Restore Trust in the FBI: Appoint a Presidential Commission

President Trump should appoint a presidential commission to do a complete review of the FBI—what has gone wrong and what procedures and safeguards are needed for the future. The serious problems shown at the FBI demand an outside review, as any mismanaged organization requires. A commission would be the best way to do it.

Once considered the nation’s premier law enforcement agency, it’s become clear that the FBI has had a headquarters cabal out to manipulate the law and the Federal Intelligence Surveillance Court to impose its own political judgments on the American electorate. Whatever happened in J. Edgar Hoover’s time, it was nothing like this. And it is clear from FBI and Justice Department stonewalling of Congress that the FBI cannot be reformed from within.

Along with problems at the top, warnings of horrific crimes have been ignored, most recently in the Nikolas Cruz case, but also going back to 9/11 terrorist Zacarias Moussaoui, the Tsarnaev brothers, Omar Mateen, and on and on. So any commission or task force would need to analyze what has gone wrong from field office incompetence to management in Washington, D.C. Otherwise, “If you see something, say something” becomes a joke.

Americans are polarized enough as it is. Poll after poll reveals distressing levels of public distrust in government institutions. Roughly half the country believes the government is working against them. Apparent indifference to the political corruption of one political party while subjecting the sitting president to a witch hunt isn’t helping. “This should trouble every American,” writes former FBI Assistant Director James Kallstrom, “because the ability of the FBI to effectively protect our nation and citizens is directly connected to the regard and respect that the American people have for the bureau.”

As fired FBI Director James Comey tours the country promoting his new book, he is further undermining the public’s faith in the Bureau as a fair and honest institution. “He is exactly the wrong person to have headed one of the most important law enforcement agencies in the United States,” Alan Dershowitz said recently.

Obviously, something needs to be done to restore the public’s faith in the FBI. Congressional hearings, inspector general reports, and the criminal referral from Congress of FBI figures to the Justice Department are important but not nearly enough. FBI headquarters still has problem actors and the current FBI director, Christopher Wray, has done little except stonewalling. We can hope that an outside review will give Wray the guidance and impetus to take strong effective action. His performance would be part of this evaluation.  

All political sides should agree that the FBI cannot be a tool of political superiors in the Justice Department. It must be subject to congressional oversight. The Justice Department is headed by political appointees and it is assumed that they will take political actions. But FBI headquarters personnel cannot take political sides. That means complete adherence to rule of law standards and no stonewalling of congressional requests for information.

 

Presidential commissions are well suited to address such nonpartisan and important issues. There have been about 50 such presidential commissions since 1985 for critical public issues: the 9/11 Commission, the Tower Commission on Iran-Contra, the Rogers Commission on the Space Shuttle Challenger.

The Tower Commission provides a good example of what should happen. The Iran-Contra affair was about rogue officials acting outside the law secretly to violate an arms embargo to Iran. Today, we have top FBI officials acting outside the law to determine who should be president. The full Iran-Contra report set out what went wrong, who was responsible, and what safeguards should be put in place. Criminal referrals also followed.

This presidential commission would be charged with doing a full review of what went wrong and making a public report to restore confidence in our FBI. Presidential commissions are not prosecutors with subpoena powers, but they have full presidential authority to gather facts, hold hearings, and make recommendations.

Just as with the Tower Commission, the president would appoint a blue-ribbon task force to analyze and make recommendations on this important public issue. Given the country’s polarized atmosphere, President Trump would need to select a chairman and personnel who are well respected with solid FBI and Justice Department experience. Former judge and Attorney General Michael Mukasey comes to mind.

Kim Strassel’s recent Wall Street Journal column suggested that Trump could take “two very bold actions the Trump White House could take to reset the Russia dynamic,” to wit, have a legal team that defends the constitutional powers of the presidency and declassify all relevant Justice and FBI documents.

A presidential commission would be a third, very bold and amply justified action—not only to reset the anti-Trump Russia dynamic but to restore public faith in the FBI.

About Nick Neubauer

Nick Neubauer is a JD/MBA graduate of Stanford Law and Business Schools. He is a retired lawyer and was for many years an active member of the Chicago commodity exchanges. He served as chairman of the Chicago Board of Trade from 2001 to 2003.

Photo: Flag of the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the rusty background. Concept photo

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