Good column from Holman Jenkins last Friday. Federal law enforcement feels a great deal more politicized to me than when I was a younger man.
Excerpts from Trust but Verify’ Applies to the FBI:
Federal law enforcement did not cover itself in glory—again—in the just-concluded trial of Noor Salman, wife of the Pulse nightclub mass murderer in Orlando, Fla.
A judge scolded prosecutors during the trial for withholding exculpatory evidence. At her original bail hearing, the FBI had relied on a confession, extracted from Ms. Salman in an 11-hour interrogation, that she had helped Omar Mateen scope out the gay nightclub in advance of the shooting. As was subsequently revealed, the FBI was already in possession of cellphone location data that contradicted her claim. Other evidence also cast doubt on the confession, which the FBI failed to record or sustain with circumstantial proof. Ms. Salman was acquitted.
Happily, the malpractice here was less consequential than in the thrown-out corruption conviction of the late Sen. Ted Stevens. It was less brazen than the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s manufacture of fake statistical evidence of racial bias in auto lending or the questionable federal and state asset seizures that keep coming to light.
The Noor outcome may not be flattering to the FBI, but it should be flattering to America. Holding law enforcement accountable is the best refutation of the authoritarian temptation, with its mocking of our insistence on due process, elections and respect for individual rights.
So skepticism, leavened with a certain understanding, is required in the clash between individual rights and the police. This is about to become especially true in the mother of all cases, the FBI’s role in the 2016 election.
We’ve already learned a few unsettling things. Trump associates Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos were treated in unforgiving fashion for lies that may not have been lies, whereas the FBI practically conspired with Hillary Clinton and her aides to make sure their truth-shading was overlooked. The FBI’s use of evidence to win a Carter Page surveillance order appears to have been every bit as disingenuous as that used by prosecutors in the Noor Salman bail hearing.
Political bias or simply toadying to the party in power may turn out to have been a factor, but we are likely to hear a great deal about what top law-enforcement officials believed, rather than knew, about Donald Trump.
But another lesson also applies in such a world. All presidents face opponents who seek to make sure they deliver as little as possible even when delivering would be good for the country. Mr. Trump came to the presidency with too much baggage that his opposition could use against him. That’s something Mr. Trump’s voters and party should have thought about before nominating him.