Tag Archives: FBI

Sunday Morning Ethics Hangover, 7/15/2018: “Animal House” And The Death Of Truth [UPDATED!]

Good Morning!

(WordPress isn’t working properly this morning. Perfect…)

1. Not being biased helps you be non-stupid…Yesterday, chatting with lawyer attendees at my ethics seminar, a former government attorney told me that he had several ex-FBI colleagues who were horrified at many aspects of the Peter Strzok hearings, as was he. Among their concerns:

  • The news media was failing its duty to explain to the public the duties of professionals, and why Strzok’s conduct was unacceptable, unethical, and undermined the credibility of the investigations he was involved in.
  • Democrats were defending the indefensible, and also breaching their duty to the public. They ought to be exactly as outraged as Republicans at a figure as demonstrably biased as Strzok polluting important law enforcement inquiries, and also should have rebuked him for his defiant attitude.
  • The Strzok scandal was immensely damaging to the public image of the FBI, and should be. It demonstrates an agency that has been seriously mismanages, and that has a damaged culture.
  • The simple fact that Strzok would use FBI equipment to send his texts demonstrated outrageous incompetence and lack of judgement. Even setting aside the bias issue, for a key figure in an investigation to behave so recklessly proves that the current FBI is untrustworthy.

Naturally this is gratifying, since the positions are all consistent with those I have expressed here, and also because they are correct.

2.  When miscreants emulate “Animal House” and Democrats applaud...We also discussed Strzok’s ridiculous “Otter defense”in the hearing, as he emulated the cynical (but in that case, funny) argument offered by the “Animal House” character played by Tim Mathieson (“Take it easy! I’m pre-law!” “I thought you were pre-med!” “What’s the difference?”) in a student council hearing over his fraternity members’ outrageous conduct, especially his own:

” Ladies and gentlemen, I’ll be brief. The issue here is not whether we broke a few rules, or took a few liberties with our female party guests – we did. But you can’t hold a whole fraternity responsible for the behavior of a few, sick twisted individuals. For if you do, then shouldn’t we blame the whole fraternity system? And if the whole fraternity system is guilty, then isn’t this an indictment of our educational institutions in general? I put it to you, Greg – isn’t this an indictment of our entire American society? Well, you can do whatever you want to us, but we’re not going to sit here and listen to you badmouth the United States of America!”

This, of course, is exactly the disingenuous tactic employed by Strzok when he pronounced himself grievously offended that his accusers would dare to impugn the integrity of the FBI, knowing well that the harm done to his agency was entirely due to his own actions. Continue reading

42 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Citizenship, Government & Politics, History, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Popular Culture, Professions, Quotes, U.S. Society

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 7/13/2018: Trump And Strzok

Good Morning, London!

1. Trump Trump Trump. You know, I was on a political Facebook page in 2016 where an idiot kept posting “Trump Trump Trump” despite everyone, including the moderator, telling him to cut it out. Eventually he was banned from the site. Unfortunately, there is no similarly simple solution to this problem when a combination of the Trump-hostile news media and the President himself forces a variety of ethics issues on me, when I would rather be musing about baseball, old sitcoms, and guys in lobster hats.

  • The pardons. President Trump  pardoned Dwight L. Hammond, now 76, and his son, Steven D. Hammond, 49, a pair of Oregon cattle ranchers who had been serving out five-year sentences for arson on federal land, which had sparked the armed occupation of a wildlife refuge in 2016. Naturally these pardons were attacked, because anything Trump does will be attacked. The resulting conflict brought widespread attention to anger over federal land management in the Western United States,and that’s a good thing. How can the federal government justify owning almost half of Western land?

As for the pardons, both men have served most of their sentences already, and not only were the sentences unusually harsh for their offenses, the cases had the whiff of political prosecutions about them. They were perfectly legitimate objects for Presidential pardons, but then so are hundreds of thousands of other cases. Presidents should issue as many pardons as possible, which means eliminating a lot of the red tape. So far, Trump has sucked the tape by cherry-picking beneficiaries in his own, eccentric, biased way, using his unique, unassailable Constitution-based power to court supporters, celebrities and particular constituencies—not that there’s anything wrong with that, as long as other deserving citizens also get pardoned, and really, all but the most unrepentant, vile and dangerous felons deserve mercy and compassion eventually. Unless the pardon power is used broadly and constantly, its blessings too often depend on who you know. In the case of the ranchers, for example, a large donor to Vice-President Pence lobbied for the pardons. Again, that doesn’t mean the pardons can’t be justified. It does mean the process is skewed by factors not related to justice or fairness.

