The privilege of being the only American in our history to serve as the director of both the FBI and the CIA gives me a unique perspective and a responsibility to speak out about a dire threat to the rule of law in the country I love.
Order protects liberty, and liberty protects order. Today, the integrity of the institutions that protect America’s civil order is, tragically, under assault from too many people whose job it should be to protect them.
The rule of law is the bedrock of American democracy, the principle that protects every American from the abuse of monarchs, despots and tyrants. Every American should demand that our leaders put the rule of law above politics.
I am deeply disturbed by the assertion of President Donald Trump that our “current director” — as he refers to the man he selected for the job of running the FBI — cannot fix what the president calls a broken agency.
The 10-year term given to all directors following J. Edgar Hoover’s 48-year tenure was created to provide independence for the director and for the bureau. The president’s thinly veiled suggestion that the director, Christopher Wray, like his banished predecessor, James Comey, could be on the chopping block, disturbs me greatly. The independence of both the FBI. and its director is critical and should be fiercely protected by each branch of government.
As FBI director, I served two presidents, one a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who selected me in part because I was a Republican, and one a Republican, Ronald Reagan, whom I revered. Both of these presidents so respected the bureau’s independence that they went out of their way not to interfere with or sway our activities. I never once felt political pressure.
America can ill afford to have a chief law enforcement officer dispute the Justice Department’s own report and claim that an FBI investigation
I know first-hand the professionalism of the men and women of the FBI. The aspersions cast upon them by the president and my longtime friend, Attorney-General William P. Barr, are troubling in the extreme. Calling FBI professionals “scum,” as the president did, is a slur against people who risk their lives to keep us safe. Barr’s charges of bias within the FBI, made without providing any evidence and in direct dispute of the findings of the non-partisan inspector general, risk inflicting enduring damage on this critically important institution.
America can ill afford to have a chief law enforcement officer dispute the Justice Department’s own report and claim that an FBI investigation was based on “a completely bogus narrative.”
In fact, the report conclusively found that the evidence to initiate the Russia investigation was unassailable. There were more than 100 contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian agents during the 2016 campaign, and Russian efforts to undermine our democracy continue to this day. I’m glad the FBI took the threat seriously.
As a lawyer and a former federal judge, I made it clear when I headed both the FBI and the CIA that the rule of law would be paramount in all we did. While both agencies are staffed by imperfect human beings, the American people should understand that both agencies are composed of some of the most law-abiding, patriotic and dedicated people I have ever met. While their faces and actions are not seen by most Americans, rest assured that they are serving our country well.
I have complete confidence in Wray, and I know that the FBI is not a broken institution. It is a professional agency worthy of respect and support. The derision and aspersions are dangerous and unwarranted.
I’m profoundly disappointed in Rudy Giuliani, who had spent his life defending our people from those who would do us harm.
His activities of late concerning Ukraine have, at a minimum, failed the smell test of propriety. I hope he, like all of us, will redirect to our North Star, the rule of law, something so precious it is greater than any man or administration.
This difficult moment demands the restoration of the proper place of the Department of Justice and the FBI as bulwarks of law and order in America. This is not about politics. This is about the rule of law. Republicans and Democrats alike should defend it above all else.
In my nearly 96 years, I have seen our country rise above extraordinary challenges — the Great Depression, the Second World War, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, segregation, assassinations, the resignation of a president and 9/11, to name just a few.
I continue to believe in and pray for the ability of all Americans to overcome our differences and pursue the common good. Order protects liberty, and liberty protects order.
— William H. Webster is the Chair of the US Homeland Security Advisory Council. He was the Director of FBI (1978 to 1987) and Director CIA (1987 to 1991), the only person to have held both of these positions