Chilling Effects

CNN is reporting that “current and former FBI officials tell CNN they’re concerned that the harsh rhetoric coming from Trump and Barr has only worsened the bureau’s already tenuous standing with the President, leaving them wondering whether federal agents could be less aggressive the next time they have to pursue an investigation.” 

CNN goes on the report that Barr “…seized on findings in a blockbuster inspector general report to scold the FBI for using “intrusive” tools with only “flimsy” evidence, and he questioned whether they’d been motivated by bias. Those attacks were particularly noteworthy given that the report found no evidence of bias or improper motivation in the FBI’s decisions to use counterintelligence techniques. The report did however point out serious mistakes and mishandling of evidence by the FBI.”

So let’s unpack this, starting with the obvious. The rhetoric President Trump routinely employs reflects the subtlety and nuance of its author, which is to say: none. It is plain to see that Trump has a great deal of difficulty forming complete sentences. It would be nice, for instance, if the President could occasionally utter a sentence—or send out a Tweet—that actually has a subject, verb and object along with a modifier or two. But I’m not counting on it. And juvenile name calling is hardly the standard we should expect from anyone claiming to be an adult. 

But let’s face a few facts here. First, CNN’s sources are interested parties, some of whom may be targets of John Durham’s ongoing investigation into how the whole investigation was handled. Second, contrary to the claims of James Comey, the report of Inspector General Michael Horowitz didn’t vindicate anybody. How do we know? Because that’s his testimony. According to the Washington Post, in his Congressional testimony on December 11, Horowitz said “I think the activities we found here don’t vindicate anybody who touched this FISA,” referring to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) applications to monitor Page. 

So the relevant question is what did the IG conclude? The answer is that essentially he found (1) no testimonial evidence of improper political FBI bias in the conduct of the investigation, but (2) he found a whole raft of official misstatements and errors, procedural and otherwise. From which we can conclude that the FBI, from top to bottom, displayed a spectacular level of incompetence, stunning even by government standards. Anyone who doubts this simply has to  take a quick glance through the IG Executive Summary, particularly pages vii through xv. The report can be found here

But it doesn’t stop there. This is the type of egregious behavior that would normally have the ACLU and various other progressive civil liberties groups shouting from the rooftops. Not this time. It looks like concern for civil liberties is getting pretty selective over in those quarters. 

And as for chilling effects—when law enforcement agencies run rampant over citizens’ rights—that’s exactly what we need. 

JFB

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Joe Benning