Even critics of the deep state were shocked when Inspector General Michael Horowitz submitted his Report investigating the FBI, the U.S. Government’s most iconic bureaucracy. And the corresponding statements by Attorney General William Barr and U.S. Attorney John Durham promised that when the final facts were disclosed, the damage to Washington’s bureaucratic reputation would be even greater.
The hometown Washington Post tried to minimize the bureaucratic failure by emphasizing in its headline that Horowitz found the FBI did pass the minimum bar for beginning an investigation of the 2016 Trump campaign. Even so it could not ignore the IG also reporting that the information given to the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was not accurate or complete and its procedures were flawed. Such applications to the Courts were necessary for the FBI to begin and continue spying on Americans like Carter Page and other campaign officials but Horowitz concluded they contained 17 “significant inaccuracies and omissions” and “failed to meet the basic obligation” to ensure the applications were “scrupulously accurate.”
Indeed, the IG continued, “So many basic and fundamental errors were made by three separate, hand-picked teams on one of the most sensitive FBI investigations that was briefed to the highest levels within the FBI,” it represented a failure of “not only the operational team, but also of the managers and supervisors, including senior officials in the chain of command.”
Barr and Durham even contested whether the FBI met the original minimal standards necessary to begin such a sensitive investigation and, in response to a later Senate hearing questioning Horowitz himself, conceded that other reasonable observers could conclude there was more than simple incompetence in initiating and pursuing the investigation.
The IG established that the FBI “drew almost entirely” upon British spy Christopher Steele’s Democratic-funded dossier to convince the FISC to initiate and sustain the investigation of Page and the campaign. An FBI agent spying on the campaign even recorded Page telling him that the Trump campaign was not “advocating for this kind of activity” because it was “illegal” and “no one does that” in this campaign. Even more, in his FBI interview, the primary Steele source dismissed the facts attributed to him as “misstatements” about his position, merely “hearsay.”
Neither of these facts was disclosed by FBI officials to the FISA court.
Indeed, the FBI was even advised by the CIA that Page had worked for them and therefore had reasons for consorting with the suspicious foreigners who had first provoked suspicion of Page. But the FBI bureaucrats did not report this information to the FISC either, with one FBI lawyer directly lying by actually writing that Page was “not a source.”
This was not the first time for the FBI. In 2002 FISC reported that FBI agents had misled them in 75 cases, and in 2017 produced a dozen pages of errors the FBI made in reports to their courts, procedures criticized widely more than a decade ago. Today, following the recent Report, the FISC has again requested explanations and changes in procedures from the FBI.
But the FBI bureaucracy has been impervious to outside control. It never notified the President and even Director James Comey claimed he delegated matters like FISC submissions to bureau career staff. Career officials from the State Department and military likewise presented almost all of the testimony for the impeachment trial in the House, insisting that their “interagency” bureaucratic professionalism should have set foreign policy rather than the President.
On the same day as the IG report the Post released 2,000 pages of interviews conducted by the office of Inspector General for Afghanistan called “Lessons Learned” that questioned 600 major government officials with firsthand experience in that war and promised confidentiality to get frank answers. For most of the officials, the lessons learned were that the U.S. bureaucracy was confused in its mission in Afghanistan and generally kept its confusion and lack of success from politicians and the president. Today, after 18 years, at a cost of $900 billion, 2,300 U.S military and 3,800 U.S. contractors killed and 20,000 injured, Pentagon bureaucracy expertise was still resisting President Trump’s non-expert desire to cut the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan.
The Federal Reserve bank has long claimed bureaucratic independence from outside control, considering President Trump pushing for lower interest rates threatening to its expert ability to avoid a future economic crisis. It was a minor embarrassment that on the same day as the FBI and Afghanistan news, the former head of the Fed’s research and statistics section David Wilcox admitted to the Wall Street Journal that contrary to the bureaucracy’s bold promises the Fed could do little to solve future economic crashes. “Long term interest rates are already too low by historical standards for [the Fed’s] other tools to be fully capable of delivering the punch that will be needed to meet the next recession.”
In the closing bureaucratic indignity of that newsy day, Hollywood legend Clint Eastwood announced his new movie Richard Jewell documenting the FBI story at the 1996 Summer Olympics. Jewell first alerted police to a backpack-bomb at the scene and helped cordon off the area. After the police were unable to defuse the bomb, killing one and wounding 100, Jewell then assisted the victims. Rather than treating him as a hero, the FBI leaked to the media that Jewell was their suspect for the bombing, initiating a year of hounding by journalists and agents, only ended by volunteer lawyers forcing FBI officers to issue a “no target” letter exonerating Jewell.
With all of these exposures of the deep state bureaucracy, will the swamp be drained? Don’t hold your breath. None of these happenings reported daily here in the capital (but mostly kept quiet elsewhere) has shaken in the slightest the Washington community’s belief in the “scientific administration” supposedly utilized by its centralized bureaucratic career experts to solve all of the nation’s problems. Nobel economist F.A. Hayek called this belief a “superstition” future generations will find impossible to understand in the face of the obvious fact that no matter how secret this is kept from the “deplorables” it simply does not work well.
The people may resent it, the politicians may bark, and the media pontificate, but here in swamp headquarters there is no danger of drainage. The four richest counties in the U.S. are all right here. Indeed, Congress has given us 200,000 new public servants the last few years, all nicely protected from being fired and, as the final news announced that Report day revealed, the new Budget agreement rewarded our bureaucrats the largest new employment benefits in 30 years.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies. He is the author of America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution and Reagan’s Terrible Swift Sword: Reforming and Controlling the Federal Bureaucracy. He served as President Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. He can be followed on Twitter @donalddevineco1