- Republican Rep. Louis Gohmert asked FBI Director Chris Wray about the “political biases” of specific federal agents during an open hearing on Thursday.
- The question stemmed from recent reports that an agent who worked on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team before he was removed in August sent texts last year that could be perceived as anti-Trump.
- To some, however, Gohmert’s question seemed like a “political test” meant to gauge the bureau’s loyalty to the Trump administration.
A Republican member of the House Judiciary Committee left a number of observers stunned on Thursday when he read off a list of names of agents to the FBI director and asked him to disclose their political biases.
“As you’re aware, Deputy Director [Andrew] McCabe was involved in a number of cases that have been highly controversial due to his political leanings,” Texas Rep. Louis Gohmert said, presumably referring to McCabe’s involvement in the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s email server.
McCabe’s wife ran for the Virginia state Senate in 2015 and received nearly $500,000 from a political action committee affiliated with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who has ties to Bill and Hillary Clinton.
“Do you know of any other senior FBI executives that were aligned with McCabe’s political views?” Gohmert said.
“I’m not aware of any senior FBI executives who are allowing improper political considerations to effect their work with me right now,” FBI Director Christopher Wray replied.
“Let me ask you about specific executives, some of whom have been promoted by McCabe, within the last few years,” Gohmert said. “Are you aware of any of the following people openly aligning themselves with the political bias expressed by McCabe or openly speaking against this administration?”
Gohmert went on to name five FBI officials, asking Wray one by one whether they had expressed political bias “against the Trump administration.”
Wray said he had not witnessed any outward bias from the four whom he had interacted with directly.
The notion that FBI agents could now be subject to political tests from another branch of government unnerved several observers and former employees.
Former FBI counterintelligence agent Asha Rangappa called it “totally inappropriate.”
“We’ve never had ‘political tests’ for civil servants,” she said on Thursday. “It’s worth noting that every agent undergoes an intensive background check that screens for political biases in order to ensure that the prospective agent can look past their own political identity and pursue investigations objectively.”
Among those pushing the idea that the bureau has become a bastion for left-wing, pro-Clinton law enforcement officials whose reputation was left in “tatters” by former FBI Director James Comey is President Donald Trump.
“So General Flynn lies to the FBI and his life is destroyed, while Crooked Hillary Clinton, on that now famous FBI holiday ‘interrogation’ with no swearing in and no recording, lies many times…and nothing happens to her?” Trump tweeted on Saturday night, referring to Flynn’s guilty plea last week.
“Rigged system, or just a double standard?” he said.
Trump’s argument gained steam when news surfaced that an agent on special counsel Robert Mueller’s team investigating Russia’s election interference had sent text messages last year that could be perceived as anti-Trump. That same agent, Peter Strzok, also reportedly watered down the language Comey used when he announced that the FBI would not recommend charges against Clinton over her use of a private email server.
Strzok was removed from Mueller’s team in August, but it was not clear why he had been reassigned to the bureau’s HR department until earlier this week.
“Agents, like any other person, have political opinions,” Rangappa said. “The difference is that we now have technology that memorializes people’s thoughts through texts, tweets, and emails.”
Scott Olson, a recently retired FBI agent who spent 20 years at the bureau, noted in a recent interview that “all political opinions are well represented in the ranks of FBI employees. And the debates over coffee and lunch are the same as anywhere else.”
Rangappa said Republicans’ attempts to discredit the Mueller probe by emphasizing the political leanings of Mueller’s team could backfire for them if a Democrat is investigated in the future and points to the bureau’s reputation as a politically conservative organization as a reason the probe should not be taken seriously.
“The FBI investigators who are working on any given day will probably be mostly politically conservative,” Rangappa said, drawing from own interactions with agents during the George W. Bush years. “So the Republicans need to think carefully about the precedent they’re setting.”