A Comedy of Corruption? Or a Bureaucratic Horror Show?

By | 2018-06-18T19:44:20+00:00 June 19th, 2018|
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If the stakes were not so high, the 568-page report issued last week by the Justice Department Office of the Inspector General (“A Review of Various Actions by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Department of Justice in Advance of the 2016 Election”) might be seen as a species of comedy, something out of Plautus, perhaps (starring Peter Strzok as the Miles Gloriosus and Lisa Page as Philocomasium), or Dickens’s Little Dorrit with its Office of Circumlocution.

Item: The report “did not find documentary or testimonial evidence that improper considerations, including political bias, directly affected the specific investigative decisions we reviewed.” Ha, ha, ha.

As Andrew Klavan observed, that is simply inspector-generalese for, “No one confessed or left a paper trail.”

No, Kimberly Strassel was right in her recent column for the Wall Street Journal: the IG report is dripping with evidence of political bias. It’s just that it deploys the evidence like a troupe of players on the stage and then tells you that the burglary you just saw enacted might have been the innocent parson out for a stroll.

Item: After discussing some of the thousands of text messages between Peter Strzok—the top FBI honcho who ran both the pretend investigation into Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified materials and the first phases of Trump-Russia fantasy—and his lover Lisa Page (then counsel to Andrew McCabe, who was the FBI’s deputy director at the time), the report concludes that Strzok’s decision to focus on the counterintelligence probe of the Trump campaign rather than the Clinton email criminal investigation “led us to conclude that we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision was free from bias.”

Right. “[W]e did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision was free from bias.” Delicately put. After reading some of the violently anti-Trump effusions the two exchanged, you might find your confidence that their behavior was “free from bias” shaken as well. Try this:

Page: “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!”

Strzok: “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

This shocking exchange has rightly been front and center in the cataract of commentary that has been disgorged about the IG report over the last few days. It is just one of the scores of examples of what Andrew McCarthy crisply described as the “ceaseless stream of anti-Trump bile” adduced in the report—adduced, and then half swept under the rug in a forest of anodyne verbiage.

“We’ll stop it.”

Who is “we”? Not Peter Strzok and Lisa Page as individuals. It’s the collective or institutional “we”: “We, that is the FBI, will stop Donald Trump from becoming president of the United States.”

And giving credit where credit is due, you have to admit that “they”—not just Peter and Lisa, but Andrew McCabe, James Comey, and Rod Rosenstein, and all of the many bit and not-so-bit players mentioned in this monstrosity of a report did their level best, first, to “stop it” and then, when that didn’t work, to destroy it, where by “it” I mean the Trump presidency.

Bias Crawling All Over
This is where Plautus, with his assortment of braggarts, con-men, and duplicitous tools, comes in.

Enter, stage left, Christopher Wray, director of the FBI, and the Chorus of FBI boosters from the press. The IG report has just been issued. Critics fix (Wray might say “fixate”) on items like Strzok’s “we’ll stop it.” Wray shouts over them all. “Nothing in this report impugns the integrity of our workforce as a whole or the FBI as an institution.”

It was only a few rogue agents, you see, like the agent on the just-for-show Hillary email investigation who texted that “Trump’s supporters are all poor to middle class, uneducated, lazy POS,” i.e. “pieces of shit.”

Oh, and also bring in FBI Director James Comey, his deputy, Andrew McCabe, top counter-espionage agent Peter Strzok, high-up legal counsel Lisa Page, FBI General Counsel James Baker, and “Agents 1-5” mentioned in the IG report, among others.

Remember, the focus of the 568-page behemoth was supposed to be the way in which the FBI handled its investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server to conduct government business, her flouting of established protocols for dealing with classified information and conducting official communications, and her destruction of evidence (servers professionally wiped, smartphones smashed with hammers). What the IG report reveals, even though it fails to conclude this explicitly, is that the FBI treated Hillary with kid gloves while it went after the Trump campaign with unbridled virulence.

John Kass, writing for the Chicago Tribune, cuts to the chase. The report, he notes, “crawls with bias. Deals were cut. Then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch met on the tarmac with Bill Clinton. Hillary Clinton was shielded from a federal grand jury. Witnesses were allowed to sit with her during questioning. Comey had already decided to clear her before the investigation was complete.”

