Much of the good faith that critical optimists put in Donald Trump and his advisors to appoint the ‘best man for the job’ has worn thin. No agency head received less benefit of the doubt than Trump-appointed Christopher Wray, who was tasked with resurrecting the FBI in a hurry. The agency had fallen so far under previous heads James Comey and Robert Mueller with respect to its decisions regarding which cases to pursue, how to pursue them, and the criteria for deciding the veracity of a given case that most expected a turnaround to look like, well, a turnaround.
More than anything else, Americans wanted to see the purging of an agency that had come to facilitate political agendas rather than serve as the independent investigative and prosecutorial body it purports to be. This de-evolution began from the top-down, and with Wray’s appointment many believed, at least hoped, that a top-down reformation was in motion. However, Wray’s tenure thus far, typified by his rhetoric-heavy, FBI-slobbing testimony in front of Congress today confirmed that, even if not as compromised as his predecessors, the sitting FBI-head is far from the hard-nosed reformer we were promised.
The gripes begin with deputy and former acting-FBI director Andrew McCabe, whose show of ‘extreme carelessness’, if not gross negligence (though we know he prefers the former turn-of-phrase) in handling the Hillary Clinton email investigation was considered to be clear cause for termination once Wray’s appointment was finalized. McCabe was tabbed as deputy assistant director in 2011, and took over for Jim Comey when he was fired in early May, manning the head of the bureau until Wray’s confirmation on September 28th. The laundry-list of reasons why McCabe was not fit to continue serving in the bureau, especially in the midst of active investigations into the President and the bureau’s prior leadership, was blatantly apparent.
As of July, Circa was reporting that McCabe, who had “soared” through the ranks of the bureau in the past few years, was the primary subject of three separate federal inquiries into his behavior as an FBI employee. Charges ranged from sexual discrimination to improper political activity. The improper political activity that the report alludes to is surely in reference to the suspicious nature of his relationship with the Clintons, which are inextricably linked to his decisions involving the email ‘investigation’.
The Wall Street Journal reported in October of 2016 that McCabe had not only campaigned personally in his wife Jill McCabe’s unsuccessful 2015 Senate campaign, but that Jill McCabe’s campaign had accepted a $500,000 donation from political action committees headed by long-time Clinton ride-or-die confidant and Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe. Even with such a massive donation, McCabe managed to lose. And, both instances were likely violations of the Hatch Act, which holds FBI employees to a higher standard of political impartiality. Abiding by the Hatch Act means sitting out of your wife’s campaign and not being associated in any manner with donations from political partisans.
McCabe, whose wife had received $500,000 from someone directly linked to Hillary Clinton, would go on to essentially serve as head of the Clinton email investigation, which he subsequently granted ‘special status’, allowing for a small team away from the Washington office with little information shared about the details of the inquiry. And his buddy, James Comey, saw fit to let such an arrangement unfold. This is the typification of the farcical, unabashedly cocky conflicts of interest which warranted a real, thorough investigation into the FBI by Christopher Wray.
It has also been reported that McCabe has held a personal grudge against General Michael Flynn since 2015, when he offered to testify against McCabe in a sexual discrimination suit filed on behalf of a female FBI special agent. The bureau attempted to block Flynn’s testimony, and eventually he was designated as a hostile witness, but it’s clear that seriously injured feelings as a result of Flynn’s testimony lingered in McCabe’s memory. McCabe did his part to justify the lawsuit, admitting that the FBI had opened a case into the agent’s personal conduct as soon as they learned she intended to levy sexual misconduct allegations, a blatant effort to besmirch her character.
Later, it was reported by anonymous bureau employees that they had ‘personally witnessed McCabe make disparaging remarks about Flynn before and during the time the retired Army general emerged as a figure in the Russia case,’ according to Circa. While ‘they did not know the reason for McCabe’s displeasure with Flynn,’ the remarks ‘made them uncomfortable as the Russia probe began to unfold and pressure built to investigate Flynn. One employee even consulted a private lawyer.’
‘“As far as the troops in the field, the vast-majority were disgusted with the Russia decision, but that was McCabe driving the result that eventually led [former FBI Director James] Comey to make the decision,” said a senior federal law enforcement official, with direct knowledge of the investigation.
FBI agents’ concerns became more pronounced when a highly-classified piece of evidence -- an intercepted conversation between Flynn and Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak -- suddenly leaked to the news media and prompted Flynn’s resignation as Trump’s top security adviser.
