In the midst of the endless battles over the memo, FISA applications, Huma, Hillary, Trump, and Russia — battles that include accusations of partisanship against the FBI from partisans from both sides — we can’t forget the chief culprits in our ongoing national drama.
No one forced primary voters in the Democratic or Republican parties to select two of the sleaziest candidates (and sleaziest campaigns) in modern American history. No one forced Democrats to rally behind a woman whose list of political scandals is older than many Millennials. No one forced Republicans to vote for a guy who praised Vladimir Putin relentlessly and whose near-orbit and medium-orbit featured such luminaries as Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, George Papadopoulos, and Carter Page.
In the face of such sleaze, including sleaze that implicates the Espionage Act or includes alarming contacts with Russian officials, a functioning law enforcement agency in a nation governed by the rule of law will of course investigate. Parties dominated by such sleaze will then invariably clutch their pearls and decry any investigation or action as proof-positive that law enforcement itself is corrupted by their partisan opposition.
Thus, we witness such absurdities as the absolute conviction — shared by Democrats and Republicans alike — that the FBI was “out to get” their candidate to put their opponent in power. Yet neither side has a solid case. If the FBI was in thrall to Hillary Clinton, it could have simply declined to recommend prosecution for mishandling classified information and issued no public statement. Instead it chose to issue a statement (and then a letter) that may well have cost her the presidency.
If the FBI was desperate to stop Trump, it was certainly quiet about a counterespionage investigation that dated back at least to July 2016. American voters went to the polls with a fraction of the knowledge they possess today.
Of course, to state that the FBI was placed in a partisan bind is not the same thing as arguing that it handled its predicament perfectly. As I’ve argued many times before, the FBI should have recommended Hillary for prosecution. There’s a strong argument, however, that if the FBI wasn’t going to recommend prosecution, then Comey shouldn’t have issued his lacerating public statement. Moreover, while I’m not convinced that internal FBI partisanship has tainted the Russia investigation, I am concerned, for example, about whether Peter Strzok’s obvious partisan bias (or the partisan bias of any other FBI official) has exercised undue influence. Investigations of the nation’s leading public figures put strains on the FBI that, say, terrorism investigations do not. After all, there’s no pro-ISIS contingent in the Bureau, but there are Democrats and Republicans.
But the bottom line is clear. The single-best way to keep the FBI out of politics is to vote for better politicians. We’ll have that opportunity again soon. I hope the pain of the recent past and our bitter present can guide us to a better political future.