As expected, recent testimony given by James Comey to Congress was a big nothingburger. The worst thing for President Trump to come out of it, besides confirming Comey told him three times he was not under investigation, was that the elected executive of the people sought to discover whether an unelected enforcer of law, who acts in the president’s name, had any loyalty to the president’s agenda (an agenda chosen by the people). This looks bad to progressively minded people, to be sure, but it may be exactly what we the people need.
Democrats and the media (who, as Victor Davis Hanson points out, are now one and the same) both anticipated the event with such glee and certainty that it would prove disastrous to the president, that it almost could not have gone down any other way in their minds. As you might have noticed, their track record of understanding reality has been abysmal of late. And as for the rest of the Russia-Trump “scandal,” concerning which the Left continues to listen too much to its own echo chamber, they miss all the evidence showing real collusion implicating Democrats, even as they allow real criminals to commit real crimes. Many people are missing the true significance of the whole affair.
The Comey affair shows us that there are big problems with the Bureau. Contrary to the old narrative that the FBI is full of patriotic, professional experts, empirical evidence suggests that the culture of the institution is partisan, unprofessional, and surprisingly unintelligent.
The “patriotic professionals” narrative has its roots in―wait for it―progressivism. The progressives promised us that the administrative state would be better than a government based on the consent of self-governing men, largely because it would allow experts to help us deal with the big problems of the modern world. Making government unaccountable to the people, they said, would be alright because we would be giving power to who really knew what they were doing with it and who would always be dedicated to the common good above all else.
Answering the question of “Who Should Rule?” in his 1948 book The Administrative State, Dwight Waldo wrote about “The ‘Compleat Administrator’” who
must in the first place, have an usual natural endowment of physique, stamina, the qualities of personality which enable him to “win friends and influence people,” and―particularly―intelligence. He must in the second place, be educated…[in] both “cultural” and “professional” subjects…Third, he must not only be educated, he must be “educated”; he must “know something,” be a “wise” man.
Moreover, the administrator is meant to be unencumbered by the people’s legislation. “The legalistic approach,” wrote James Landis in The Administrative Process, “that reads a governing statute with the hope of finding limitations upon authority rather than grants of power with which to act decisively” is not good. Instead,
the ablest administrator that it was my good fortune to know, I believe, never read, at least more than casually, the statutes that he translates into reality. He assumed that they gave him power to deal with the broad problems of an industry and, upon that understanding, he sought his own solutions.
This view of civil servants as independent, expert, intelligent, and “wise” professionals unencumbered by law (and also, apparently, any realistic understanding of human nature) matches Woodrow Wilson’s separation of politics and administration. It also explains why Comey, “a Don Quixote-like character,” wanted to shield the FBI from Trump to protect the “FBI’s traditionally independent status in the executive branch;” why Rep. Ted Lieu thinks Trump, who presumed to fire FBI director for doing a poor job, exhibits “an incredible disrespect for the rule of law;” and why Dana Perino might say on the Five (and she did) that the FBI’s independence is important because of the separation of powers and the need for an independent judiciary . . .
align=”left” Never mind the obvious problems of separating the force of government (it is called “law en-force-ment” after all) from the control of the people, the whole Comey memo leak and ensuing Comey testimony prove that our Hegelian guardians are not as impartial, professional, or intelligent as they were billed.
Never mind the obvious problems of separating the force of government (it is called “law en-force-ment” after all) from the control of the people, the whole Comey memo leak and ensuing Comey testimony prove that our Hegelian guardians are not as impartial, professional, or intelligent as they were billed. A significant portion of the senior leadership at the FBI, both appointed and bureaucratic, appears to be ignorant of the law or extremely partisan. This, in turn, suggests the entire FBI has major problems, for bureaucrats tend to be products of the culture of their organization.
First, the Comey-Trump conversation likely does not indicate any wrongdoing by the president. As Elizabeth Foley points out in an extensive legal review:
As distasteful as the president’s statements may be, they do not constitute an obstruction of justice. Indeed, if they did, virtually every communication between criminal defense lawyers and investigators would be a crime.
Andrew C. McCarthy made a similar point on Fox. Even Alan Dershowitz seems to agree. If this is true, is it not reasonable to expect that FBI agents, especially senior ones, understand this? If they do, then the only reason to leak the memo in the first place would be to hurt their elected superior, either by presenting a false image of wrongdoing, or simply by presenting his way of doing business as suspect and questionable as compared with the ways to which they are more accustomed. This is neither professional nor non-partisan. And these agents forget that they are an extension of the president’s executive power, not a power unto themselves.
