On Tuesday night, I told a friend that I thought I had said every bad thing about the FBI I could possibly say. Then here come reports from the news feeds that Andrew McCabe has done an interview with 60 Minutes, based on his upcoming book, The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Terror and Trump. McCabe and his publishers evidently thought this title would help them sell copies of another pompous memoir about patriotism.
If we leave matters of corruption aside, we still have matters of competence. I would say when someone knows how to do a job, but does not do it, that person is incompetent. When someone does not know how to do a job, and does not care to learn, that person is incompetent as well. For victims of the person’s incompetence, it does not matter into which category the job holder falls: unwilling or unable to do a job. It comes to the same thing.
Up and down the chain of command, the FBI remains incompetent. Its job is to perform as the executive branch’s investigative arm and law enforcement agency. The bureau’s name implies both functions. Yet like the IRS, CIA, NSA, DOD, DOE, and practically every other agency and department in the executive branch, the FBI’s leadership acts from political motives, even though it resides in the Department of Justice. Of all federal bodies, it should avoid political questions, and give primacy to legal, administrative, forensic, and constitutional considerations.
Our constitution allocates politics to the legislative branch. That’s what democracy requires.
Our constitution allocates politics to the legislative branch. That’s what democracy requires. You work out political questions in the political branch. The executive branch faithfully executes laws passed in Congress. Sometimes the executive branch negotiates with Congress about the meaning of a law in a particular situation, if the meaning is subject to interpretation. If negotiations don’t work out, the Supreme Court helps with interpretation, even if the judicial branch prefers to stay out of executive-legislative disputes.
Of course, our government does not work that way at all. We have a Hamiltonian constitution in practice, not a Jeffersonian one. A Hamiltonian constitution means that a great deal of power resides in the executive branch. Where you find power, you find politics. You cannot separate the two. People who lead departments, bureaus, agencies, services, or any other part of the administrative apparatus must be political actors, whether they want that part of the job or not.
You may as well boast about urinating on the Constitution.
As McCabe’s memoir makes clear, FBI leaders are proud of their role as political actors. Over the last century, they appointed themselves guardians of America and the American Way, not only against gangsters like John Dillinger, but also presidents like John Kennedy, and attorney generals like Bobby Kennedy. In fact, Hoover regarded the Kennedys as gangsters, except better looking and more refined. For Hoover, that made them even more dangerous.
Hoover’s precedents and fuming hatreds aside, we pay attention when a leader like Andrew McCabe boasts about his role as a political operator and leader of a secret police force during a time of crisis, in a memoir about how he and his bureau protect America. You may as well boast about urinating on the Constitution. That he courts treason with his colleagues, details how he did so in a book, then goes on the interview circuit to brag about it has to disturb any one who believes the principle threat to American democracy lies in the J. Edgar Hoover Building on Pennsylvania Avenue.
Donald Trump can do a lot of damage to our institutions, but nothing comparable to the harm the FBI has already inflicted.
The FBI threatens American democracy far more than a president who sits for one or two terms. Yes, Donald Trump can do a lot of damage to our institutions, but nothing comparable to the harm the FBI has already inflicted. The FBI has corrupted our institutions for over a century. Theodore Roosevelt authorized the bureau in 1908, during the last year of his presidency. With a lot of encouragement from other bodies, it has led us to our current quasi-police state, where armored vehicles and a small army show up to arrest citizens like Roger Stone. Leaders intend these shows of force to intimidate anyone who might want to cross the Department of Justice.
J. Edgar Hoover led the bureau from its founding, until his death in 1972. During Hoover’s sixty-four years of leadership, the FBI acted not as a guardian of American democracy, but as its main adversary. McCabe’s memoir demonstrates that the culture Hoover instilled in this organization remains as durable – and strongly influential – as when Hoover lived. When a former FBI director boasts about this legacy of ‘protection’, you have to grant some credibility the president’s splenetic tweets about the bureau and the Department of Justice. They contain plenty of truthful kernels.
The Threat: How the FBI Protects America in the Age of Communism, King, and the Kennedys, by J. Edgar Hoover
The last book, of course, does not exist. Such a book could form a trilogy with Masters of Deceit and McCabe’s memoir.
See J. Edgar Hoover quotes, especially the first one on the page:
Above all, I would teach him to tell the truth. Truth-telling, I have found, is the key to responsible citizenship. The thousands of criminals I have seen in forty years of law enforcement have had one thing in common: every single one was a liar.
Also of interest is this quotation from Andrew McCabe:
You cannot stop the men and women of the FBI from doing the right thing, protecting the American people and upholding the Constitution.
I would say that when you talk with colleagues about deposing a president who has just fired your boss, you have not done the right thing.
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