December 16, 2019
Once again, Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz has concluded that despite the falsehoods and omissions — most notably in the FBI’s application for a wiretap on then presidential candidate Donald Trump aide Carter Page — such actions did not reflect an institutional bias against Trump.
A year and a half ago in another report, Horowitz came to similar conclusions. Despite the actions of former FBI head James Comey that clearly influenced the 2016 presidential election, Horowitz concluded there was no institutional bias against either Trump or his Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton.
In short, Horowitz understands his boundaries. While it’s safe to criticize individuals for mistakes and missteps, the institution — the FBI itself — must be protected.
Flawed individuals create a flawed organization and the FBI is certainly that. The nation’s most powerful law enforcement agency is also the most dangerous. Start with the Bureau’s longtime director J. Edgar Hoover with his illegal wiretaps and black bag jobs, who was probably the nation’s most evil public servant. A succession of presidents understood what he was about but none had courage to fire him because of what he might reveal about them.
So many Bureau investigations that have become public have been flawed. Take its failure to heed the pre-9/11 warnings of field agent Coleen Rowley about Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the 9/11 airplane hijackers. His flight school trainers notified Rowley that Moussaoui wanted to learn only to fly but showed no interest in how to land. Rowley notified FBI headquarters in Washington. Nobody listened. She ultimately retired.
Nor has the Bureau explained how a planeload of Saudis — (Remember that virtually all the 9/11 terrorists were Saudis) — was able to secretly leave the country before agents could question them.
Or take the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. Russian intelligence had provided the FBI with information about one of the two bomber brothers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The Bureau checked him out, then signed off without notifying local law enforcement, who could have followed up.
Unfortunately, there was no working relationship between the FBI and local authorities in Massachusetts. This was because, for two decades, the FBI had protected Whitey Bulger, a serial killer, in its misguided attempt to destroy the local Italian mob. The Bureau line was that only two errant agents were involved with Bulger. In fact, numerous supervisors from Washington signed off on him.
As for Horowitz, he is no stranger to these pages. Twenty-five years ago, as an assistant U.S. attorney in Manhattan, he led the feds’ corruption investigation into the 30th precinct, what was known as the Dirty Thirty. His federal bosses, in a jurisdictional spat with then-Manhattan D.A. Robert Morgenthau, sought numbers and Horowitz provided them. He first indicted the most serious malefactors, drug-dealing cops, then flipped them to turn on lower-level cops for lesser and, in some cases, minor crimes. In all, 36 cops were convicted, to say nothing of collateral damage to the NYPD: two precinct suicides plus a rookie cop who locked himself in the precinct bathroom with his gun to his throat before top brass talked him out.
It will be interesting to see what conclusions Attorney General William Barr and his assistant John Durham draw from the same facts Horowitz used to conclude there was no evidence to support institutional Bureau bias against Trump. My guess is that it will not be pretty.