The Sunday Edition

The appealing myth that the FBI is independent - Michael's essay

Director James Comey's decision to reopen the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails follows a long tradition of FBI interference in party politics.
U.S. Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton speaks about the FBI inquiry into her emails during a campaign rally in Daytona Beach, Fla., on Oct. 29, 2016. (Brian Snyder/Reuters)
Listen3:28

Americans are forever loyal to the mythologies they grew up with; the American Dream, the winning of the west, the Alamo, the heroics of John Wayne. One of their most enduring myths revolves around the country's secret police, the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Mention the FBI, and you immediately conjure up images of men in white shirts battling John Dillinger and Pretty Boy Floyd in the Thirties, and Commie spies of the Fifties.

In poll after poll, Americans treasure their affections for the FBI, often making it the second most beloved institution in the U.S., just behind the Centres for Disease Control and the military. For example, in the FBI's fight with Apple to unlock the iPhone of the San Bernardino terrorists, more than half the country supported the Bureau.

An especially appealing myth about the FBI is that it is an independent institution above politics. It is supposed to favour no politician, no party, no ideology.

Its ongoing investigations are supposed to be secret and there is a tradition that the Bureau stands mute around election time. Well, all of that bilge was flushed down the bowl a week ago Friday when the Director James Comey wrote to Congress about re-opening the investigation into Hillary Clinton's emails.

FBI Director James Comey (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/Associated Press)

Director Comey was in fact following a long tradition of FBI interference in party politics. The practice and pattern were set by the founder and first director of the FBI, John Edgar Hoover. A serious screwball, Hoover kept files on hundreds of politicians and loved to share tidbits of information, usually salacious, with his political masters.

Writer Tim Weiner, who knows more about the FBI than anybody, wrote this week that for Hoover, "the use of secret information to wound public figures was one of his favourite sports." Hoover wiretapped politicians and civil rights leaders such as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He was not above resorting to blackmail to get his way, and in Weiner's words, using the FBI as an instrument of political warfare.

The only president to stand up to Hoover ever was Harry Truman, who dropped the word "Gestapo", when talking about the Bureau.

During the Watergate crisis of 1972, then-director L. Patrick Gray kept the Nixon White House fully informed on the progress of its investigation. He was forced to resign from the FBI, and in 1978 he was indicted for having approved illegal break-ins during the Nixon administration. Illegal break-ins and illegal wiretaps being important weapons of the FBI from its founding. All charges against Gray were later dropped.

Hillary Clinton, Huma Abedin and Anthony Weiner. (CBC News )

Nobody, including Director Comey, or the Department of Justice, seems to know what is in the Abedin/Weiner emails. With three days to go before the election it really doesn't matter; the damage has been done.

If Director Comey's resignation letter isn't on President-elect Clinton's desk this Wednesday morning, she should fire him in January.    

Click the button above to hear Michael's essay. 

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