I found this to be the most ethically intriguing paragraph in the Times story about Pence pal, tycoon Forrest Lucas, and his likely influence on the pardons:

“While other presidents have also gone ahead of Justice officials to pardon apparent allies, they have often waited until their final days in office to do so. Mr. Trump, by comparison, has issued high-profile pardons early and comparatively often — seemingly unconcerned by the appearance of leaning his ears toward those at the top.”

So is Trump being unethical in a more ethical fashion than his predecessors?

  • Bad host, worse guest. The President’s derogatory comments about the British Prime Minister were indefensible, of course. We know how he thinks: Great Britain, as he has said, with justification, has made him feel unwelcome—that insulting “Trump baby” blimp over London is a real diplomatic low—and thus, in Trump’s rudimentary ethics system, akin to that of a lizard, the proper response is tit-for-tat. None of this is unexpected, and nobody who voted for Trump can say that they didn’t give him license to behave this way by electing him.

I do wonder now why I ever thought that he would react to being elected by moderating the very conduct that, in his mind and probably in reality, got him where he is today. My role model for him was President Arthur, who was about as different in character and background from Donald Trump as a human being could be.

I’m an idiot. Continue reading

20 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Around the World, Ethics Train Wrecks, Etiquette and manners, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/18/2018: Moral Luck, Non-Hypocrisy, Hypocrisy, Thomas Jefferson And WKRP

Good morning, Monticello, everyone…

1 The Inspector General’s Report and Tales of Moral Luck:  Stop me if you’ve heard this one: FBI staffer Peter Strzok, working on both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russian collusion investigation, received a text from Lisa Page, Strzok’s co-worker and adulterous lover, that read, “[Trump’s] not ever going to become president, right? Right?!” Strzok replied, “No. No he won’t. We’ll stop it.”

 September of 2016, the FBI discovered that Clinton’s illicit emails had somehow ended up on the laptop of disgraced former Congressman. Anthony Weiner, who is married to Hillary’s top aide and confidante, Huma Abedin.  Strzok, we learn in Michael Horowitz’s report, was instrumental in  the decision not to pursue the lead, arguing that the Russia investigation was a “higher priority” at the time.”We found this explanation unpersuasive and concerning,” the report concluded. The laptop was available from September 29 until October 27, when “people outside the FBI” finally forced  the FBI to act on the evidence. “The FBI had all the information it needed on September 29 to obtain the search warrant that it did not seek until more than a month later,” the IG report stated. “The FBI’s neglect had potentially far-reaching consequences.”

“Comey told the OIG that, had he known about the laptop in the beginning of October and thought the email review could have been completed before the election, it may have affected his decision to notify Congress,” the IG report says, and also states,

“Under these circumstances, we did not have confidence that Strzok’s decision to prioritize the Russia investigation over follow up on the [Clinton] investigative lead discovered on the Weiner laptop was free from bias.”

Got that? The IG believes that anti-Trump, pro-Hillary bias led Strzok to delay the Weiner laptop investigation, and it may have backfired, helping Trump and hurting Clinton rather than the reverse. But the fact that moral luck took a hand and foiled his intent doesn’t change the fact that this is strong evidence that partisan bias DID infect the Clinton investigation, and probably the Russian inquiry as well. This makes the media’s spin that the IG report dispels accusations of bias even more unconscionable.

That Strzok’s biased and unethical tactics to help Hillary intimately failed spectacularly doesn’t change or mitigate the fact that a prime FBI staff member was intentionally trying yo manipulate the investigation for partisan reasons.

2. The Web thinks you’re an awful person.  A tease from a “sponsored site” in the margins of my NBC Sports baseball feed  says, “Jan Smithers starred in hit sitcom “WKRP in Cincinnati.” Try not to smile when you see what she looks like now!” Wait…what’s that’s supposed to mean? Is she a circus clown? No, these and similar come-ons apparently assume that normal people love mocking formerly beautiful young stars when they no longer look young. “Heh, heh..well, Jan Smithers, I guess you’re not so hot now, are you? What kind of person takes pleasure in the physical decay of others just because they were once gorgeous?

