The Banality of Bias
Peter Strzok is an FBI agent with a career spanning more than two decades. He was section chief of the counterespionage section in 2016 and thus in a position to oversee both the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russian election interference investigation. And he was supposedly perfect for the job: a Georgetown University graduate with a master’s degree, married to a Securities and Exchange Commission official. Strzok was qualified and patriotic. He was a lifelong civil servant.
He was also a heavily biased, blatantly political bureaucrat.
Strzok, it turns out, was cheating on his wife with then-fellow FBI agent Lisa Page. Page and Strzok traded thousands of texts — so many that one is tempted to ask when they ever found time for their affair. The texts were extraordinarily political. Strzok hated President Trump and loved Clinton; his paramour felt the same. After the 2016 election, Strzok wrote, “Omg I am so depressed.” Among those texts, a few stood out. First, one from Strzok to Page suggested that the Russia investigation could serve as an “insurance policy” against a Trump presidency. Second, in a text from Page to Strzok, she questions whether Trump would actually be president, and a response from Strzok reads, “We’ll stop it.” Third, a text from Strzok to Page after the election cycle and upon his involvement in the Robert Mueller probe reads, “For me, and this case, I personally have a sense of unfinished business.”
All of these texts — and Strzok’s conduct during the election cycle — led the Department of Justice inspector general to conclude that he couldn’t exonerate Strzok from the charge of bias in his investigation. The IG report stated that Strzok’s texts were “not only indicative of a biased state of mind but, even more seriously, implies a willingness to take official action to impact the presidential candidate’s electoral prospects. This is antithetical to the core values of the FBI and the Department of Justice.”
Here’s the thing: Strzok wasn’t alone. At least four other FBI agents sent pro-Clinton messages throughout the Clinton investigation. One agent stated that nobody would prosecute Hillary Clinton “even if we find unique classified” material on former Rep. Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Another texted “Vive le resistance” after the election. And the IG report subtly slip in this rather shocking revelation: “We identified numerous FBI employees, at all levels of the organization and with no official reason to be in contact with the media, who were nevertheless in frequent contact with reporters.” That contact included employees receiving “benefits from reports,” such as golf outings, drinks and meals.
This is how bureaucratic agencies lose legitimacy: not with overt acts of evil but through the echo-chamber mentality that exists in every social setting. We all live within cliques; we all deal with a select group of people. If that select group of people thinks alike, the group tends to radicalize over time. And if there are no checks in place — if that clique has enormous power — it’s easy to see how cases can get botched.
This is the problem with unelected, unaccountable, nontransparent bureaucracies: They are subject to ideological perversion that they themselves may not even notice until it is too late. That’s why they should be extraordinarily careful in how they wield power. Unfortunately, our law-enforcement agencies aren’t, and the result is a dramatic loss of trust that they can ill afford.
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