Attorney General William Barr has just shown himself the most courageous and wise justice official in many years. He not only knows his history but is willing to challenge the most powerful force in Washington: the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
In his fascinating interview with CBS News’ Jan Crawford, he recalled how ancient Rome’s Praetorian Guard began as “a protector of government and ended very arrogant,” identifying “the national interest with their own political preferences,” feeling that “anyone who has a different opinion, you know, is somehow an enemy of the state,” an arrogance leading ultimately to taking power from the lawful chief executive.
When Crawford asked if a Praetorian Guard mentality existed in the FBI and intelligence agencies during the 2016 election, he replied this needs to be “carefully looked at because the use of foreign intelligence capabilities and counterintelligence capabilities against an American political campaign to me is unprecedented and it’s a serious red line that’s been crossed.”
“It’s just as dangerous to the continuation of self-government and our republican system that we not allow government power, law enforcement or intelligence power, to play a role in politics, to intrude into politics, and affect elections.”
Why is speaking this way so rare among today’s public officials? The answer is simple. Everyone active in Washington politics fears what the FBI and to a lesser extent the intelligence agencies can reveal. They have the potential to know everything.
Allegedly without merit, they wiretapped Carter Page for a year.
Barr even confronted the media as supposedly “the watchdogs” of “our civil liberties” but “not seeming to think that it’s worth looking into,” now including ignoring the Crawford interview, with some honorable exceptions.
The Attorney General affixed the main blame to “a small group at the top” of the FBI, the “executives at the senior level,” from “headquarters.”
"I’m not suggesting that people did what they did necessarily because of conscious, nefarious motives. Sometimes people can convince themselves that what they’re doing is in the higher interest, the better good. They don’t realize that what they’re doing is really antithetical to the democratic system that we have. They start viewing themselves as the guardians of the people that are more informed and insensitive than everybody else. They can — in their own mind, they can have those kinds of motives. And sometimes they can look at evidence and facts through a biased prism that they themselves don’t realize."
Barr’s is a very perceptive view of much of the Washington bureaucracy, thinking of themselves as guardians of the uninformed and uncaring public so they must act in its stead. Indeed, this is the foundation of Progressivism from intellectuals Woodrow Wilson and John Dewey to this very day putting bureaucratic experts over elected officials in the peoples’ name.
At one time, the FBI was limited, even under the young J. Edgar Hoover, with a narrow grant of power and so had to tread lightly even just entering the jurisdiction of local officials. Its scope of operations increased against Nazi sympathizers in World War II and communists and this did control true subversives but it also led into spying on civil rights and labor union activities, although the scope of operations remained mostly limited.
It was not until the Hobbs Act of 1946 that the commerce clause was stretched to justify national taking control of state labor union oversight which was broadened to general FBI supervision of state and local police and other officials to control “public corruption.” This ended the balance between national and state officials and gave the FBI the dominant hand over internal policing, producing its arrogance.
The challenge today even for an Attorney General is his reliance upon the Praetorians to investigate and reform themselves when they do not have the balancing power limiting them as generally exists in the U.S. Constitutional design. At a minimum, the FBI counterintelligence and information investigations functions should be separated as many have argued for years. The more federalist balance should aim directly at the arrogance and either return corruption supervision of locals to states or give the power to states to investigate FBI corruption.
Barr knew what he was up against by telling Crawford, “I realize we live in a crazy hyper-partisan period of time and I knew that it would only be a matter of time if I was behaving responsibly and calling them as I see them” because today many people “don’t care about the merits and the substance. They only care about who it helps, who benefits, whether my side benefits or the other side benefits, everything is gauged by politics.”
So now the Democrats have cited him but one serious man remains in Washington standing up to the media and mass mob and we should appreciate William Barr for this rare courage.
Donald Devine is senior scholar at the Fund for American Studies. He is the author of "America’s Way Back: Reclaiming Freedom, Tradition, and Constitution" and "Reagan’s Terrible Swift Sword: Reforming and Controlling the Federal Bureaucracy." He served as President Reagan’s director of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. He can also be followed on Twitter @donalddevineco1. For more of his reports, Go Here Now.
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