The name-calling, mistrust, and downright hatred with which the former president and his supporters are dealing with the execution of the warrant execution at his Mar-a-Lago home/resort three weeks ago – and the the current administration‘s less-than-productive responses – exemplify the toxic and dysfunctional state of American political discourse.
The former president of the United States of America calls FBI “hacks and thugs” in the wake of the Aug. 8 search of his living quarters at the Mar-a-Lago resort pursuant to a lawfully executed warrant. The sitting president of the United States returns the insult by referring to support for his predecessor as “semi-fascism.”
It is difficult to see things getting better any time soon.
I am among the many Americans who find fault with the FBI and other federal agencies’ abuse of power in recent years. In fact our country has been dealing (or not dealing) with this problem for three decades, at least since the Justice Department-initiated tragedies at Ruby Ridge and Waco in the early 1990s. As a sitting Member of Congress, I was a harsh critic of the FBI and the ATF during the 1995 oversight hearings into the Branch Davidian debacle.
Today, nearly two decades after those hearings revealed serious abuses of power by the Attorney General, the FBI, the ATF, and our military, the leadership of the FBI exhibits greater evidence of being deeply infected with partisan politics and institutional hubris.
Contrary to popular belief, however, and contrary to the views of many friends and colleagues of mine, there are ways to address these problems, even with a House of Representatives and a Senate unable to break partisan deadlock to conduct any semblance of substantive congressional oversight (the ridiculous January 6th committee was a joke in such respect).
Holding government agencies accountable, especially one as entrenched and imperious as the FBI, takes time, perseverance, knowledge, and professionalism – all attributes in disturbingly short supply in Washington, DC on both sides of the political aisle. It has become far easier to simply name-call and fire off legal motions bordering on specious than to engage in the heavy lifting of oversight, vote-gathering, legal actions, and moving public opinion in the necessary direction.
No one on the public policy stage today is more skilled in the art of name-calling and superficial legal maneuvering than Donald Trump, and no one less skilled in the art of bringing people together than President Joe Biden. And this is where we are stuck.
Mar-a-Lago is the most recent “hill” on which the former president has decided to stage a major political battle.
For example, the former president and his ever-changing team of lawyers loudly bemoan that the search was flawed because the FBI allegedly took documents from Mar-a-Lago that constitute attorney-client privileged communications. If this occurred, it is far from unprecedented and the federal courts are well-equipped to address such claims without the need for histrionics or unreasonable demands.
An even more fundamental complaint lodged by the former president is that there was no legitimate foundation for the issuance of the search warrant in the first place, making all actions thereafter irreparably tainted. In this scenario, of course, there is neither room nor reason for constructive action or dialog – only backyard brawling.
Whether Trump or his defenders will ever recognize or admit it, there actually is an ongoing and legitimate investigation into the mishandling of highly sensitive government materials and obstruction of justice. Such issues should concern all of us and at the same time generate support for using the federal courts to ensure that actions beyond name-calling and partisan posturing will prevail.
At the same time, having learned never to put all our eggs in one basket (especially alongside an FBI whose leaders display a clear penchant for partisan shenanigans), we must continue supporting candidates for election to Congress this November who are committed to changing the toxic trajectory on which we are now embarked, and perhaps rekindle the lost art of real congressional oversight.
Finally, we must speak directly to the American people in ways that neither Trump nor Biden exhibits any interest – as adults who care more for America and the rule of law than themselves or their Party.
Bob Barr represented Georgia’s Seventh District in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1995 to 2003. He served as the United States Attorney in Atlanta from 1986 to 1990 and was an official with the CIA in the 1970s. He now practices law in Atlanta, Georgia and serves as head of Liberty Guard.