If the FBI agents think the conversation reflects a crime or any other kind of wrongdoing, this suggests that the FBI is ignorant of the law. It seems it should be part of their professional competence to be aware of the laws they are seeking to enforce, even if they only read them “casually.” But in the case of law enforcement experts, as opposed to regular administrators, I would hope they do more than read the law casually, since they must abide by it in addition to enforcing it.
But let us assume Foley and McCarthy are incorrect in their assessment and the conversation does indicate wrongdoing by the president; the FBI still looks ignorant or extremely unprofessional. As Matt Wilson points out, not reporting an obstruction of justice is itself a felony. Perhaps Comey and the senior officials at the FBI he told about the memo did not know this. Such ignorance would be staggeringly problematic.
Or perhaps they did understand the law and did not think the memo constituted any improper act, as Comey’s May 3 testimony and his testimony today would indicate. If so, why leak about the conversation? Assuming senior FBI officials are not so stupid as to misunderstand how it would be used by the media, the only reason is the the obvious one: a major breach in professionalism for partisan reasons.
None of this is overly complicated or hard to reason out. It would seem the FBI leaked the memo story to stoke these passions in spite of thinking, no matter the law or the content of the leak. In essence, senior officials in the FBI are either too incompetent to recognize the political climate (which I doubt), or (as I fear) they are willing to use what amounts to propaganda to inflame the heightened passions of the people and intentionally instigate division among Americans. Perhaps the Republicans are not wrong to consider cutting the budgets of the intelligence community experts.
Now, it might be a stretch to impugn the entire FBI because of the actions of a few senior agents, but it certainly does not give citizens confidence. As stated earlier, senior bureaucrats tend to be products of whatever culture permeates the bureaucratic organization in which they rise to prominence. They are careerists, not theorists about the nature of democratic government. If senior officials are unintelligent or unprofessional, it is not unreasonable to assume that the entire organization is largely the same. As a former boss once told me, “either you assimilate to the Borg, or the Borg assimilates you.” To get to the top, you have to be embrace the Borg.
align=”right” The Comey matter likely reveals rampant ignorance or partisanship in the Bureau, and it probably shows a bit of both combined with hubris.
And there does not appear to be any major outrage coming from the FBI, neither does there appear to be any agents stepping up to condemn the rampant leaks or Comey’s disdain for elected representatives controlling public force. Perhaps the upstanding agents at the FBI disagree with all of the things happening at the FBI, but there is little evidence to suggest there are more of them than there are of those who imitate the senior officials and talk to the New York Times. The more likely scenario is that most FBI officials actually believe in their capacities to be “above it all” and purely objective and thus believe that they deserve the public’s trust, no matter what.
In many ways, the prolific number of leaks suggests that it is a cultural norm to undermine one’s superiors whenever one wishes. Certainly, this aspect of bureaucracy in the executive branch is well known. As Michael Nelson points out in his Guide to the Presidency:
Members of the…bureaucracy have several means by which they can resist presidential will…They can delay or undermine the execution of presidential directives, provide the president only with information and options that do not conflict with their interpretation of an issue, leak details of a controversial or covert policy to Congress or the media, publicly oppose a policy, or resign in protest. The president may have the constitutional power to order an agency to carry out a particular task, but if that agency drags its feet or otherwise undermines implementation of the order, the president’s power can be diluted or even neutralized.
As Senator Schumer pointed out, it is natural for bureaucrats to defend themselves from elected officials. And it only seems natural that this component of bureaucracy that divides the nation, shirks civilian control of government, and weakens what is supposed to be an “energetic executive,” is now celebrated as a positive good. It all fits with the progressive model of administration.
It is clear that recent events have not been flattering to the professionals in the FBI. The Comey matter likely reveals rampant ignorance or partisanship in the Bureau, and it probably shows a bit of both combined with hubris. If those in the FBI want to be perceived differently, then they need to take significant measures to police the rampant leakers and change the culture. And perhaps the American people, and those whom they elect, ought to demand more loyalty from their bureaucrats and to ask them to remember that they are subordinate to the sovereign authority of the people and the elected officials who represent them.