Actually, the photo of Jan Smithers did make me smile, because unlike, say, Jane Fonda,

…who at 80 has allowed plastic surgeons to make her look like one of the fragile immortal female ghouls who shatter into pieces at the end of “Death Becomes Her,” Smithers (who is younger than me and a decade and a half younger than Hanoi Jane) has allowed herself to age naturally, and by my admittedly biased lights, is lovely still: Continue reading

25 Comments

Filed under Arts & Entertainment, Character, Citizenship, Ethics Train Wrecks, Gender and Sex, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement, Love, Popular Culture, Race, Romance and Relationships, The Internet, Workplace

Father’s Day Morning Warm-Up, 6/17/18: More On The Horowitz Report

Happy Father’s Day, fathers!

(What a shame you all belong to a gender that is such an inferior, toxic, useless and exploitative feature of society!)

I’m sorry that yesterday was so light on content here; I was occupied from early morn to late afternoon at a distant funeral (more on that in a later post), and then sufficient fried after  I arrived home that I couldn’t brink myself to post….especially since virtually nobody reads the blog after about noon on summer Saturdays. And now I am hopelessly backed up…

1. “Trust us because you need to…Ann Althouse made what I consider a perceptive, cynical and provocative observation related to the Inspector General’s report on the Clinton email investigation. She wrote in part,

FBI Attorney 2 was asked what he meant by that “Viva le resistance,” and he said:

“So, this is in reference to an ongoing subject. And then following that, like I interpreted [FBI Attorney 1’s] comment to me as being, you know, just her and I [sic] socially and as friends discussing our particular political views, to which I see that as more of a joking inquiry from her. It’s not something along the lines of where I’m not committed to the U.S. Government. I obviously am and, you know, work to do my job very well and to continue to, to work in that capacity. It’s just the, the lines bled through here just in terms of, of my personal, political view in terms of, of what particular preference I have. But, but that doesn’t have any, any leaning on the way that I, I maintain myself as a professional in the FBI.”

Obviously, he’s just asserting what he must (and what the Executive Summary will also assert) that he has political opinions but they don’t bleed into his work because he is a professional…….It really is a convention to believe that people can do that. You can be cynical or skeptical or just plain realistic and think that’s not how human minds function, but it’s a fiction we actually do need to believe in (at least up to a point) if we are going to put human beings in a position of trust.

The IG said that it showed “extremely poor judgment and a gross lack of professionalism” to use the FBI’s systems and devices to send these messages, because “It is essential that the public have confidence that the work of the FBI is done without bias or appearance of partiality, and that those engaged in it follow the facts and law wherever they may lead and without any agenda or desired result other than to see that justice is done.”

Perhaps in the interest in maintaining what is “essential,” the IG “found no documentary or testimonial evidence directly connecting the political views these employees expressed in their text messages and instant messages to the specific Midyear investigative decisions.” I notice the words “directly” and “no documentary or testimonial evidence.” You can read the report yourself and see the basis for inference and suspicion, but you’re on your own. There’s plenty of evidence that does shake our confidence that the FBI does its work without bias and without any agenda or desired result. But — the IG encourages us to think — it’s also possible to maintain your confidence, so why don’t you do that? Because your confidence is essential!

This is, however, why government employees are forbidden by law to engage in conduct that creates “the appearance of impropriety.” These exchanges obviously did that. Some one like “Attorney 2” can claim that the fact that he hated Trump and supported Hillary had no effect on his required fair and objective performance of the job, but we are asked to believe that on faith. We hear the same thing from defenders of the blatantly biased news media: true, they are 95% Democrats, but they’re professionals! Nay, there’s no bias there! This would be easier to believe if the actual reporting didn’t seem so positive in the direction of those they are biased for, and so negative when dealing with those they are biased against.

Ann calls the presumption of professional objectivity a “convention,” which is another way of saying “myth.” Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/15/18: Spin Wars (Continued)

Hello again…

3. Spin of the Year: James Comey’s op ed in the New York Times.

Notes:

  • Comey writes,

“First, the inspector general’s team went through the F.B.I.’s work with a microscope and found no evidence that bias or improper motivation affected the investigation, which I know was done competently, honestly and independently.”

