Whatever the outcome next Tuesday, our political system crossed a perilous rubicon during the days leading up to that climax: For the first time in recent memory, officials of the nation’s premier law enforcement agency sought to influence a national election with illicit leaks.
Murky information about investigations of Hillary Clinton’s emails and the Clinton Foundation, even fraudulent rumors of “indictments” have flooded the media, all somehow traced back to the FBI — with Rudolph Giuliani of the Trump campaign boasting on Fox News that he had advance knowledge of these manipulations.
Owing to his longstanding connections with the bureau, Giuliani had predicted “a couple of surprises” to come in late October, just days before FBI director James Comey sent his fateful letter to Congress about reviewing new emails in the Clinton case he closed last July.
“You’ll see, and I think it will be enormously effective,” he said on Fox News. In fact. Giuliani had joined in publicly pressuring Comey for months, claiming to know of a “revolt” among agents against the decision not to prosecute Clinton.
Having covered the investigations of the New York FBI office for more than 30 years, reporter Wayne Barrett drew the connections between Giuliani, former FBI supervisor James Kallstrom (also a vocal Trump supporter), and the leaks that have plagued the Clinton campaign in The Daily Beast. Among the handful of real charitable donations ever made by Trump are some generous payments to a charity headed by Kallstrom — who, like Giuliani, predicted last summer that disgruntled agents might reveal “a lot more of the facts” about the email probe “come out in the next few months.”
Now perhaps those agents — along with Giuliani, Kallstrom, and their friend Donald Trump — don’t understand that there was nothing scandalous, let alone criminal, in Clinton’s decision to use a private email account like her predecessor Colin Powell. Perhaps they don’t understand that Clinton’s handling of “classified” emails — characterized as “extremely careless” by Comey, in one of his departures from normal Justice Department practice — was altogether routine in the federal government, where classification standards vary by department and change often. Perhaps they also don’t understand why Comey found that the evidence showed no bad intent by Clinton or the lawyers who reviewed her emails to delete personal material.
And perhaps they don’t realize why the public integrity professionals at the Justice Department rejected their ridiculous determination to investigate the Clinton Foundation, based on discredited accusations in a book created and publicized by the political extremist who later became the chief executive of Trump’s campaign. (The reported eagerness of federal agents to pursue the canards in that book doesn’t reflect well on their forensic skills, but that’s a different problem.)
It is more likely that the FBI agents involved in this operation do understand why prosecutors — including Comey, a former U. S. attorney and deputy attorney general — but simply don’t care because they are right-wing ideologues with a partisan preference. But that distinction doesn’t matter much, because in either case they have violated their oaths and their duty as federal agents, by seeking to influence this election through leaks.
Leaking investigative material is always a violation of the rules that govern the judicial system — which protect the rights of all citizens. In the days and weeks before an election, violating those rules to achieve a partisan objective is an assault on democracy.
During the last presidential election cycle, Attorney General Eric Holder reminded all employees of the Justice Department, including every FBI agent, of the rules that govern their conduct in a March 2012 memorandum titled “Election Year Sensitivities”:
Simply put, politics must play no role in the decisions of federal investigators or prosecutors regarding any investigations or criminal charges. Law enforcement officers and prosecutors may never select the timing of investigative steps or criminal charges for the purpose of affecting any election, or for the purpose of giving an advantage or disadvantage to any candidate or political party. Such a purpose is inconsistent with the Department’s mission and with the Principles of Federal Prosecution.
That last sentence is mild language for a despicable act. In a police state, prosecutors and police agents seek to direct politics from the shadows. In a democracy, law enforcement officials must never attempt to influence elections. What the rogue agents have done in these past few days is all too similar to the standard practice in Putin’s Russia and other authoritarian states. It is far below the American constitutional standard that those agents swore to uphold.
IMAGE: Former New York mayor Rudolph Giuliani