Several months ago, I received an unlikely tip from a friend. As a private investigator, I assessed the information as “serious” and had no qualms about turning to my former employer and the premier law enforcement organization in the world — the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) — for help.
I called the FBI field office’s main number, and that’s when I heard the recorded answer with a menu option that left me stunned: “If you have information pertaining to the January 6, 2021, insurrection, press number 2.”
I assumed there would be another option soliciting information about the George Floyd riots of 2020. I assumed wrong.
I was taken aback, not only because the FBI has elevated the January 6 matter to the level of a “special” investigation but also because it excluded other violent groups and rioters whose looting, arson and wanton violence resulted in a much higher loss of life and property.
The FBI has perception problems, and this is one reason why.
These problems commenced shortly after President Trump was elected in 2016. There were troubling signs that certain high-ranking officials within the FBI had inappropriately taken sides against the Trump administration by leaking information to the press, lying to the Department of Justice (DOJ) Office of Inspector General under oath, and sending sophomoric and partisan emails to each other (on government time) while peddling the now-infamous Steele dossier’s false narrative.
The fact these FBI officials were eventually disciplined and drummed out of the Bureau only highlighted that a cabal of narcissists could weaponize the FBI and erode its integrity.
My relationship with both Attorney General (AG) Merrick Garland and FBI Director Christopher Wray makes the issue of perception especially poignant to me.
In 1992, as a special agent, I worked with Garland, a fair person who successfully prosecuted a USAID fraud case in Washington, D.C. Now, I hardly recognize the man with whom I once worked. Garland and his DOJ are seen as bullmastiffs loosed upon the current administration’s political opponents.
I met Director Wray once at a meeting with former FBI agents in Los Angeles. He struck me as genuine and committed to the FBI and its mission. I was so impressed with Wray that I attended a recent speech at the Reagan Library where he voiced his concern about overseas threats to our country.
“I’m calling out my former prosecutor, AG Merrick Garland, as well as my former employer and FBI Director, Chris Wray, to say: You have a perception problem.”
Yet, the Director’s FBI — my FBI — have cartoonishly seized property or arrested high-profile Republicans and former Trump administration figures and associates such as Roger Stone, Peter Navarro, and even the “My Pillow” guy, Mike Lindell. They have conducted raids and arrested their middle-aged targets like violent cartel members or terrorists. The show of force employed during these raids and arrests is disproportionate to the threat and can only have one purpose — to intimidate and silence their opponents.
There’s been an ongoing but moot debate whether the FBI placed Navarro, a harmless crotchety septuagenarian and former assistant to President Trump who was charged with contempt of Congress, in leg irons. Whether it’s true or not doesn’t matter — the perception it happened already exists!
As a former FBI agent, it saddens me to hear the talking heads and political pundits in my own party accuse the FBI of being nothing more than a cudgel, even a Gestapo, to beat down their political enemies. But who’s to blame? Is it a stretch to say half the country is afraid of and now fears the DOJ and the FBI? Why are we hearing the FBI should be dismantled? By the way, it shouldn’t be dismantled, but how did we ever arrive at this place?
So I’m calling out my former prosecutor, AG Merrick Garland, as well as my former employer and FBI Director, Chris Wray, to say: You have a perception problem. You might do well to remember the words of the political strategist Lee Atwater: “Perception is reality.” AG Garland, Director Wray, it’s time to address the increasing perception of unfairness within the DOJ and FBI that “justice is no longer blind.”
You owe that much to the citizens of the country you were sworn to protect.
Kenneth R. Strange, Jr., is a former FBI special agent and DOJ Office of Inspector General special agent in charge, current private investigator and author.