There are three nodes to the bias this report details. On the negative side of the ledger, there is the ostentatious anti-Trump bias, evident throughout the intelligence community, from its pinnacles John Brennan, head of the CIA, James Clapper, head of the Office of National Intelligence, and James Comey at the FBI, on down.

On the positive side of the ledger, we have the prospective cheerleading for Hillary Clinton, on the one hand, and the careful cognizance of the prevailing chain of command which ended with President Obama. Kass again:

Chew on this. How could Hillary Clinton ever be prosecuted without implicating Obama, who emailed her using a pseudonym?

Obama might have been portrayed as a victim of her use of a private server. She used that server to hide her dealings with the controversial Clinton Foundation from congressional inquiry. She should have been prosecuted.

But then, two things would have happened.

Her campaign would have fallen apart immediately, and along with it, Obama’s legacy.

I think this is exactly right. And it is worth noting that Kass is no apologist for Trump. He is merely an apologist for the nonpartisan operation of justice.

From Hilarity to Terror
I began by saying that if the stakes were not so high, the anxious drama being acted out by the bureaucracy to exonerate itself (while also working to destroy the president—it had to destroy Trump in order to exonerate itself) would be funny. I mean that the preposterous figures that strut and fret their hour upon the stage in this burlesque are pathetically comic. Have you ever encountered, outside the pages of farce, a more self-important poseur than James Comey? A more Uriah-Heep-like fanatic than Robert Mueller? A more rodentine representative of bureaucratic double-talk than Andrew McCabe? Seen from the right perspective, these characters are hilarious.

But seen from another perspective, they are not funny. They’re terrifying. The men and women in this story are not, most of them, evil. Rather, they are pedestrian expressions of that self-engorging bureaucracy we call the administrative state.

Why did Obama weaponize the IRS? Because the bureaucracy allowed it. Why did the FBI so conspicuously play favorites in its 2016 campaign investigations, giving Hillary a free pass in the make-believe criminal investigation they conducted against her, while they transformed a counterintelligence investigation against the Trump campaign into a no-holds-barred partisan witch hunt? Because the bureaucracy allowed it.

Yes, it is scandalous that highly placed individuals like Strzok and Page should repeatedly and blatantly exhibit partisan animus. But the really shocking thing that this story reveals is, pace Christopher Wray, the deep corruption and lack of integrity on view in the nation’s premier law enforcement institution and its parent body, the Department of Justice. How the country retrieves public trust in its law enforcement and intelligence services, to say nothing of the compliant media that abets their corruption, is the big question that has yet to be addressed.

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Photo credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

About the Author:

Roger Kimball
Roger Kimball is Editor and Publisher of The New Criterion and President and Publisher of Encounter Books. Mr. Kimball lectures widely and has appeared on national radio and television programs as well as the BBC. He is represented by Writers' Representatives, who can provide details about booking him. Mr. Kimball's latest book is The Fortunes of Permanence: Culture and Anarchy in an Age of Amnesia (St. Augustine's Press, 2012). He is also the author of The Rape of the Masters (Encounter), Lives of the Mind: The Use and Abuse of Intelligence from Hegel to Wodehouse (Ivan R. Dee), and Art's Prospect: The Challenge of Tradition in an Age of Celebrity (Ivan R. Dee). Other titles by Mr. Kimball include The Long March: How the Cultural Revolution of the 1960s Changed America (Encounter) and Experiments Against Reality: The Fate of Culture in the Postmodern Age (Ivan R. Dee). Mr. Kimball is also the author ofTenured Radicals: How Politics Has Corrupted Our Higher Education (HarperCollins). A new edition of Tenured Radicals, revised and expanded, was published by Ivan R. Dee in 2008. Mr. Kimball is a frequent contributor to many publications here and in England, including The New Criterion, The Times Literary Supplement, Modern Painters, Literary Review, The Wall Street Journal, The Public Interest, Commentary, The Spectator, The New York Times Book Review, The Sunday Telegraph, The American Spectator, The Weekly Standard, National Review, and The National Interest.