“The Flynn leaks were nothing short of political,” one FBI employee said, noting the specific contents of the conversation were known by only a handful of government officials when they leaked. “The leaks appeared to be targeted to take Flynn out.”’ (Circa)
McCabe rubbed more people the wrong way by his handling of the Russia collusion case with respect to Paul Manafort. A pre-dawn raid on the Manafort home was considered to be in poor taste, overkill within an investigation that had already become a witch-hunt. Yet, it was par for the course for a bureau and its sitting head who had made grievances and allegiances the basis for their modus operandi.
Surely, all of this was enough to warrant McCabe’s immediate termination as deputy director upon Wray’s appointment. Yet, upon taking the top post at the bureau, Wray made the decision to keep McCabe on as deputy director, the first – albeit massive – indication that Wray was not the serious, anti-bias reformer that Trump supporters, and presumably Trump himself, had been sold during the appointment process. While the deputy director does usually remain in their previous post for, typically, three months after the new head takes charge, the atmosphere in and around the FBI are what we refer to as extenuating circumstances. McCabe’s integral role in the previous iteration of the FBI, the bureau that so many of its alumni and current officers to lament as the most politically compromised they have witnessed, cannot be overstated. He was James Comey’s #2 guy, and now he would remain as Wray’s top assistant, with appearances of reform or departure from partisanship thrown to the wind with this single decision.
McCabe would be necessarily subjected to interrogation as part of any real investigation into FBI wrongdoing. Thanks to Wray’s decision, he would remain on the government’s side of the interrogation table. Still, for the most optimistic of Trump supporters, hope remained. There was a long game going on; there had to be. He couldn’t screw up the choice for head of the FBI that badly, could he?
It now appears irrefutable that he could, and he did.
On a macro level, the decision to keep McCabe on, coupled with the issuance of felony charges against Michael Flynn for lying to the feds, all while scandals involving Hillary Clinton lying numerous times the federal agencies including the FBI go apparently unpunished, has drawn the scorn of those who thought change would come. The scale and hypocrisy of further investigation into alleged Russian collusion in the midst of revalatory Obama-era scandals – most of which involve Hillary Clinton and the FBI itself – is stultifying. In short, the change that Trump supporters initially believed Christopher Wray represented has yet to come. It’s been more of the same, and at this point it’s fair to question how one could reasonably expect change ever to come to a bureau that, as the president Tweeted, has its ‘reputation is in Tatters - worst in History!’.
Trump tells us to fear not, that the bureau will be returned to greatness, all while his hand-picked head of the feds spouts the same rhetoric about the bureau still being great, as it always has been and always will be. His testimony before Congress indicates that he is neither willing to seriously address the FBI’s abundant and immense credibility issues, nor the individual cases that the bureau continues to pursue or not pursue, including the rationale behind such decisions.
"The FBI I see is tens of thousands of brave men and women that are working hard. The FBI that I see is people, decent people, committed to the highest principles of dignity and professionalism and respect," Wray stated, dismissing the president’s assessment as a mere ‘opinion’.
Politicians such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte of Virginia continued to point out the obvious reasons why Trump supporters and even moderates are frustrated with the state of the FBI, especially Obama-era holdovers who have been granted inexplicable levels of power and autonomy.
"We do not know the magnitude of this insider bias on Mr. Mueller's team," Goodlatte said. He called it "absolutely unacceptable for FBI employees to permit their own political predilections to contaminate any investigation." (LA Times)
It is unacceptable, yet under Wray, it’s clear that politically-motivated contamination of investigations is tolerable. All the while, to hear Wray tell it, the bureau is in the best shape it’s ever been.
"There is no finer institution, and no finer people, than the men and women who work there and are its very beating heart,” Wray testified. "My experience has been that our reputation is quite good."
Perhaps Wray is merely asking the wrong people – perhaps Hillary, Jim Comey, and Barack Obama – about the ‘reputation’ of the Federal Bureau of Investigation as it currently stands. He sure isn’t asking the American people, who continue to wonder how such overt misallocation of bureau resources could continue.
This is not what we were promised with Chris Wray, and it’s not what we were promised by Donald Trump himself. At some point, if the resurrection of the FBI is going to be put on the back-burner, then all of the president’s other promises will as well. This is the issue that matters more than any, more than immigration, trade negotiation, or foreign affairs. Until domestic bodies are reformed and grievances made right, nothing else matters.