The majority of responses to our editorial last week calling for a special prosecutor to be hired in the wake of the firing of FBI Director James Comey have been supportive. But the critics, as usual, have been vociferous and animated — and prone to name-calling, much as the president himself.
In a letter on Thursday, one local reader called us “fools” for “intentionally trying to sway readers to believe something that isn’t true.” Said he, “Less than 30 minutes ago I saw acting FBI Director (Andrew) McCabe testifying before Congress, and he said that nothing has been done to impede the Russian investigation …”
He argued that this rendered “inaccurate” our contention that the probe was in jeopardy. “(The) director of the FBI, and other government agencies, are always far removed from the actual investigation work in cases like this.”
He could not be more wrong.
I have no doubt that McCabe was being forthright in his testimony, I responded, but it’s not clear how long he will be in that position. (As a senior FBI official, naming him as chief would probably be the best outcome and would go far in mollifying concerns that James Comey’s removal was an attempt to obstruct the investigation.) But given all we know about the president and the people around him, it’s unlikely that he will choose an FBI insider. Either way, does anybody really question whether the head of this agency will have profound influence on the Russia probe? “It’s one thing for an investigation to be completed,” I wrote. “It’s another for the findings . . . to see the light of day.”
For the worst example of how the intelligence community can be politicized, one need only look at the Watergate scandal, a narrative provided in large part by a former FBI high-ranking official who once called Santa Rosa home: Mark Felt.
Felt, better known as “Deep Throat,” was motivated to help reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein of the Washington Post primarily out of disgust for what was happening at the White House and how the intelligence community, including the FBI, was being used as part of the cover-up. He also was doing it out of frustration for being passed over for the top job in favor of individuals who had no FBI experience.
His story, at the least, is timely.
Like McCabe, Felt was the second in command at the FBI. When his boss, J. Edgar Hoover died 45 years ago this month. Felt was hoping to be named his successor. But instead, President Richard Nixon appointed L. Patrick Gray, a Justice Department official with no FBI background. The reason was clear. Gray was a Nixon loyalist who had helped Nixon during his unsuccessful presidential bid in 1960. By all appearances Felt was crushed, but “he put on a good face,” Woodward wrote in his 2005 book, “The Secret Man.”
Gray soon brought aboard four loyal staff members and was either spending hours in closed-door meetings with them or was away from the office.
According to Felt, Gray seemed overwhelmed with the day-to-day operations of the agency, responsibilities that fell to Felt. One of those was responding to a call from an FBI night supervisor on June 17, 1972 concerning the arrest of five men in business suits who were caught breaking into the Watergate office building.