The information contained in the memo released by House Republicans on Friday that accused FBI and Justice Department officials of improperly obtaining permission to surveil a former Trump campaign adviser shows a tragic failure of leadership on the part of former FBI Director James Comey.
But importantly, the memo does not in any way reflect on the outstanding work of the more than 35,000 dedicated men and women of the FBI.
It pains me – as a former FBI executive who loves and respects the organization – to say that Comey’s short tenure at the FBI has proven to be the worst thing to happen to the agency since Director L. Patrick Gray was fired during the Watergate scandal.
If the facts stated in the memo are true – despite the highly political nature of congressional committees – then there was either incompetent or deliberate manipulation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court to get approval of the surveillance.
Even new agent trainees at the FBI Academy know better than to use paid opposition research and newspaper articles to support use of one of the most sensitive and intrusive surveillance techniques in the investigative toolbox. If they do use such information, the FISA judge should have been apprised of the origins of the research.
FBI agents are also taught to never mislead any court of law. It’s unlikely the surveillance warrant would have been issued if the FISA judge was aware that political opponents (the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee) had financed the information used to obtain approval of the surveillance.
FISA applications go through extensive reviews at multiple levels of executive management at the FBI and Justice Department. They are signed by the most senior FBI and Justice Department executives before they are presented to the FISA court for approval.
Chris E. Swecker served 24 years in FBI as Special Agent. He retired from the Bureau as Assistant Director with responsibility over all FBI Criminal Investigations. He currently practices law in Charlotte, N.C.