According to a Survey Monkey poll conducted last Thursday and Friday, 38 percent of Republicans have a favorable view of the FBI, compared to 64 percent of Democrats. A “news analysis” in The New York Times blames that counterintuitive partisan divide on Donald Trump, who “has engaged in a scorched-earth assault on the pillars of the criminal justice system in a way that no other occupant of the White House has done.” The Times worries that Trump is “tearing at the credibility of some of the most important institutions in American life to save himself.”
The charge rings true in the sense that Trump is mendacious and unprincipled, the sort of man who would say anything for political gain. But forgive me if I have trouble feeling bad for the poor FBI. Whatever the merits of Trump’s complaints about the investigation of links between his campaign and Russian agents who tried to influence the presidential election, the controversy will do some good if it makes Republicans less inclined to trust the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
Even putting aside the bureau’s long history of corruption and incompetence, the controversy over the Russia investigation is a useful reminder that the FBI consists of fallible humans with their own ambitions, agendas, and opinions, which may not always be conducive to a dispassionate search for truth and justice. Case in point: An agent who called Trump an “idiot” and hoped he would lose the election was involved in both the Russia probe and the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email practices as secretary of state. Somewhat less shocking: The FBI may have exaggerated the evidence that former Trump campaign adviser Carter Page was a Russian agent. Even less shocking, for anyone familiar with how easy it is to get permission for a wiretap under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA): The exaggeration was probably unnecessary.