An open letter to the FBI agent who resigned because of Trump

Until recently Josh Campbell was an FBI special agent. He was appointed in 2008 and stationed in the Los Angeles field office. He also once served as a special assistant to James ComeyJames Brien ComeyDershowitz: Trump's lawyers could force Rosenstein to recuse himself from Mueller probe New York Times defends bombshell Rosenstein report Donald Trump’s Rosenstein dilemma MORE. He is now most well known for a New York Times op-ed, “Why I am leaving the FBI.”

In the wake of Comey’s firing last May, he wrote another piece for USA Today — a glowingly sympathetic tribute to the just-relieved director, “James Comey is no showboat.”

What struck me odd at the time — having retired in 2015 after serving for 25 years in the FBI agent and executive management ranks — was this: Who afforded a GS-13 bureau employee the privilege to have a personal opinion piece published?

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An official farewell soiree flyer from the FBI’s Los Angeles office announced that party attendees could “celebrate [Josh’s] new endeavor defending the Bureau as a CNN Law Enforcement Analyst.” Well, knowing how difficult it is to break into the television analyst ranks, and having the privilege to work at CNN as a full-time contributor since last May, I graciously extend a hearty welcome

 

But, Campbell’s explanation for resigning talks of “reluctantly turning in his badge” and “leaving an organization he loves.” He describes his voluntary, unforced resignation as “painful.”

He describes ignoring the counsel of “a small number” of onboard and retired agents who gamely advised him that FBI agents should keep their heads down and ignore the maelstrom that is the current president’s rhetorical attacks on certain senior leadership. And as he flatly states in the piece about those who disagree with him: “They are wrong.”

Why the sudden urgency to quit, you ask?

Well, as Campbell notes, “So I can join the growing chorus of people who believe that the relentless attacks on the bureau undermine not just America’s premier law enforcement agency but also the nation’s security.”

And having served for a full decade in the special agent law enforcement ranks, Campbell now views criticism of FBI leadership as a “threat to national security.”

Utter nonsense.

Now, I do not know Campbell and some may view him as well intentioned. Comey — the man Campbell spent a year working for — certainly does. In another curious twist, Comey tweeted Campbell’s piece on Friday, adding his personal imprimatur, lamenting how Campbell would be missed at the FBI and noting, “his voice is an important addition to the national conversation.”

Comey’s public commendation to an agent who elected to resign is unusual.

But allow me to share another side of the debate that some, like Comey and Campbell, feel is settled. Many of us have watched the proceedings these past few years with disgust and revulsion. We are angry and disillusioned for different reasons than the ones described by Campbell, and certified by Comey.

Many of us await the impending report from the Office of the Inspector General that will, hopefully, answer some questions about glaring instances of politicization within the senior ranks of FBI and DOJ.

If the nine troubling encounters Comey described with the president occurred exactly as he recounts them, leaving him feeling “uneasy” — as he testified — why didn’t the 6’8” head of the world’s premier law enforcement agency directly confront the president?

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MORE FROM JAMES GAGLIANO

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As he told Sen. Dianne FeinsteinDianne Emiel FeinsteinSunday shows preview: Trump sells U.N. reorganizing and Kavanaugh allegations dominate The Memo: Could Kavanaugh furor spark another ‘year of the woman’? Sexual assault is not a game — stop using women to score political points MORE (D-Calif.) in front of the Senate Intelligence Committee last June — “maybe other people would be stronger in that circumstance but that — that was — that’s how I conducted myself.” Which begs the question why didn’t he tender his resignation on the spot. Many of us inside and outside the bureau, found his lack of courage disappointing, sad and pathetic.

And since Campbell established his bona fides in the Times piece, allow me to relate my own.

I spent years investigating organized figures and drug dealers. I worked undercover against mobsters and gangbangers. I served on FBI SWAT and was selected for and served on our elite Hostage Rescue Team. I ran a line squad and headed a multi-agency federal task force. And also served as the supervisory senior resident agent for an upstate New York FBI satellite office, spent time in Afghanistan while detailed to, the Joint Special Operations Command and learned Spanish in six months to accept an appointment to Mexico City as one of the FBI director’s direct representatives, a deputy legal attaché, to the Mexican government.

I know the bureau. I’m also one of those “voices” defending the bureau when I feel it is unfairly assailed, and criticizing it — painful though it be — when the actions of a few misguided or mistaken senior executives make some inexcusable and dubious decisions.

I didn’t always agree with the decisions of Presidents Bush and Obama. But I put my head down and awaited the passing of the storm.

So, on behalf of the innumerable FBI employees, past and present, that I humbly represent in this open letter, I’d like to take this opportunity to explain why I left the FBI to teach at St. John’s University. And the wholly unexpected opportunity to “demystify” the FBI on-air at CNN was an added bonus.

One of my former colleagues, New York special agent, Lenny Hatton, has a story on why he left the bureau too. I have to tell it because he is no longer here with us. He was crushed under the pancaking floors of the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001 while attempting rescues.

Or former Navy SEAL Tim Flaherty, who while working on my federal safe-streets task force, lost his left, non-shooting hand in an accident. He fought not to be medically retired, but the government can be such an unsympathetic opponent. He fought separation and worked hard until they forcibly retired him.

But he still came to work — every damn day. He didn’t quit.

Hatton and Flaherty are the folks we should spend our time lionizing.

My hope is that all who have left the bureau’s ranks remain loyal to the FBI’s motto of fidelity, bravery, and integrity.

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.