Dan O’Donnell on the parallels between investigative bias and misconduct in the Trump Russia and John Doe probes.
July 18, 2018
Special Guest Perspective By Dan O’Donnell
The smirk was unmistakable; the defiant, self-satisfied smugness of a man who knew the extent of the abuse of his power and dared the world to punish him for it. FBI agent Peter Strzok’s performance in last week’s joint hearing of the House’s Judiciary and Oversight Committees was less fact-finding than it was character-revealing.
And in Wisconsin, it was all too familiar: The arrogant disregard for the proper function of law enforcement and bitter condescension toward those who dared stand up to it. The Badger State has seen its share of Peter Strzoks before, and its experiences with them stand as an example of how to remove them from power.
The parallels between Strzok’s contempt for the man he was tasked with investigating – Donald Trump – and the disdain of the Milwaukee County District Attorney’s Office and Wisconsin Government Accountability Board for the man they took it upon themselves to investigate – Scott Walker – are downright eerie, and the level to which that hatred fomented the systemic abuse of investigative authority is downright chilling.
Both the FBI’s Russia investigation and Milwaukee DA’s John Doe probe were launched with ostensibly noble objectives but rather quickly devolved into partisan inquisitions.
The FBI has been trying to determine whether the Trump 2016 campaign had illegally colluded with Russia. The John Doe investigation tried to determine whether the Walker 2012 recall election campaign illegally colluded with conservative political action groups.
The Russia probe has been ongoing for 18 months without a single shred of evidence tying the Trump campaign to any criminal conspiracy with Russia, yet what appears to be a campaign of steady and selective leaking to the press has left the public with the impression that it’s only a matter of time before Trump is led out of the White House in handcuffs.
In both February and on Friday, when the Justice Department announced indictments directly tied to Russian meddling in the 2016 election, it was clear that this activity occurred without any American cooperation or even knowledge. In order to prove “collusion” (which isn’t in the sense it’s colloquially used actually even a crime), investigators would have to demonstrate the existence of a criminal conspiracy; that is, they would need to show that someone connected to Trump worked with the Russian hackers to break into the Democratic National Committee servers and/or coordinate the release of the stolen emails.
They did not. However, because of the seemingly endless nature of the investigation and the near-constant leaks and innuendo stemming from it, the public is left to believe that the evidence of so-called collusion is right around the corner when it fairly obviously is not.
The John Doe investigation not only failed to produce any evidence of criminal wrongdoing whatsoever, federal and state courts alike unanimously ruled that the alleged crime the investigators were probing wasn’t actually a crime at all. The secret nature of John Doe proceedings didn’t preclude selective leaking to the press, however, as details of the investigation found their way into near-daily Milwaukee Journal Sentinel stories, and secret documents formed the basis of a Guardian article published just days before the U.S. Supreme Court effectively ended the investigation for good.
Perhaps most nauseating of all, both investigations seem centered around political opposition research, giving rise to the very real and very terrifying fear that both were perpetuated to advance electoral and not investigative ends. The FBI has for months been stonewalling Congressional inquiries into the role of the so-called Trump dossier, a sensationalistic and unverified piece of opposition research commissioned by Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, in both launching and furthering the Russia probe.
In Wisconsin, investigators were so brazen as to store illegally obtained emails from Republican politicians, activists, and media personalities in a filing cabinet marked “opposition research.” Ironically, the cabinet was in the basement of the Government Accountability Board, which was the agency tasked with policing campaign and ethics laws.
It had, however, morphed into a hyper-partisan attack dog for the Democratic Party that operated with such zeal that its attorney, Shane Falk, emailed colleagues reminding them that Walker’s perfectly legal and permissible actions were in fact “a bastardization of politics and our state is being run by corporations and billionaires.”
“The cynic in me says the sheeple would still follow the propaganda even if they knew,” Falk continued. “But at least it would all be out there so that the influences on our politicians is clearly known.”
This righteous anger and obvious pre-judgment might have been the most clearly known example of investigative bias until Strzok started texting his mistress promising to “stop” a Donald Trump presidency while investigating…the Donald Trump presidential campaign.
There he sat on Thursday, though, sneering at Congressional Republicans who dared to challenge him on what exactly he meant by texts such as “Trump is a f***ing idiot” and whether expressing such sentiments meant he had a vested interest in the outcome of politically charged investigations.
Strzok, like Falk before him, oozes disdain for such “sheeple” who will follow politicians like Trump and Walker even though the investigators just know they’re wicked – despite what the evidence fails to show.
Herein lies the threat to nothing short of the Rule of Law itself when the Peter Strzoks and Shane Falks of the world target their political enemies: The power of the investigator in this country is immense, and there are precious few checks on its misuse.
Wisconsin’s experience with a corrupt John Doe investigation, though, should be America’s guide. The targets of that investigation (which included the MacIver Institute) fought back, defying gag orders to tell their stories of persecution and paramilitary-style raids and eventually suing to stop the investigation in its tracks. Not content with victory in the judicial branch of government, Wisconsin’s Legislature disbanded the Government Accountability Board and changed the state’s John Doe laws to make them tougher to abuse.
While no one could credibly suggest disbanding the FBI, legislative and judicial checks on what appears to be the widespread misuse of its investigative authority for political ends are perhaps long overdue. It’s time for the rest of the country to, like Wisconsin, start really watching the watchmen and seeing them for what they have become.
Peter Strzok is the smirking, defiant face of what is in fact a form of wannabe tyranny – the deep-seated belief that the law doesn’t apply to those who decide how (and, more importantly, against whom) to enforce the law.