The FBI: Are Republicans at war with law enforcement?
Once upon a time, Republicans were “the party of law and order,” and instinctively respected law-enforcement institutions, said Philip Rucker and Robert Costa in The Washington Post. Not anymore. President Trump has been openly disparaging the integrity of the FBI and Justice Department ever since he took office, to try to delegitimize the ongoing investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. But last week House Speaker Paul Ryan and other Republican leaders joined him in backing the release of Rep. Devin Nunes’ memo alleging a shadowy FBI-Democrat conspiracy against Trump—making the GOP itself “an adversary of federal law enforcement.” It’s hard to overstate how surreal this is, said Jeet Heer in NewRepublic.com. The FBI is “one of the government’s most conservative institutions,” historically staffed and led by white, male Republicans and deeply distrusted by liberals. But in the “topsy-turvy world” Trump has created, “hating the FBI could soon be a core part of Republican identity.”
That claim is “utterly bizarre,” said Mollie Hemingway in TheFederalist.com. Far from criticizing “law enforcement” as a whole, Republicans have focused their scrutiny on a handful of FBI and Justice Department officials in leadership positions, including fired FBI Director James Comey. To obtain a surveillance warrant on former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page, agents used the discredited “Steele dossier” funded by Hillary Clinton’s campaign without fully informing the judge of the information’s origins, or Steele’s animus toward Trump. And then there was the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s reckless email practices, which was “slow-walked” by then-FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe, whose Democratic wife got a $467,000 contribution from Clinton associates when she ran for a Virginia Senate seat. Republicans have every right to question the handling of these cases, said Byron York in WashingtonExaminer.com. When the FBI intrudes into “hot political disputes, no one should be surprised when things get political.”
The GOP claims it’s conducting necessary oversight of a few bad apples, said Paul Waldman in WashingtonPost.com. But then Trump’s most unhinged sycophants proclaim that the Nunes memo reveals a Deep State abuse of power that’s “treason” and “Watergate times a million.” Trump himself tweeted that the FBI has “politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans.” Trump’s goal, of course, is to undermine public faith in the FBI, Justice Department, and special counsel Robert Mueller so that his supporters can “dismiss anything that emerges on this scandal, no matter how factual and proven.” It’s working, said Olivia Beavers in TheHill.com. In a new Reuters poll, 73 percent of Republicans say the FBI is trying to “delegitimize Trump through politically motivated investigations.”
That’s going too far, said Ben Shapiro in NationalReview.com. Yes, there are serious questions to be asked about the conduct of FBI leadership, particularly in its handling of the Steele dossier and its apparent eagerness to end the Clinton investigation without criminal charges. But that doesn’t mean “the FBI had no reasonable grounds for suspicion” about either Page or the Trump campaign’s numerous, often secretive contacts with Russia. It also doesn’t mean “Mueller is somehow responsible for any of this,” or that his investigation should be cut short. In their defense of Trump, Republicans “should be careful” not to destroy the nonpartisan credibility of the FBI or the government’s surveillance authority. We’ll need both long after the Trump presidency is over. ■