Strzok, the FBI, and Bias
Peter Strzok asks us to give him a pass based on the contention that everyone has political beliefs, everyone has biases, and he’s no different, except, okay, as an FBI agent his obligation is to be scrupulous, even fanatical, about not acting on those biases, which he did not, he claims. Therefore, he met every obligation to his sworn duty. However implausible that might be, considering the brutal intensity of his anti-Trump feelings as well as the almost obsessive frequency with which he gave vent to them (on FBI computers, no less), let’s take him at his word: Yes, he had biases, but, no, he didn’t act on them, at least not in a way detectable by the Inspector General, apparently, and, hence, where’s the problem?
But there’s another element to this bias-business. It’s not just about having them and acting on them, yes or no -- it’s also about forming them, and that’s being lost in the shuffle, it seems.
Take the issue of Trump’s disrespecting of gold-star father, Khizr Khan, an episode which Strzok pointedly hauled out at the hearing. Nothing Strzok said in his testimony was offered without extreme consideration and, no doubt, lawyerly advice, so why bring up Khan, in particular? Clearly, it’s because the rendition of that event as framed by the anti-Trump left and swallowed whole by Strzok paints a picture so egregious, so utterly without justification, and, they believe, so revelatory of Trump’s deficient, repellant character that no one could possible argue otherwise or fail to see it in the same way. Since we all agree on its awfulness, Strzok is convinced, surely we can empathize with his inability to temper his late night missive, exhausted as he was from fighting the good fight for the American people all day, weighed down with the burden of having to diligently maintain his objectivity in the face of this kind of repulsive behavior by one of the candidates. Surely, in light of that, we can forgive him an intemperate outburst, especially because, again, again, again, he didn’t act on it.
But wait -- there is another side to that story that doesn’t have to do with disrespecting Khan, delegitimizing his heartrending grief, or exploiting his son’s tragic death, but which does, instead, endeavor to point out that the locus of who’s really doing the exploiting should perhaps be up for discussion, which was precisely the point of Trump’s remark. Now, you don’t have to agree or disagree with either side of that, but you can choose to do so -- unless you’re an FBI agent likely to be in a position to influence the lives of people touched by it, one way or the other. Doesn’t an FBI agent have a greater duty to work hard to “keep an open mind”? Was it really okay for Strzok to immediately embrace the politicized version of that event, fly off the handle and fulminate with righteous indignation -- and then set about investigating one of the parties involved? Is Strzok unaware that all kinds of people say all kinds of things in the political rough-and-tumble and that sorting it out not only takes a lot of work -- but is a job best left to the American people at large?
With all the power granted to the FBI, all the trust in their fairness, the spirit of objectivity, not just the letter of it, must surely include a requirement that they make a good faith effort to stand back from the punchbowl, truly so and emotionally so, in order to maintain as clear a head and as clear a heart as possible. Grant the benefit of the doubt, reserve judgment, refuse to be enveloped by the noise and the jostling --- and only then wield that enormous power to affect peoples’ lives, either positively or, quite possibly, ruinously. If you don’t have the bias, you don’t have to work so hard not to act on it. Why did Strzrok and the rest seem to feel absolutely no obligation to avoid forming the opinions that they now have to tortuously (and, frankly, ridiculously) claim didn’t influence them?
Think about this insightful tweet from Kimberley Strassel (WSJ):
On the question of Strzok's bias and whether we should believe he didn't act on it. The question every American should ask is this: How would you feel if he'd expressed such disgust toward you, and was also investigating you?
Here’s how you would feel: You would feel screwed, in major danger and very much in the presence of an enemy out to get you -- even if for no other reason than to validate the opinions they went in with (and which, in the case of Strzok, he spent endless emails posturing for his girlfriend about). You would have grave doubts about your chances of being treated fairly. And guess what? Human nature being what it is, you would be right.
The question of whether Strzok, Page, Comey, McCabe and the rest were able to “put their biases aside” is actually secondary, because no one with any common sense at all, or any experience with the way people actually operate, believes they did, including all the Democrats doing everything they can to disrupt the hearing, throw a blockade around Strzok, and prevent the truth from coming out. The real question is: What is the FBI going to do to make sure that in the future, agents understand their obligation to fairness begins way before the point when they have allowed themselves to become so overburdened with opinions, prejudgements, and biases that they have to figure out how to conduct themselves honorably despite the looming influence of entrenched and emotionally significant baggage. Real fealty to their oath begins with the application of serious, honorable due-diligence to prevent those things from forming in the first place. It’s not that hard. You just have to remember Momma’s admonition that “There are two sides to every story” and avoid the temptation to indulge in the kind of delicious, holier-than-thou finger pointing, grandstanding and virtue-signaling (looking at you, Peter Strzok) -- all those things that can lead to bias -- that those of us who don’t have other peoples’ lives in our hands are allowed to engage in, but which FBI agents surely should not. Wouldn’t it be nice if FBI Director Christopher Wray made that point to his troops?
Henry Scanlon is a writer and photographer from Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida. See more at www.henryscanlon.com. Twitter: hscanlon33