FBI Employees Caught In Political Crossfire Over Release of Controversial GOP Memo

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., attends a GOP conference in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., on Feb. 1. Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif., attends a GOP conference in White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., on Feb. 1. Andrew Harnik/AP

At 6:30 a.m. on Friday, about six hours before the House Intelligence Committee released the long-anticipated memo accusing the FBI of political bias, President Trump issued a tweet with a distinction that may or may not represent a difference.

“The top Leadership and Investigators of the FBI and the Justice Department have politicized the sacred investigative process in favor of Democrats and against Republicans—something which would have been unthinkable just a short time ago,” Trump wrote. “Rank & File are great people!”

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The controversial four-page memo written by the staff of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., challenges the FBI’s handling of the 2016 election-year investigation of Trump associates for relying too heavily on the famous but uncorroborated “Steele Dossier” that many Republicans believe is anti-Trump.

“The committee has discovered serious violations of the public trust, and the American people have a right to know when officials in crucial institutions are abusing their authority for political purposes,” Nunes said on Friday. “Our intelligence and law enforcement agencies exist to defend the American people, not to be exploited to target one group on behalf of another. It is my hope that the committee’s actions will shine a light on this alarming series of events so we can make reforms that allow the American people to have full faith and confidence in their governing institutions.”

But the months of attacks on the FBI and its fired director James Comey from Trump and GOP lawmakers do not appear to jibe with the view of the bureau’s workforce, as indicated both by statements and past surveys.

The FBI Agents Association, which represents 14,000 active and retired agents, earlier Friday issued a statement from its president, Thomas O’Connor, saying, “The men and women of the FBI put their lives on the line every day in the fight against terrorists and criminals because of their dedication to our country and the Constitution. The American people should know that they continue to be well-served by the world’s preeminent law enforcement agency. FBI special agents have not, and will not, allow partisan politics to distract us from our solemn commitment to our mission.”

That followed a Wednesday statement saying the association appreciated “FBI Director Chris Wray standing shoulder to shoulder with the men and women of the FBI as we work together to protect our country from criminal and national security threats.”

FBI and DOJ leadership had urged the White House not to release the memo and unsuccessfully requested redactions. “The FBI takes seriously its obligations to the FISA Court and its compliance with procedures overseen by career professionals in the Department of Justice and the FBI,” and statement from Wray’s office read. “We are committed to working with the appropriate oversight entities to ensure the continuing integrity of the FISA process.”

More pointedly, the statement added, “The FBI was provided a limited opportunity to review this memo the day before the committee voted to release it. As expressed during our initial review, we have grave concerns about material omissions of fact that fundamentally impact the memo’s accuracy.”

As numerous commenters have pointed out, the FBI has always been led by Republican appointees, and the players that Rep. Nunes and his allied critics are accusing of bias—Wray, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, Comey and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, are all Republicans. So is Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who has recused himself from the Russia collusion investigation.

Former FBI Director Comey issued an unusual tweet on Thursday, saying “All should appreciate the FBI speaking up. I wish more of our leaders would. But take heart: American history shows that, in the long run, weasels and liars never hold the field, so long as good people stand up. Not a lot of schools or streets named for Joe McCarthy.”

The attacks on the FBI have become the subject of a conservative grass-roots media campaign. As Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, tweeted on Friday, “FBI takes dossier to secret court to get secret warrant to spy on American. FBI did NOT INCLUDE recorded bias of dossier author Steele when he told DOJ attorney Bruce Ohr he "was desperate that @realDonaldTrump not get elected and was passionate about him not being president."

The Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI did not respond to Government Executive’s request for comment.

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