How lawyerly. This is deceit: a factual statement devised to deceive. Most will read this to mean that the investigation found no evidence of bias or improper motivation..\  That is untrue. In fact, as I have already pointed out in earlier posts, there is a great deal of evidence of bias. There is no  evidence that the bias affected the investigation, except the circumstantial evidence that the results of the investigation were consistent with the bias.

  • He writes of the IG department’s report,

“Its detailed report should serve to both protect and build the reservoir of trust and credibility necessary for the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. to remain strong and independent and to continue their good work for our country.”

What is this, confirmation bias run amuck? Rose-colored glasses? In one of its most consequential and high-profile cases, the report shows that the FBI was mismanaged, leaked to the news media, had unprofessional agents deeply involved with the matter, and did not follow its own procedures. This report will undermine trust in the agency, and should,

4. This is, broadly speaking, a pack of rationalizations…Lawfare, a Brookings ally, published an analysis called Nine Takeaways From the Inspector General’s Report on the Clinton Email Investigation.

I could use it in a seminar on rationalizations and equivocation. Behold the Nine: Continue reading

16 Comments

Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement

Morning Ethics Warm-Up, 6/15/18: Spin Wars (Part I)

Good Morning…

…from a galaxy not nearly far enough away…

1. Quick takes on a remarkable 51 minutes on the White House lawn. I just, and I mean just, finished watching President Trump’s spontaneous press conference on the White House lawn, standing within easy spitting distance—brave, given how much so many of these people detest him—of a pack of reporters as Fox’s Baby Doocy held a microphone for him, and picking questions, often hostile, out of the cacophony. Has any previous President done something like this? I’ve never seen such a thing.

If you can’t admire this performance, your anti-Trump virus is raging out of control. I miss the reflex, knee-jerk Democrats and progressives who have, I hope temporarily, taken a hiatus from Ethics Alarms because, in my assessment, they no longer can muster credible defenses of the way this President has been treated by the news media and the resistance, so they have retreated to the warm cocoon of the left-wing echo chamber. Trump’s appearance this morning as well as the Inspector General’s report on the Clinton email investigation are integrity tests. I’d like to think the otherwise intelligent and analytical progressives here would pass them. Ducking the challenge is not a good sign.

Of course, Trump was Trump. As I wrote long ago, constantly harping on what we all know is wrong with Trump is boring and pointless. (See: The Julie Principle) He exaggerated. He spoke in infuriatingly inexact and colloquial word clouds. He celebrated himself and pronounced himself brilliant. I know, I know: if his very existence in the universe is offensive to you, then this performance would be painful. (When Donald Trump isn’t the elected President of the United States, his existence  will probably be offensive to me once again, just as as it was right up to November 8, 2016.) However, the fact is that President Trump showed mastery of the situation. He managed the chaos and maintained his dignity while a generally angry and adversarial mob was shouting at him and interrupting him. I run interactive seminars with lawyers for a living, and I am qualified to say this: what he did is difficult, and he handled it very, very well. Anyone who watches those 51 minutes and refuses to say, “Well, he’s not senile, demented, unstable, dumb or teetering on the brink of madness, I’ve got to give him that much”  had disqualified themselves as a credible Trump critic. He was in command, quick, calm, and in his own way, masterful.

The response of the anti-Trump news media will be to “factcheck” him. He said, for example, that the IG report “exonerated” him, as the pack screamed, “But the report doesn’t discuss the Russian investigation at all!”  This is the old, dishonest and so boring, “Trump is lying when he expresses his feelings and impressions in the cloudy, semi-inarticulate imprecision that he always speaks in, which we will pretend isn’t what we already know it to be.” Of course the report doesn’t formally or actually exonerate him. It does,  in his view (and mine), show a corrupt and untrustworthy culture in the FBI and the Obama Justice Department that treated the Clinton investigation in exactly the opposite fashion that they have used to investigate him. This means, to Trump, that the Mueller investigation is a political hit job, and he regards that as the equivalent of exoneration. Well, he can regard it as cheesecake, if he chooses. His opinion is not “a lie.” (I am being sued, you may recall, by an Ethics Alarms commenter who maintains in his complaint that opinions are lies, so I am rather sensitive on this point.)

