Politics & Policy

The Police Were Not Policed

From left: FBI Director James Comey, CIA Director John Brennan, and Director of National Intelligence James Clapper testify on Capitol Hill in February, 2014. (Gary Cameron/Reuters)
How can Americans now trust the intelligence agencies shown to be corrupt in the very recent past?

No doubt Russia must be watched for its chronic efforts to sow more chaos in American elections — despite Barack Obama’s naïve assertion in 2016 that no entity could possibly ever rig a U.S. election, given the decentralization of state voting.

Lately the heads of four U.S. intelligence and security agencies — Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, FBI Director Chris Wray, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, National Security Agency Director Paul Nakasone, and National Security Adviser John Bolton — held coordinated White House press conferences to remind America of the dangers of Russian chicanery. Trump, who is prone to conflate documented Russian efforts to meddle and cause chaos with unproven accusations of Trump-Russia collusion, should heed their warnings and beef up U.S. counter-espionage efforts and cyber deterrence.

But why do our intelligence heads seem to feel so exasperated that they’re not getting through to the American people? Why do they need to reassert the immediacy of the Russian threat?

The FBI joined forces with one political campaign to thwart the efforts of the opposing campaign. Has that happened before in American history?

Is it because Trump has poisoned the waters of American espionage and surveillance by his understandable furor over the never-ending Mueller investigation and his perceived downplaying of “Russian meddling”?

Not really.

Consider the larger context.

Most recently, it was disclosed, two years after the fact — and despite the FBI’s kicking-and-screaming refusal to release subpoenaed documents — that the FBI did, as alleged, offer to pay Christopher Steele to dig for dirt on the Trump campaign.

The FBI also knew that Steele was working on behalf of the Clinton campaign to find dirt on Donald Trump. We now also know that the FBI used at least one informant to spy on members of the Trump campaign. In other words, the FBI joined forces with one political campaign to thwart the efforts of the opposing campaign. Has that happened before in American history?

Pause for a minute and examine the recent history of the FBI leadership. The fired former director James Comey likely lied frequently to congressional committees when he claimed that the Steele dossier was not really a primary source for the FISA court writ against Carter Page.

Comey did write an FBI summary about the Clinton email scandal, exonerating Clinton, before he interviewed Hillary Clinton and many of the major figures in that scandal. Comey leaked at least one likely classified document, written on FBI equipment on FBI time, in a successful gambit to get a special counsel appointed, which turned out to be his friend Robert Mueller.

Comey misled a FISA judge by not fully disclosing the full origins of the Steele dossier as a product of Hillary Clinton’s campaign. He also deceived a president by briefing him of selected bits of the dossier’s contents, but not informing the president that the source of most of that information was paid by the Clinton campaign.

Comey further misled the president by assuring him that he was not a subject of an FBI investigation while he repeatedly suggested to the media that Trump, in fact, was a subject.

In addition, Comey must have known that DOJ official Bruce Ohr — even after the election — served as a likely conduit to the FBI for info passed to Ohr by then-fired FBI informant Christopher Steele.

In other words, during the Trump presidency, one of his own top officials at the DOJ was secretly working with the FBI to undermine the Trump presidency.

Andrew McCabe, Comey’s deputy, was fired for misleading or lying to federal investigators. He oversaw the email investigation of Clinton, only months after Clinton’s associated PACs had provided most of the funds for the political campaign of McCabe’s wife.

Other FBI operatives, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, were fired from the Mueller investigation for unethical and unprofessional behavior — as well as for rampant bias shown against the target of their own investigations.

The CIA under Brennan apparently was knee-deep in efforts to push the FBI to monitor the Trump campaign, despite the fact that domestic surveillance is beyond the CIA’s legal mandate.

An entire array of FBI agents and associated DOJ officials — James Baker, Peter Kazdik, Michael Kortan, David Laufman, Andrew McCabe, Bruce Ohr, Lisa Page, James Rybicki, Peter Strzok, and Sally Yates — have now mysteriously either resigned, retired, been reassigned, or been fired for allegedly unethical or perhaps even illegal behavior. And we still do not know the full extent of the FBI’s use of spies implanted in the Trump campaign

Currently, congressional committees are likely to reinvestigate former CIA director John Brennan for serial false testimonies. Brennan has already lied under oath to Congress about the drone program, CIA monitoring of Senate staff computers, and his own role in seeding the Steele dossier to a senator and to DOJ and FBI officials. The CIA under Brennan apparently was knee-deep in efforts to push the FBI to monitor the Trump campaign, despite the fact that domestic surveillance is beyond the CIA’s legal mandate.

