Deep rot at the FBI (and the Times)

Eli Lake takes a look at the latest Department of Justice Inspector General report on the rot at the FBI in the Bloomberg column “The FBI Can’t Be Trusted With the Surveillance of Americans.” Subhead: “An inspector general report finds that the bureau has been systematically unscrupulous.” I posted a copy of Horowitz’s OIG “memorandum” here yesterday.

It is not hard to believe how pervasive the rot at the FBI is, but the Horowitz memo should serve as a call to action and to the administration of justice in the matter of Donald Trump. However, that is not quite how it is being received. Lake writes, for example, that we have “a system that relies almost exclusively on the FBI being scrupulous with its facts. [Yet] Horowitz’s findings show that the bureau has been systematically unscrupulous.” Eli doesn’t call out the New York Times, but the Times is Exhibit A of what he calls “the twisted politics of the Trump era.” How twisted? This twisted:

In the twisted politics of the Trump Era, some of bureau’s defenders might actually view this report as good news: It shows that the investigation of the Trump campaign was not necessarily politically motivated. The bureau made the same kinds of mistakes with suspects who were not connected to the Trump campaign.

That’s hardly reassuring — and the malpractice that the report uncovers is a much larger problem than the FBI and its defenders may wish to admit. So far, the response to Horowitz’s December report has been a series of administrative reforms, such as a requirement that FBI field offices preserve their “Woods files” and a mandate for new FISA training for FBI lawyers and agents. That’s all well and good. But one need not go back to the bad old days of J. Edgar Hoover to see that the bureau has been careless in its monitoring of U.S. citizens.

The Woods procedures were issued in 2001 after Congress obtained a memo from the FBI’s counterterrorism division detailing surveillance abuse in the late 1990s. One target’s cell phone remained tapped after he gave it up and the number was reassigned to a different person. Another FBI field office videotaped a meeting, despite a clear prohibition on that technique in its FISA warrant. In 2003, an interim report from the Senate Judiciary Committee concluded that the 2001 memo showed “the FBI was experiencing more systemic problems related to the implementation of FISA orders” than a problem with the surveillance law itself.

Very little has changed in the intervening 17 years. That’s why it’s foolish to expect new and better procedures will work this time. A better approach would be an aggressive policy to prosecute FBI agents and lawyers who submit falsehoods to the surveillance court. The best way to prevent future violations is to severely punish those who commit them in the present.

The New York Times is illustrative of “the twisted politics of the Trump era.” Daniel Chaitin covers the Times angle in his Examiner article “‘Biased and out of control’: Devin Nunes rips New York Times reporting on FISA memo.” Chaitin reports on Rep. Devin Nunes’s interview with Larry O’Connor:

Radio host Larry O’Connor read a passage from the [Times’s] report [on the Horowitz memo] to Nunes during the Examining Politics podcast on Tuesday. It said DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s report “helps the FBI politically because it undercuts the narrative among President Trump and his supporters that the bureau cut corners to surveil the adviser, Carter Page, as part of a politically motivated conspiracy.”

“So, the good news for the FBI is that they trampled on people’s rights all over the place, not just people who worked with Donald Trump’s campaign,” O’Connor said. “Is that the takeaway we should have here congressman?”

You can hear Rep. Nunes’s response in the podcast of the interview segment below, preceded by Larry’s interview with Mark Cuban.

Quotable quote (Chaitin quoting the Times): “The finding of systemic incompetence is devastating for the FBI. But, in the Trump era, the discovery is leavened by an unusual side benefit for the bureau: It undercuts the narrative fostered by President Trump and his supporters that the botching of applications to surveil his campaign adviser Carter Page is evidence that the FBI engaged in a politically biased conspiracy.”

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