In early March, Federal Bureau of Investigation Director James Comey told an audience at a cyber security conference in Boston, "You're stuck with me for another six and a half years." Last week, U.S. President Donald Trump fired him.
In the months leading up to his election, Trump had vowed to "drain the swamp" in Washington. The FBI has been a glaring example of the rampant politicization of federal institutions, particularly the ones dealing with national security and intelligence. Comey's firing was part of the swamp-draining.
The FBI is supposed to be the federal crime-fighting police force. Instead, the bureau has finagled its way into the budget for seemingly every hot-topic threat, even if the threat is primarily in an overseas jurisdiction.
When terrorism became a big line item in the U.S. budget, the FBI (a domestic agency) took over responsibility for the international "Most Wanted Terrorists" list. So if, for example, while pumping gas into your Range Rover at the local Costco, you happened to spot Ayman Al-Zawahiri, the current al-Qaida leader and the founder of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad, please contact your local FBI office. Since none of the most wanted terrorists are in the U.S., the FBI will have to pass along the information to the CIA anyway, but at least the bureau got to touch the ball during the game and share the cash prizes. It's less about pragmatism and more about the politics of keeping everyone happy and well-funded.
Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote to Comey on March 6, expressing concern about the politicization of the FBI. Grassley referenced a Washington Post article about the FBI agreeing to pay for a subsequently discredited dossier on Trump compiled by British spy turned private eye Christopher Steele. According to the Post, Steele's research was for a firm that had been hired by Hillary Clinton supporters, and the FBI knew it. (The FBI deal with Steele eventually fell through, and he received no money.)
"The idea that the FBI and associates of the Clinton campaign would pay Mr. Steele to investigate the Republican nominee for president in the run-up to the election raises further questions about the FBI's independence from politics, as well as the Obama administration's use of law enforcement and intelligence agencies for political ends," Grassley wrote in his letter to Comey.
Washington institutions constantly seek to get maximum mileage out of an issue by politicizing it and creating a long-term bogeyman. The same committees now probing purported Russian meddling in the democratic process had attempted to make Russia a scapegoat long before the election. In May 2016, before Trump had won the Republican nomination, the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence referred to the importance of "checking increasing Russian aggression" in a report recommending the authorization of the 2017 intelligence budget.
Two weeks after Trump won the election, the actual bill to authorize intelligence funding included the creation of a committee dedicated to combating "active measures by Russia to exert covert influence."
We have yet to see credible technical evidence of Russian interference in the U.S. election, yet an entire section in a budget bill was devoted to the issue? What did clearly exist in the aftermath of the election, however, was the kind of murky pretext that helps justify perpetual spending. "Russian interference" is the national-security version of "climate change."
All of this Russia probing doesn't seem like a means to an end so much as an end unto itself. As long as the bogeyman exists, the money keeps flowing and the establishment is happy. It's when Trump does something to stop the charade -- in this case, firing an establishment figure like Comey -- that the establishment swamp critters start screaming for their lives.