The FBI is in Trouble

Democracy Examined

After four years of anticipation, the report Donald Trump promised would uncover “the crime of the century” and “treason at the highest level” is finally public. 

The Durham report, released on Monday, concludes Special Counsel John Durham’s inquiry into the origins of the FBI’s investigation of possible collusion between the 2016 Trump campaign and Russian officials. The report largely rehashes already established information, with the left-leaning media dismissing it as nothing new, and the right-leaning media praising it as a succinct account of anti-Trump bias.

More importantly, though, far-right Republicans are using the report to justify defunding, disempowering, or dismantling the FBI––the newest extreme cause threatening to break into the mainstream. 

Members of Congress including Matt Gaetz, Paul Gosar, Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene seized the report as evidence that the FBI must be fundamentally changed. It’s a dangerous proposition, going well beyond what Durham’s report demands and threatening the integrity of an institution that is, by all reasonable accounts, already fairly conservative.

Turning on the FBI

Before Trump burst on the political scene, the FBI had a reputation for being among most conservative agencies in the federal government. In a trend continuing to today, all of the FBI’s directors since its founding under J. Edgard Hoover in 1935 have been Republican-aligned. In 2016 Politico reported on the FBI’s struggle to appear nonpartisan with a largely white, male, and conservative workforce under the direction of Republican Director James Comey as it investigated Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.

Things changed under Trump. The Mueller investigation stressed Trump Republicans’ relationship with the FBI, and the aftermath of the January 6th Insurrection pushed it to a breaking point. Prominent right-wing commentators accused the FBI of orchestrating the insurrection as a false flag operation to entrap honest Americans with the DOJ following up by detaining them as political prisoners. Tucker Carlson was instrumental in building this narrative, explaining in his three-part series on the insurrection, Patriot Purge, that:

“They’ve begun to fight a new enemy in a new war on terror. Not, you should understand, a metaphorical war, but an actual war. Soldiers and paramilitary law enforcement guided by the world’s most powerful intelligence agencies, hunting down American citizens, purging them from society, throwing some of them into solitary confinement.” 

As Carlson laid out to his millions of viewers, the deep state built during the War on Terror is now targeting “legacy Americans,” which is to say white conservatives.

The situation got much worse in August of 2022 after the FBI search of Mar-a-Lago. For really the first time, the crusade against the FBI turned into widespread, concrete calls for political action. Marjorie Taylor Greene tweeted “DEFUND THE FBI!” Rep. Paul Gosar took things a step further, declaring that “we must destroy the FBI.” 

In the months since, the cause has been sustained with the help of Rep. Jim Jordan, chairman of the controversial House Judiciary Select Subcommittee on the Weaponization of the Federal Government. Jordan’s drive is so unwavering that in January he and allies managed to kill a symbolic resolution that moderate Republican House members planned on passing to express their support for law enforcement. Jordan couldn’t stand that the statement didn’t exclude the FBI, which absolutely does not have his support. 

Then this week the Durham report brought new vigor and voices to the cause. On Tuesday Marjorie Taylor Greene introduced Articles of Impeachment against FBI Director Christopher Wray, finally delivering him the treatment she gave to Biden just one day after his inauguration as president.

Replacing the FBI

Importantly, most Republicans in Congress aren’t interested in going to war with the FBI. That doesn’t mean the problem is contained, though, as an influential cohort is making sure the movement gains traction.

The most common proposal to undermine the FBI is to cut its funding, particularly as it relates to investigating domestic terrorism and political crimes. Along with Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene, Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona called for “defunding some of these bad agencies. The FBI. The DOJ.” Rep. Tim Burchett of Tennessee said, “The Congress is this country’s checkbook, and we can start cutting funds to the FBI.” Donald Trump joined the mix, stating that “Republicans in Congress should defund the DOJ and FBI until they come to their senses.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz took things further, calling to “defund and get rid of, abolish the FBI, the CDC, ATF, DOJ, every last one of them if they do not come to heel,” while Paul Gosar continues to want to destroy the FBI outright. Rep. Chris Stewart told Fox viewers last month that Gosar’s idea is gaining traction among Republicans in Congress.

While some of these representatives seem content with simply destroying or weakening the FBI, others are proposing a replacement. Rep. Warren Davidson called on the US Marshals to step in for the FBI, an idea shared by Republican presidential candidate Vivek Ramaswamy who thinks the DOJ and Marshals can step in for an entirely disbanded FBI. 

And for those who are less interested in destroying, replacing, or cutting funding for the FBI, there are always purges. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis tweeted on Monday that the Durham report “reminds us of the need to clean house at these agencies.” What that might look like remains an open question, but it could involve a Republican president invoking Schedule F, the controversial Trump executive order which would reclassify tens of thousands of government workers as political appointees so the president could get rid of them at will.  

The Law Under Threat

The campaign to undermine the FBI is an unambiguous attack on the rule of law, based on the false belief that the FBI is a puppet of the Democrats. As anyone could guess, the historically right-leaning FBI did not suddenly turn liberal in 2016. Instead, Trump turned a law-abiding party into one which is willing to accommodate extremists.

Over his seven years as the face of the Republican party, Trump has normalized crime so thoroughly that his allies in Congress are taking aim at our federal law enforcement to protect themselves and their supporters. If they can’t stop getting in trouble with law enforcement, they’ll try to get rid of it instead.