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Donald Trump is not attacking the FBI, even as he attacks the FBI
There is something purposely inaccurate about how some in certain media circles are attempting to frame the "battle royale" ongoing between the president of the United States and the world's premier law enforcement agency - the FBI.
Let's be clear. Donald Trump's considerable ego is at war with those who dare to imply the Russians helped him defeat Hillary Clinton in November of 2016. This has led him to square off against the FBI director he fired this past May, James B. Comey, Jr., who oversaw the early stages of the Russia collusion investigation.
Comey's relief in place thrust Deputy Director Andrew G. McCabe into the acting director position until Christopher Wray, Trump's handpicked successor to Comey, was confirmed by the Senate and sworn in back in August.
McCabe was no stranger to public scrutiny. He had been roundly criticized in right wing media circles once it was revealed this his wife, Dr. Jill McCabe, a one-time candidate for state office in Virginia, had taken a sizable campaign contribution from a political action committee affiliated with Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe (D) - a longtime ally of Bill and Hillary Clinton. McCabe had failed to recuse himself until late in the Clinton private server email investigation.
Revelations like this fuel Trump and impulsively prompt him to attack the current special prosecutor, Robert S. Mueller III, who was Comey's predecessor at the bureau. Mueller's appointment was once heralded by both sides of the political divide when he assumed the independent position ten days following Comey's firing.
What infuriated Trump and the right wing most was the fact that Mueller's selection was made a day following Mueller's job interview with Trump for the top position at the bureau, and with the knowledge that Mueller has had a long, personal relationship with Comey.
The apparent tone deafness from Mueller, who is by all accounts shrewd D.C. tactician, is surprising. He's compounded the doubts some have in the process by assembling a seemingly stacked prosecution team, rife with democratic party donors - including some who contributed to Clinton's presidential run and actually served as counsel for the Clinton Global Initiative. Not one of his team donated to Trump.
And then, a bizarre double down on an increasingly one-sided special prosecution team with the discovery that Mueller's top lieutenant, Andrew Weissmann - referred to by the New York Times as "Mueller's Legal Pit Bull"- lauded then Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for openly defying Trump during his administration's original foray into implementation of a travel ban.
And all this, of course, before the bombshell revelation that two senior FBI executives, Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok and one-time counsel to McCabe, Lisa Page, an FBI lawyer, had shared private text messages on a government device in which they denigrated candidate Trump and professed support for Clinton. The most damning of the 375 exchanged texts released by DOJ, spoke of an "insurance policy" ostensibly to prevent Trump from accessing the Oval Office, and referenced as having been discussed in "Andy's office" (McCabe?)
Former DOJ lawyer Andrew C. McCarthy (no relation), writing for National Review, opines that the devalued "dossier" might have been the insurance policy that Strzok and Page were referencing.
Then it's discovered that a senior DOJ official, Bruce G. Ohr has been demoted due to concealing that he had met with those behind the infamous "dossier." It was later learned that his wife held a position at the firm that compiled it, Fusion GPS.
The Clinton campaign famously paid for the lurid details contained in the since widely discredited opposition research. And some - including Congressman Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) - have publically posited that the "dossier" was used to secure FISA warrants to then spy on the Trump campaign.
In the immortal words of Arsenio Hall, these are things that can fairly make a reasonable person go "Hmmm..."
So Trump has taken to utilizing his favorite means of weaponized communiqué, Twitter, to chastise, scold, mock, malign, and admonish, in varying degrees, the aforementioned public servants.
His most loathsome recent attack was aimed at McCabe, whom he crassly accused of "running out the clock" until retirement.
McCabe, like Comey, Mueller, Strzok, Page, Ohr, Weissmann, et al, are all adults. They knew what they were signing up for. They'll be fine.
But it's important to make a distinction between the president's clumsy attacks against them, and the bureau itself.
Does anyone truly believe that Trump is attacking the 35,000-plus FBI employees? When the POTUS tweets that the FBI is "in tatters" or that its reputation is the "worst in history," is he aiming his ire and disappointment at the rank and file?
One word: No.
So, please, don't conflate what clearly appears to be the president's social media animus aimed at certain compromised senior level FBI executives with the FBI as an entity.
I am no fan of Trump, and I should be one of the "aggrieved." And I'm not.
The president, along with innumerable others, are fairly alarmed at what may be occurring on the seventh floor executive suites within FBI headquarters. Yesterday, I even listened to former colleagues of mine, retired FBI Assistant Directors Tom Fuentes on CNN, and Chris Swecker on FOX, make the exact same points. Changes need to be made at FBI headquarters. And it has zero to do with how cases are investigated in the field.
So we have joined a chorus of retired FBI voices and press-restricted onboard employees that have squarely placed the blame for the FBI's diminished reputation on questionable senior leader decisions. The FBI has long pledged fealty to simply following the evidence, investigating potential federal crimes, bereft of fear or favor.
But here we are.
The"Trump vs. FBI" conflagration has resulted in a sharp increase of donations to the FBI Agents Association - some 2,000 this month, totaling over $140,000. This largesse will aid charity causes that include providing for the children of slain FBI Agents. Yet, in an agency that eschews accusations of its politicization, the Association could almost ironically be viewed as "fundraising" off this "war."
But, let's carefully clarify the "combatants" in this current melee. And let's be fair.
So we're all clear: Donald Trump is not attacking the FBI, even as he attacks the FBI.
James A. Gagliano is a CNN law enforcement analyst and retired FBI supervisory special agent. He also serves as an adjunct assistant professor at St. John's University and is a leadership consultant at the Thayer Leader Development Group (TLDG) at his alma mater, the United States Military Academy at West Point. Follow him on Twitter @JamesAGagliano.