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Say It Ain't So, Joe

May 22, 2017

Joe Lieberman for FBI director? Is this a joke?

It’s obvious why he’s believed to be President Donald Trump’s favorite for the job. Lieberman’s New York City law firm, where he is senior counsel, has represented Trump in such civil matters as restructuring his billion-dollar Atlantic City casino debt, suing the author of a Trump biography, and threatening to sue The New York Times for publishing parts of his tax returns. Lieberman encourages such Trump policies as voiding the Barack Obama-sponsored Iran nuclear deal. He has supported Trump’s controversial appointments of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and right-wing Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who is one of his law partners.

But those are not reasons why Lieberman’s would be a disaster as FBI director. This is a professional pol, who is 75, which means he’d be 85 if he completes his 10-year term. What the FBI needs is someone with a strong law enforcement background to rein in the nation’s most formidable — and frightening — governmental agency. Joe’s six years in the 1980s as Connecticut’s attorney general doesn’t cut it.

I don’t use the term the nation’s “most formidable — and frightening — governmental agency” loosely. Its ousted head, James Comey, is arguably in part responsible for upending Hillary Clinton’s candidacy with his last-minute announcement that he had re-opened the email investigation. Should Trump be impeached, Comey’s widely reported memo, supposedly detailing Trump’s attempts to stifle Comey’s Russia investigation, will be viewed as the proximate cause.

Nor is this the first time a top-level FBI official has been viewed as responsible for ending a presidency. The mythology surrounding Watergate’s “Deep Throat” notwithstanding, it was Mark Felt, then the FBI’s Associate Director, or No. 2 guy, who leaked information to reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein that led to the impeachment of Richard Nixon.

Whether Felt acted idealistically, as Woodward and Bernstein would like you to believe, or out of pique because Nixon had passed him over for the bureau’s top job remains unclear. A similar question might be asked of Comey. Did he act from good-government motives or to satiate an insatiable ego?

Flawed individuals create a flawed organization. Let’s start with terrorism and the bureau’s failure to heed the pre-9/11 warning of its Minnesota-based agent, Coleen Rowley, about Zacarias Moussaoui, one of 9/11's terrorists.

Click here to read what the police brass say about NYPD ConfidentialNext, the bureau blew its investigation into anthrax letters mailed later that month to two U.S. senators and several media offices, killing five people and infecting 17. First, the bureau focused on Stephen Hatfill, a bio-weapons expert. After the government paid him $4.6 million for ruining his life, the bureau announced the perpetrator was probably Bruce Ivins, a government scientist who committed suicide in 2008.

The bureau has never explained how a planeload of Saudis — [Remember that virtually all the 9/ll terrorists were Saudis] — was able to secretly leave the country before the bureau could question them.

Click here to read the New York Times profile of Leonard LevittThen there is the 2013 Boston marathon bombing. Russian intelligence had provided the bureau with information about one of the two brother bombers, Tamerlan Tsarnaev. The bureau checked him out, then signed off without notifying local law enforcement, the Boston PD or Massachusetts state police.

True, the FBI has long been reluctant to share information with local authorities, a policy Comey’s predecessor and now special counsel, Robert Mueller, altered, when he took over the bureau in 2001. [Mueller treated the NYPD as equal partners, despite then-Commissioner Ray Kelly continually undermining him.]

In Boston there was probably another reason the bureau failed to share information: anger and distrust between the FBI and Boston law enforcement authorities because of the bureau’s relationship with Whitey Bulger.

Click here to read the Washington Post article on NYPD ConfidentialFor two decades, the FBI had protected Bulger, a known killer, in its misguided attempt to destroy the local Italian mob. The bureau line and subsequent movie portrayals that only two errant agents were involved with him gilds the lily. As Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill document in their book “Black Mass,” numerous supervisors up from Washington signed off on Bulger.

These failings reflect the difficulties that even the best of FBI directors face. Is this a job for Joe Lieberman? Are you kidding me?

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