Editor’s Note: Josh Campbell is a CNN law enforcement analyst. He previously served as a supervisory special agent with the FBI, special assistant to the bureau’s director, and is currently writing a book on recent attempts by elected officials to undermine the rule of law. Follow him on Twitter at @joshscampbell. The views expressed in this commentary are his own. View more opinion articles at CNN.
President Donald Trump continued his assault on the Department of Justice and FBI officials probing his campaign’s alleged ties to Russia this week. Trump remarkably labeled them a “disgrace” at a political rally in Evansville, Indiana, and insisted instead the investigation is “illegal.”
Lost in the President’s relentless campaign to undermine our institutions of justice is the realization that Trump and his enablers are actually making it harder to hold agencies like DOJ and the FBI accountable when they do in fact make mistakes.
Trump is constantly crying wolf, and it is to the detriment of good governance.
Each new day seemingly brings some fresh line of attack against those entrusted with upholding the rule of law. Ostensibly the goal is to continue to undermine the credibility of law enforcement, in order to discredit whatever final conclusions are reached by the ongoing special counsel investigation into alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.
Tuesday, the President set off a political firestorm by questioning the professionalism of the men and women at the DOJ and the FBI. “Report just out: ‘China hacked Hillary Clinton’s private Email Server,’” Trump tweeted. “What are the odds that the FBI and DOJ are right on top of this?” he continued, adding that the credibility of the agencies would be “forever gone” if they failed to fully investigate the matter.
The President appeared to be amplifying a conspiracy theory first reported by conservative website The Daily Caller, which was then picked up by Trump’s favorite network, Fox News. The gist of the anonymously sourced story was the insinuation that a China-based company had breached the security of Clinton’s private email server and then exfiltrated her communications.
The problem is, the story appeared to be bogus.
In a rare rebuke of the commander in chief and the outlets reporting the story, the FBI issued a statement countering the President’s claims, indicating the bureau “has not found any evidence the servers were compromised.”
The Clinton email story was the second in as many days involving The Daily Caller and Fox News reporting anonymous information that was subsequently knocked down by officials at the FBI.
Earlier this week, both outlets reported information from a source, who indicated an FBI analyst, in a closed-door congressional hearing, told members that the bureau had leaked information to the press and then used that information to obtain surveillance warrants. This claim followed a tweet from Rep. Mark Meadows proffering the same information as the anonymous Daily Caller and Fox News source.
If accurate, this claim would have been explosive, and likely illegal. Again, the FBI took exception to the bogus allegation, indicating it was “just not true.” The website reporting the claim updated its story to reflect that the source had an internal “miscommunication.”
In today’s fast-paced news environment, it is understandable that information sometimes gets garbled, but the endless cycle of Trump-friendly media outlets ferociously reporting nuggets of alleged malfeasance by the DOJ and FBI – either unverified or simply flat-out false – casts doubt on the true motivation behind such reporting.
For the President’s part, he is all too eager to amplify such unsubstantiated rumors and innuendo instead of picking up the phone and calling the agency heads who report to him and getting the full story on the salacious reports before blasting out official statements on Twitter, essentially confirming them as fact.
An unfortunate byproduct of this practice is that Trump and his allies are muddying the waters and reducing their own ability to point out actual wrongdoing when it in fact occurs.
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The DOJ and FBI are agencies made up of fallible human beings who sometimes make mistakes. History is replete with examples of government overreach and overzealous prosecutors and special agents sometimes overstepping their bounds, either intentionally or by mistake.
In each instance, they must be held to account, because these institutions have incredible powers that must constantly be checked. If past is prologue, there will come a day when law enforcement actually oversteps and must be brought to heel.
By constantly yelling foul and seemingly twisting every action by law enforcement into an unfounded allegation of corruption, Trump and his friends in the media crying wolf so recklessly, they are diluting their own credibility to serve as reliable sources.