In the near-decade I spent with the FBI training senior law enforcement officials around the world on how to combat corruption, there were always two key points I tried to impart. First, never stop with the low hanging fruit when addressing law enforcement corruption. Second, remember that the greatest indicator of systemic corruption within a government is when a country’s law enforcement is intentionally used as a political weapon.
Unfortunately, the FBI has work to do when it comes to both of these principles. In the year ahead, Director Christopher Wray should resolve to take back the bureau’s reputation.
FBI agents, particularly those who work public corruption investigations, are uniquely positioned to understand better than most that politics is a dishonest game of manipulation. Law enforcement should never allow itself to be lowered into that abyss. Jim Comey, Andrew McCabe, Peter Strzok, Lisa Page and others have cast a dark cloud over the FBI, making the line between politics and law enforcement nearly indistinguishable.
Before the FBI can move forward with their rehabilitation, it must take an honest inventory of the events leading to its public relations descent. First were the three blows of imprudence by James Comey. Within a single year, Comey assigned Andrew McCabe, the spouse of a then-recently failed candidate for Virginia state government, to the number two position in the FBI, charged with authority over public corruption investigations; gave an epoch-making press conference announcing the FBI would not pursue charges against Hillary Clinton; and told Congress days before the presidential election that the FBI was reviewing newly-acquired emails relevant to the Hillary Clinton investigation.
Second was a failure to provide timely accountability. McCabe, Strzok, and Page were eventually removed from the halls of the FBI, but it took too long. Page resigned on her own many months after she and Strzok were outed for exchanging politically charged text messages on FBI phones, while Strzok was fired about a year after the revelation of their misdeeds. McCabe was released from service less than two days before he was set to retire, but the allegations of lying under oath to cover up his malfeasance have left lingering questions of possible criminal charges. The FBI failed to send a message to those inside and outside the agency that even the appearance of conducting a prejudicial investigation was grossly unacceptable and would be punished swiftly.
Third, James Comey had a perpetual need to defend himself at the expense of the FBI. Though he has a First Amendment right to say what he wants, his engagement in politically charged ad hominem attacks further damages the reputation of the FBI and does even less to convince the world he led objectively. As the former director, his very public political posturing undermines the work of those who serve at the FBI. Leadership within the intel and law enforcement community serve the country best when they remain above the fray of party politics during and after service. Someone within the FBI who remains close to James Comey might best appeal to his more prudent side and ask that he go quietly into the night, so the men and women of the FBI can get back to work.
There is little outside the FBI that Director Christopher Wray can do to change public perception, but there is much he can do within the FBI to ensure none of this happens again. Unfortunately, Wray must pay for the sins of his father, or in this case the previous director. If he wants better for the agency, then he must never forget what brought it to its knees. He must lead from the front and commit himself to changing the culture at the highest levels; he must practice what he preaches; and he must emanate strength, conviction, the highest ethical standards, and humility. Agents often joke that when they retire, they will be forgotten just as soon as they walk out the door; and that’s just fine with them. The FBI needs a director right now who feels exactly the same way.
Leonardo da Vinci once said, “It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.” Now is the time for the accomplished men and women in the FBI to take back their hard-earned reputation as the premier law enforcement agency of the land. In 2019, Director Wray must resolve to do just that.
Jeff Cortese (@JeffreyCortese) served as acting chief of the FBI’s Public Corruption Unit before becoming financial crimes manager in the private sector. Prior to his 11-year career with the bureau, he worked as a dignitary protection agent with the U.S. Capitol Police and served on the security detail for the Speaker of the House.
The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.