How Do We Regain Trust in the FBI?

Newsmax released an article this week that gives voice to further distrust of America’s once-premiere law enforcement agency. The column was based on a series of questions and concerns presented by Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL) regarding the still murky details around the January 6th storming of the Capitol building. Two questions lobbed at the FBI are both haunting and disheartening:

“What did the FBI know? And when did they know it?”

The fact that the agency responsible for investigating the lawlessness of that date is itself under scrutiny is alarming. Regardless of how one feels about Americans -- patriots or paid agitators -- entering the Capitol building illegally is not germane to the questions surrounding the supposedly objective pursuit of justice by sworn law enforcement officers. Gaetz’s most damning volley came when he suggested the FBI is no longer acting under the auspices of their original mission and has taken the dubious position of engaging in political policing. If remotely true, it would seem to represent the final nail in the coffin for any chance at repairing the integrity of a federal investigative agency.

And that sentiment is not solely the domain of the congressman from Florida. A Pew Research study released last month demonstrated a sharp decline in trust in the government from a high of seventy-seven percent in 1964 to a low that has remained under twenty-five percent since 2007. If three-quarters of Americans have spent the last fourteen years distrusting the government at large, what does that say about the agencies entrusted with justice and public safety? Former FBI Director James Comey attempted to lay the mistrust at President Trump’s doorstep. Perhaps, Slim Jim should have waited for the Pew Research findings before running his mouth again. The data show the Truth Train left the station ten years before Forty-Five took office.

Focusing solely on the FBI, investigative journalist Sharyl Attkisson released a poll on her website in January 2020 asking respondents about their level of trust in the federal agency. Her query came on the heels of yet another “misstep” for federal agents (that time, it was the wiretapping misconduct). While the scientific accuracy of her polling is unknown -- and her audience is likely skewed towards one ideology over another -- the results were stark. Sixty percent of respondents had less trust in the FBI than before the scandal became public. Thirty-eight percent had no confidence in the agency whatsoever. Even generously assuming that Attkisson’s target audience represents only skeptics, when ninety-eight percent of any reasonably-sized group has little to no trust in the agency tasked with federal criminal investigations, it portends a problem that may be beyond fixable.

Trust in the FBI is built on two premises. The first is whether they merit trustworthiness through the objectivity -- or lack thereof -- of their investigative practices. The second is their inseparable link to the federal government in general. Admittedly, the agency can only control the outcome of the first premise. Still, when federal agents do not compartmentalize their own politics and beliefs while on the job, they obviously leave themselves open to questions about their motives. It speaks to a more significant problem that some in the media are hinting at but not addressing directly. Meanwhile, Leftist progressives continue to write fantasy-fiction-becomes-reality with ideas to split large Blue states into smaller Blue states while adding even more Blue states in places like Washington D.C. and Puerto Rico. The link between the destruction of republicanism (small “r”), the rise of globalism (read: socialism), and the FBI may not seem apparent at first.

If FBI agents and overlords are acting on political motives, it stands to reason they have an end goal in mind. That end goal, regardless of its specific nature, is part and parcel of the declining trust in the agency. They are not “brownshirts.” They do not currently function as a Stasi. The parallel between all things Nazi or postwar Germany and modern times is a tired trope rife with low-hanging fruit. The more appropriate comparison is “The People’s Commissariat of Internal Affairs,” otherwise known as the NKVD. It’s essential to understand the Soviet NKVD was initially tasked with “regular” police work when created in 1917. Lenin and his pals were savvy enough to recognize their new agency had to appear legitimate after the Soviet revolution.

The parallel between the FBI and the NKVD is not a straight line -- at least, not yet. At the same time, looking at the chronology of when Americans suddenly lost faith in their government (2007), an eerie set of circumstances predate the decline in trust. The first development that hastened the consolidation of power and authority in federal agencies like the FBI was the Patriot Act of 2001. It paved the way for expanded police powers in the name of public safety. Unfortunately, it created an institutional environment where Americans and foreigners on American soil could be eyed as less-than-square sorts who need not have access to all their inalienable liberties because…terrorism. The second development came directly from the mouth of then-FBI director Robert Mueller in a 2006 address to a congressional subcommittee. Director Mueller bragged the FBI is “a stronger organization, combining greater capabilities.” His bravado did not stop there. At the end of his lengthy address, Mueller again highlighted the “many accomplishments” of his agency and their direct financial blessing from the subcommittee.

Yes, terrorism was an existential threat. It remains a threat to varying degrees despite the increased police powers afforded to federal agencies. Ben Franklin would almost certainly shake his head at how easily Americans gave up some of their liberties in the name of public safety. Franklin might even say, “I told you so,” as the threat -- perceived or actual -- has not been eliminated though the very federal agencies tasked with doing so have more power and money at their disposal than before any such terrorist attacks began.

And all of this implies that Representative Gaetz’s questions are irrelevant if there is no accountability for the FBI in particular and the federal government in general. What does it matter what the agents knew if they won’t be made to answer for possible crimes? The same is true of when they knew it.

Trust in the FBI cannot be regained until there is a reckoning. That can only come through accountability for bad actors. If an Average Joe breaks the law, he can reasonably assume that law enforcement will not stop searching for him until he is caught and arrested. The same standard doesn’t apply to uber-protected federal agents and their rulers. That group gets to use their positions to conduct political witch hunts. Until the only witches that are hunted are of the criminal kind, trust in the system and those sworn to enforce its rules will remain elusive.

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