Several of Trump’s responses were succinct and effective, as well as infuriating to the anti-Trump journalists, I’m sure. He said that President Obama lost the Crimea when he refused to enforce his own “red line,” thus destroying his credibility and causing Putin to correctly assume that he could move on the Ukraine without consequences. True. He said that he was not worried that Michael Cohen would cooperate with the Mueller investigation, because he, the President, had done nothing wrong. (Headlines like “Will Cohen flip on Trump?” over the last few days imply that there is something to flip about, because the Left, “the resistance,” the news media and those AWOL Ethics Alarms readers have assumed from the beginning that Trump is guilty of some dire and impeachable conduct. Continue reading

8 Comments

Filed under "bias makes you stupid", Character, Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Journalism & Media, Law & Law Enforcement, Leadership

Observations On The Inspector General’s FBI Report

The long-awaited report by the Justice Department’s  inspector general, Michael E. Horowitz, does not conclude that the FBI’s decision not to prosecute Hillary Clinton was improper or politically motivated.“We found no evidence that the conclusions by department prosecutors were affected by bias or other improper considerations,” the report says “Rather, we concluded that they were based on the prosecutor’s assessment of facts, the law, and past department practice.” This is sufficient to support the spin of journalists and pundits who want to stick to the narrative that the FBI is an honorable, unimpeachable model of professionalism.

The rest of the report, however, undercuts that interpretation considerably. I have only jumped through it, and need to go through the report again, carefully. I can make some confident observations right now, however.

1. James Comey deserved to be fired even more than I already thought. The reports says he was insubordinate. It reveals that Comey had already decided to take no action against Clinton in the Spring of 2016, though he didn’t announce his decision until July. It reveals that the investigation did not follow department policies and protocols. His draft statement on Hillary said she’d been “grossly negligent, which would have required an indictment. Comey changed it to “extremely careless.” Comey also had originally written that it was  “reasonably likely” that Hillary had been hacked  to “possible.” The draft had also noted that President Obama had exchanged emails with Hillary on her private server; that was redacted.

OK, the IG could not state with certainty that bias was at the root of Comey’s conduct. It is not his job to speculate, but I can: whatever the motivation, Comey did not do his job without considering political consequences, despite his assurances to Congress to the contrary. The cumulative effect of his decision-making was to undermine public trust in the institution he led.

2. The IG’s report renders the argument that President Trump firing Comey was an obstruction of justice even more ridiculous than it appeared already.  Leaving such a bumbling manager—and that’s giving him every benefit of the doubt–in office would undermine the FBI, as well as leave a crucial law enforcement agency in the control of a subordinate who was untrustworthy and incompetent.

3. Comey and other agents improperly used personal email to conduct official business. Hillary is already trying to use this to excuse her own conduct. Someone tell Hillary that they weren’t running for President, and didn’t lie about it for nearly a year.

4. FBI agents were leaking to the news media regularly. They also accepted favors and gifts from journalists. This was unethical, illegal, unprofessional and disloyal. I do not want to hear any more indignant protests about how it is seditious to suggest that the agency is fully capable of political bias and corruption. It is corrupt. It cannot be trusted, under Comey, and now.

5. There may not be decisive evidence of bias, but there was certainly evidence. Five agents authored and sent pro-Clinton and anti-Trump texts , some referencing undermining Donald Trump. The IG report states that the five agents “appeared to mix political opinions with discussions about the Midyear investigation.” One texted, “no one is going to pros[ecute] [Hillary Clinton] even if we find unique classified” after the discovery of Weiner’s laptop. Another text read, “We’ll stop it,” referring to Trump’s possible election. Agent Peter Strzok, now infamous for his provocative and anti-Trump texts with his lover in the Justice Department while serving on the Mueller team, texted regarding the investigation, “For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business.” An FBI attorney significantly involved in the Russia investigation also texted  to a colleague,“Viva le Resistance.”

6.Based on the report, the Trump administration has every reason to distrust the motives and integrity of the FBI and the Mueller investigation, if not Mueller himself. Any citizens, journalists, Trump critics and commenters here who still refuse to admit that this is a fair and unavoidable conclusion only destroy their own credibility and pretext of objectivity.

 

 

39 Comments

Filed under Ethics Train Wrecks, Government & Politics, Law & Law Enforcement