Members of the Obama NSC requested a record number of unmaskings of names associated with FISA surveillance. Many of the names of those surveilled were illegally leaked to the press. Former national-security adviser Susan Rice initially lied about her own role in such roguery and then awkwardly admitted it while insisting it was entirely proper and routine.

We also still do not know the full extent of incompetence, wrongdoing, or simple conflicts of interest of our intelligence and investigatory agencies in the Clinton email and Uranium One scandals.

The DOJ is hardly better than the intelligence agencies. Some DOJ officials signed misleading FISA warrants that they knew were not fully transparent. Attorney General Loretta Lynch improperly and secretly met with Bill Clinton while her agency was investigating Hillary Clinton. DOJ deputy Bruce Ohr may well have monitored and coordinated the spread of the Steele dossier to hurt the campaign of Donald Trump and then President Trump — and then hidden the fact that his wife had been hired to aid Steele. Rod Rosenstein did not recuse himself from overseeing the Mueller investigation of Trump, although he was a key overseer of investigations into the Uranium One and Clinton email scandals, the FISA requests, and the collusion allegations.

In addition, “many people in the State Department were also meeting with Christopher Steele,” Devin Nunes said in a recent interview with Fox News’s Laura Ingraham. “What on earth was Christopher Steele doing meeting with State Department officials?” The congressional oversight committee that Nunes heads is now interviewing many of these officials to determine why and how they were involved with the Steele dossier.

In sum, many within the FBI, the CIA, the DOJ, the NSC, and the State Department may have been involved in the greatest scandal in American electoral history, by directing agents, informants, and employees to help one campaign to harm another — and then, even after the election, to work to undermine a sitting president. In addition, these rogue agencies spent two years fighting congressional requests to release incriminating information. And then, when they were forced against their will to cough up some documents, they redacted them so heavily that they’re almost undecipherable.

Former FBI director Comey spent months on a book tour, punctuated by daily back-and-forth feuding with the president of the United States. Former CIA director John Brennan is a current paid CNN analyst who devotes much of his commentary to calling the president treasonous and unfit. Former director of national intelligence James Clapper is a paid MSNBC consultant who has alleged that the president is a Russian intelligence asset.

So let us recontextualize the intelligence agencies’ current dilemmas.

Our current agency directors and cabinet are rightly calling universal attention to the ongoing threat of Russian espionage efforts.

They do so in concert because they are apparently worried, though they cannot say such openly, that President Trump himself and the American public are not yet sufficiently woke to these existential threats from Russia.

Such concern for the national security is fine and necessary.

But somewhere, somehow, someone must also must explain and rectify the past. For two years, the top employees of these agencies, most appointed during the Obama administration, have been engaged in unethical and illegal behavior, likely intended to throw the election to President Obama’s preferred candidate and then, after the election, to subvert the new presidency.

In other words, those who are warning of Russian collusion efforts to warp an election now work for agencies that in the recent past were doing precisely what they now rightly accuse the Russians of doing. The damage that Brennan, Clapper, Comey, and others have done to the reputations of the agencies they ran will live on well after their tenures are over.

The public will not be able to square such a circle — believe that the intelligence agencies are trustworthy now, while knowing they were deeply corrupt in the very recent past — unless there is some accountability for U.S.-government misdeeds.

We always expect Russian skullduggery, but we never anticipated election interference from those entrusted with protecting us.

For some reason, many still in the current FBI, CIA, DOJ, NSC, and State Deprtment are incapable of accepting that their agencies in the Obama years were weaponized to alter a U.S. election and were directed to do so by many top dogs in their Washington hierarchies.

Until we get the truth, an accounting, and some sort of justice, we will not quite become galvanized by those who rightly warn us of real Russian interference.

The reason?

We always expect Russian skullduggery, but we never anticipated election interference from those entrusted with protecting us and our institutions from our enemies.

The police were not policed — and so became like the enemies they warned us about.


Victor Davis Hanson is a classicist and historian at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University; the author of The Second World Wars: How the First Global Conflict Was Fought and Won; and a distinguished fellow of the Center for American Greatness.