President Trump’s incessant attacks on current and former F.B.I. agents are destroying morale at the nation’s premier law enforcement agency. Further, newly minted F.B.I. Director Christopher Wray is under constant pressure from the White House and the president’s allies in congress to purge the agency of Comey loyalists and other Obama holdovers of questionable pedigree.
“Current and former F.B.I. officials say Mr. Trump’s criticisms, and those of normally supportive Republican members of Congress, have damaged morale in some quarters of the bureau,” they write, adding that “senior agents have expressed fear that if their names appear in the media, they will be singled out for attack by politicians.”
President Trump launched his assault on the F.B.I. and the Justice Department in general soon after he took office, though he’s been mostly careful to avoid mentioning the bureau by name. The first barrage came on March 4th, when he tweeted, “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!”
Most other tweets and statements have been general complaints about Robert Mueller and the ongoing investigations by the special counsel and congress into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia to steal the 2016 presidential election for Trump.
But that changed in early December, when news broke that Robert Mueller, a former F.B.I. director himself, had to remove an F.B.I. agent from his investigation in August because he he had sent anti-Trump text messages to his mistress during the campaign. Since then, the attacks by the president and his allies in the right wing media have grown much more pointed, peaking with this tweet from the commander in chief:
After years of Comey, with the phony and dishonest Clinton investigation (and more), running the FBI, its reputation is in Tatters – worst in History! But fear not, we will bring it back to greatness.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 3, 2017
President Trump rightly took heat for this blunt attack on the FBI, and his White House went into damage control mode to try to walk back the tweet.
Deputy White House press secretary Raj Shah released a statement to try to clarify what he says the president meant, but he only made things worse.
“The President believes politically motivated senior leaders, including former director Comey and others he empowered, have tainted the agency’s reputation for unbiased pursuit of justice,” Shah’s statement reads. “The President appointed Chris Wray because he is a man of true character and integrity, and the right choice to clean up the misconduct at the highest levels of the F.B.I. and give the rank-and-file confidence in their leadership.”
No “misconduct,” however, has been established, certainly not to the level that requires “cleaning up.” That statement can only be interpreted as one that confirms the President believes he needs to purge F.B.I. leadership. Based on the interrogation congressional Republicans forced Deputy District Attorney Rod Rosenstein to endure on December 13th, the pressure on Wray appears to be coming from all quarters.
But Wray isn’t acting fast enough for the president, according to the New York Times. “In private conversations, Mr. Trump has groused that Mr. Wray has not swiftly removed people whom he perceives as loyal to Mr. Comey,” Goldman and Haberman write.
What’s becoming crystal clear is that the president will never feel safe as long as there are people around him who refuse to profess their unconditional loyalty to him – the law be damned.