The origins of Republican distrust of the FBI

The botched investigation of Hillary Clinton's e-mails and Robert S. Mueller's actions are two key moments.

August 8, 2022 will be a landmark day in the history of this country. That was the date the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) entered former President Donald Trump' s Florida residence.

The FBI had a court order backing its action, but according to progressive attorney Alan Dershowitz, raids should not only be a last resort, they usually are.

So, why is the FBI making an exception for Donald Trump? FBI Director Christopher Wray has not provided details of the reasons behind the agency's action. He has denounced in the harshest terms that there are comments criticizing his performance on social networks.

Republican political reaction

The record has set off alarm bells in the Republican Party. Ron DeSantis said that this has been “another escalation in the weaponization of federal agencies against the Regime’s political opponents", and said it is like a “banana republic ". Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) said, "This is what happens in third world countries. Not in the United States." Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (Ga.) tweeted, "Defund the FBI!".

Florida Senator Rick Scott said, "The FBI must explain what they were doing today & why." And fellow Florida Senator Marco Rubio asked, "After todays raid on Mar A Lago what do you think the left plans to use those 87,000 new IRS agents for?".

Democrats concerned about the health of the republic

But concern for the health of Republican institutions is not unique to Republicans. Several Democrats have shown a mixture of surprise and fear at what could be an abuse of power by the agency.

The most outspoken on the issue was Democrat Tulsi Gabbard on Fox News:

This is something that every American should be extremely concerned about because this raid is just the latest serious escalation of this disturbing trend that we have seen of blatant abuse of power by those in power to not only protect their friends, but to target their political opponents or frankly anyone who dares to dissent or challenge or disagree or even question what this administration is doing. And there are a number of examples that we can point to not only abuse of power within the Department of Justice, within the FBI or law enforcement agencies, but also the Department of Homeland Security and the IRS. 

You know, look to the FBI investigation of Trump for the Russia hoax that didn’t turn out to be anything. You look at the IRS and Lois Lerner directly targeting conservative organizations under the Obama administration. You look at this administration’s Department of Homeland Security’s creation of a ministry of truth to go after us, everyday Americans across the country, to tell us, "Hey, here is what we say the truth is and is not and what you are allowed to say and what you are not allowed to say."

She is not the only one. Andrew Cuomo, who was governor of New York for 10 years and is a relentless critic of Donald Trump, has also shown his concern: "DOJ must immediately explain the reason for its raid & it must be more than a search for inconsequential archives or it will be viewed as a political tactic and undermine any future credible investigation & legitimacy of January 6 investigations".

The origins

When did this focus of the FBI on the Republican Party begin? According to Thomas J. Baker, a former FBI analyst quoted by The Washington Times, it all started with Robert S. Mueller. Mueller had been director of the FBI. He launched an investigation so that he could indict then-President Donald Trump for coordinating with Russia on the autocracy's intervention in the 2016 presidential election. The investigation lasted two years, required the work of 40 FBI agents, costed $25 million and conducted half a thousand interviews, only to end up saying that there was never anything Trump was accused of.

According to the agent, "The ethics of an intelligence agency are different from a law enforcement agency (...). “In a traditional law enforcement agency, agents live every day for the time to come when they get on the witness stand and say nothing but the truth. But an intelligence agency deals with lies and disruption. It’s a whole different mindset between the two".

Wrongdoings by the FBI

But it may be that the GOP's distrust of the FBI predates that. A week before the 2016 election, then-FBI Director James Comey released a letter announcing that he had resumed the investigation into the Hillary Clinton email scandal. The then Secretary of State and Democratic candidate said that the letter cost her the presidential election.

Were Republicans worryed of the FBI's possible influence against candidate Clinton? No, that's not the point. As explained by Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, Justice Department inspector Michael Horowitz, made a report on how the FBI had conducted the investigation: "That report is so shocking and so filled with wrongdoing by the FBI agents that it’s hard to have any reaction other than a lack of confidence in the FBI".

The Republican Party charged that the FBI was investigating several parents critical of public school boards. The agency relied on its counterterrorism powers.

The consequences are very clear. The percentage of Republicans who believe the FBI is doing a good job has gone from 59% in 2014 to 26% in 2021 .