and other intelligence community misbehavior. But he didn’t technically recuse himself. He stated at the time, “The way to look into this is that I’m still read into everything, but ... I was going to set at least the Russia side of the investigation aside because I didn't want to be the face of this investigation. But everything else, I’m still in charge of. … Especially the unmasking.” Now Nunes, in an attempt to make public his understanding of the FBI’s involvement in both the Hillary investigation and the Trump-Russia investigation, has penned a four-page memo allegedly laying forth FBI corruption and malfeasance. The DOJ has claimed that the memo is anti-factual or at least context-free; the FBI has stated that the release of the memo will endanger national security.
4. The Democratic Response. Democrats say that the FBI is clean as the driven snow, that the Hillary investigation was aboveboard, that the Trump-Russia collusion investigation is going swimmingly, and that Republicans are focusing in on FBI behavior in order to kill the Mueller special counsel investigation. Republicans deny that charge. But Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA) says that Nunes’ memo is a propaganda effort, that Nunes has ignored evidence, and that Nunes is endangering national security in order to set the groundwork for purging the FBI of anyone who will investigate Trump.
So, where does that leave us with regard to our original questions?
The FBI did, in all likelihood, act in concert with the Obama DOJ to save Hillary Clinton’s bacon in 2016.
It is absolutely unclear that the FBI did anything wrong in the Trump-Russia collusion investigation thus far.
Whether or not the Republicans are acting in partisan fashion depends on whether (1) they stick to charges regarding FBI involvement in the Hillary investigation; and (2) whether they have evidence to show that the FBI’s Trump-Russia collusion investigation has been compromised. If not, Republicans must distinguish FBI malfeasance on Clinton from allegations about FBI malfeasance on Trump-Russia — and that’s precisely what Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) is doing. Otherwise, Republicans will be rightly accused of politicizing the investigation into the FBI to protect Trump, rather than investigating nefarious activity inside an FBI that requires cleansing.