How much more do we need to learn about 2016 to realize the agency is a disaster?
In ignoring the latest John Durham indictment, most of the media and official Washington are ignoring the elephant between its written lines: the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Mr. Durham, the special counsel appointed to investigate the governments handling of the Russia collusion mess, levels a single criminal charge against Michael Sussmann, then a lawyer for the Democrat-linked firm Perkins Coie. In delivering to the FBI fanciful evidence of Trump-Russia collusion a few weeks before the 2016 election, Mr. Sussmann is alleged to have lied to the FBIs chief lawyer, James Baker, claiming he was acting on his own behalf and not as a paid agent of the Clinton campaign.
Breaking Down the Durham Indictment
Already you might be rolling your eyes. Mr. Durham provides ample reason in his own indictment for why the FBI would have known exactly whom Mr. Sussmann was working for. If Mr. Sussmann didnt lie at the time, Mr. Baker may have lied since about what transpired between him and Mr. Sussmann.
Either way, we are free to suspect the FBI would have found it useful to be protected from inconvenient knowledge about the Clinton campaigns role. The same FBI then was busy ignoring the political antecedents of the Steele dossier, also financed by Mr. Sussmanns law firm on behalf of the Clinton campaign, information that the FBI would shortly withhold from a surveillance court in pursuit of a warrant to spy on Trump pilot fish Carter Page.
Mr. Durham, in describing the Sept. 19, 2016, meeting with Mr. Baker, suggests that a properly informed FBI might have thought twice before opening an investigation into Mr. Sussmanns phony story about the Trump Organization and Russias Alfa Bank. This is a way also of saying the FBI might have found it harder to proceed without the political deniability that Mr. Sussmanns alleged statement provided.
At this late date, none of this can be consumed without recognizing that the FBI was already hip-deep in the 2016 election. It began a few weeks earlier with Director James Comeys insubordinate, improper (according to the Justice Departments own inspector general) intervention in the Hillary email case. We learned much later that Mr. Comey justified this unprecedented action by referring to secret Russian intelligence that his FBI colleagues considered a red herring and possible Russian disinformation. Your eyes should really be rolling now.
Mr. Comey thereupon created the preposterous jam for himself when new information surfaced in the Hillary case, which led him to reopen the case shortly before Election Day and likely tipped the race to Mr. Trump. Of course the new information turned out to be a nothingburger. Worse, the information had been sitting unnoticed in the FBIs hands for weeks.
These antic actions, along with the subsequent FBI leakfest aimed at undermining the president it just helped to elect, might be written off as a singular consequence of Mr. Comeys overweened sense of importance. But this doesnt explain the FBIs top counterintelligence deputy, Peter Strzok, engaging in compromising political banter on an FBI network while playing a central role in the FBIs most politically sensitive investigations. It doesnt explain FBI lawyer Kevin Clinesmiths criminal act of falsifying agency submissions to the surveillance court. Ask yourself: In what way, in anyones memory, has the FBI covered itself in glory? The Larry Nassar case, in which it failed to pursue a serial abuser of teenage gymnasts? The Noor Salman case, in which it trumped up a failed prosecution of the innocent and abused wife of the Orlando nightclub shooter? The Hatfill case, in which it attempted to railroad an innocent scientist over the 2001 anthrax attacks? Ironically, Hollywood is now the FBIs biggest devotee because the agencys screw-ups are fodder for its best movies. The FBIs role in the assassination of Black Panther Fred Hampton was the subject of Judas and the Black Messiah. Its persecution of an innocent security guard in the Atlanta Olympics bombing was the theme of Richard Jewell. Its cosseting of the criminal psychopath Whitey Bulger was a central pillar of the Johnny Depp film Black Mass.
The FBIs last extended run of good publicity, aimed at helping live down the smell of J. Edgar Hoover, came more than 50 years ago thanks to Efrem Zimbalist Jr. and his weekly show on ABC, The F.B.I., which went off the air in 1974.
By now, after its performance in the 2016 election, the evidence might seem conclusive that the agency is a failed experiment, however able and dedicated many of its agents.
Its culture at the top seems incapable of using the powers entrusted to it with discretion and good judgment or at least without reliable expectation of embarrassment. The agency should be scrapped and something new built to replace it. One possibility is a national investigative corps that would be more directly answerable to the 93 U.S. attorneys who are charged with enforcing federal law in the 50 states.