June 28, 2017


How Donald Trump Misunderstood the F.B.I. : Since Watergate, the bureau has come to view itself as an essential, and essentially independent, check on the president. (TIM WEINERJUNE 27, 2017, NY Times Magazine)

''I take the president at his word -- that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,'' James Comey, the former F.B.I. director, said in June, testifying before the Senate Intelligence Committee a month after his abrupt dismissal from his post by the president. Comey was referring to the account Trump gave in an NBC interview on May 11 -- and Comey fought back on the rest of the story as Trump told it. Trump, he said, ''chose to defame me and, more importantly, the F.B.I. by saying that the organization was in disarray, that it was poorly led, that the work force had lost confidence in its leader. Those were lies, plain and simple.''

Trump, Comey said, had asked his F.B.I. director for his loyalty -- and that seemed to shock Comey the most. The F.B.I.'s stated mission is ''to protect the American people and uphold the Constitution of the United States'' -- not to protect the president. Trump seemed to believe Comey was dutybound to do his bidding and stop investigating the recently fired national security adviser, Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn. ''The statue of Justice has a blindfold on because you're not supposed to be peeking out to see whether your patron is pleased or not with what you're doing,'' Comey said. ''It should be about the facts and the law.''

Trump might have been less confused about how Comey saw his job if he had ever visited the F.B.I. director in his office. On his desk, under glass, Comey famously kept a copy of a 1963 order authorizing Hoover to conduct round-the-clock F.B.I. surveillance of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. It was signed by the young attorney general, Robert F. Kennedy, after Hoover convinced John F. Kennedy and his brother that King had Communists in his organization -- a reminder of the abuses of power that had emanated from the desk where Comey sat.

'What do you do when you're mugged by the president of the United States?'
One of history's great what-ifs is whether the Watergate investigation would have gone forward if Hoover hadn't died six weeks before the break-in. When Hoover died, Nixon called him ''my closest personal friend in all of political life.'' Along with Senator Joseph McCarthy, they were the avatars of anti-Communism in America. Hoover's F.B.I. was not unlike what Trump seems to have imagined the agency still to be: a law-enforcement apparatus whose flexible loyalties were bent to fit the whims of its director.

Posted by at June 28, 2017 9:45 AM