- Republican Rep. Louis Gohmert asked FBI Director Chris Wray about the “political bias” of specific federal agents during an open hearing on Thursday.
- The question stemmed from recent reports that an agent who worked on the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team before being removed in August sent texts last year that could be perceived as anti-Trump.
- To some, however, Gohmert’s question seemed like a “political test” meant to gauge the bureau’s loyalty to the Trump administration.
A Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee left several observers stunned on Thursday when he read off a list of names of agents to the FBI director and asked him to disclose their political biases.
“As you’re aware, Deputy Director McCabe was involved in highly charged political cases that have been controversial due to his political leanings,” Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert said.
He was presumably referring to the involvement of the deputy director, Andrew McCabe, in the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.
McCabe’s wife ran for a seat in Virginia’s Senate in 2015 and received nearly $US500,000 from a political action committee affiliated with Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has ties to the Clintons.
“I want to ask you if you are aware of any other senior FBI executives that are aligned with McCabe’s political views?” Gohmert said.
“I’m not aware of any senior FBI executives who are allowing improper political considerations to affect their work with me right now,” FBI Director Christopher Wray replied.
“I’m going to ask about specific executives, some of whom have been promoted by McCabe within the last few years,” Gohmert said. “Are you aware of any of the following people openly aligning themselves with the political bias expressed by McCabe or openly speaking against this administration?”
Gohmert named five FBI officials, asking Wray whether they had expressed “political bias against the Trump administration.”
Wray said he had not witnessed any outward bias from the four whom he had interacted with directly.
The notion that FBI agents could be subject to political tests from another branch of government unnerved several observers and former employees.
Asha Rangappa, a former FBI counterintelligence agent, called it “totally inappropriate.”
“We’ve never had ‘political tests’ for civil servants,” she said on Thursday. “It’s worth noting that every agent undergoes an intensive background check that screens for political biases in order to ensure that the prospective agent can look past their own political identity and pursue investigations objectively.”
Among those pushing the idea that the bureau has become a bastion for left-wing, pro-Clinton law-enforcement officials and whose reputation was left in “tatters” by the former FBI director James Comey is President Donald Trump.
“So General Flynn lies to the FBI and his life is destroyed, while Crooked Hillary Clinton, on that now famous FBI holiday ‘interrogation’ with no swearing in and no recording, lies many times…and nothing happens to her?” Trump tweeted on Saturday night, referring to Flynn’s guilty plea last week.
“Rigged system, or just a double standard?” Trump said.
Trump’s argument gained steam amid news that an agent on the special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 election sent text messages last year that could be perceived as anti-Trump.
That agent, Peter Strzok, also reportedly watered down the language Comey used when he announced that the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton over her use of a private email server.
Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team in August and reassigned to the bureau’s human-resources department, but it had been unclear why until earlier this week.
“Agents, like any other person, have political opinions,” Rangappa said. “The difference is that we now have technology that memorializes people’s thoughts through texts, tweets, and emails.”
Scott Olson, a recently retired FBI agent who spent 20 years at the bureau, said in a recent interview that “all political opinions are well represented in the ranks of FBI employees.”
“And the debates over coffee and lunch are the same as anywhere else,” he added.
Rangappa said Republicans’ attempts to discredit the Russia investigation by emphasising the political leanings of Mueller’s team could backfire if a Democrat were to be investigated and point to the bureau’s reputation as a politically conservative organisation as a reason the probe should not be taken seriously.
“The FBI investigators who are working on any given day will probably be mostly politically conservative,” Rangappa said, drawing from her interactions with agents under President George W. Bush. “So the Republicans need to think carefully about the precedent they’re setting.”
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