It seems like just yesterday that Republicans were assailing the FBI for pro-Hillary Clinton bias. You remember the infamous memo put out by Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) accusing the FBI of anti-Trump bias, citing the exchanges between FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page criticizing then-candidate Donald Trump. On Fox News, in hearings and in public appearances, Republicans have ranted about allowing agents who favored Clinton in the election to work on the Russia investigation. Republican gadflies such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) went after FBI Director Christopher A. Wray in December: “There are all kinds of people on Mueller’s team who are pro-Clinton,” Jordan said. “If he did [remove] everyone on the Mueller team who’s anti-Trump, I don’t think there’d be any guy left. There’s got to be something more here.”
Republicans’ rhetoric at times triggered scorn. The notion that the FBI should investigate its agents’ political viewpoints and eliminate all but those friendly to the president runs afoul of the Hatch Act and the entire notion that civil-service employees should not be hired and assigned based on political beliefs. “Obviously, law-enforcement agents have a duty to segregate their opinions from their work. But the idea they cannot express political viewpoints is a standard invented in recent weeks for the purpose of discrediting the people investigating the Trump administration,” wrote Jonathan Chait. “As Representative Ted Lieu pointed out, acting FBI director Christopher Wray has donated $39,000, and Deputy Attorney General Rachel Brand $36,000, both exclusively to Republicans. These are public donations, not text messages to a romantic partner that were never intended for public consumption.” (As an aside, the notion that the FBI is a hotbed of liberalism defies much of what we know about the FBI culture as well as the decision to throw a bombshell — resumption of the email investigation — into the 2016 presidential campaign just 11 days before the election to the severe detriment of Clinton.)
Fast-forward to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s hearing in front of two Senate committees on Tuesday. Now, the darling of the GOP base is oh-so-terribly concerned about political bias in hiring:
ZUCKERBERG: No, Senator. We do not generally ask people about their political orientation when they’re joining the company.
SEN. TED CRUZ (R-TEX.): So as CEO, have you ever made hiring or firing decisions based on political positions or what candidates they supported?
CRUZ: Why was Palmer Luckey fired?
ZUCKERBERG: That is a specific personnel matter that seems like it would be inappropriate to speak to here.
CRUZ: You just made a specific representation, that you didn’t make decisions based on political views. Is that accurate?
ZUCKERBERG: Well, I can — I can commit that it was not because of a political view.
CRUZ: Do you know, of those 15 to 20,000 people engaged in content review, how many, if any, have ever supported, financially, a Republican candidate for office?
ZUCKERBERG: Senator, I do not know that.
As Time magazine reports, Luckey was fired “after it was revealed that he was quietly funding efforts attacking Hillary Clinton and supporting Donald Trump in the run-up to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. He was also reportedly posting anti-Clinton messages on the social media site Reddit under a pseudonym.” Zuckerberg denied that these activities were the cause of his termination, but plainly Cruz is irate about the possibility an employee might be fired for supporting one or another political candidate. One would suppose that discrimination in hiring is even more noxious in civil-service hiring, which is supposed to be free of partisanship.
So here’s the question for Republicans: Should the FBI (or any government agency) or even any private employer be in the business of investigating employees’ political views and making employment decisions based upon which candidate or party they support? If that’s the rule, then we are going to need to sweep away a hundred years of civil service reform.
“Our democracy depends on a well-functioning government and a well-functioning government depends upon a merit-based, nonpartisan career workforce,” explains Max Stier, head of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service. “It is useful to remember some history and recall that we had a president assassinated by a disgruntled spoils-system job seeker, which is what finally led to the professionalization of our government workforce over 100 years ago.” He adds, “This is particularly true for law enforcement.”
Former director of the Office of Government Ethics Walter Shaub concurs. “Federal managers are prohibited from considering party affiliation when making personnel decisions for career employees,” he tells me. “This safeguard dates back 135 years and is based on the ethical principle that most of the work of government should be carried out by officials who are loyal to the Constitution, the laws and the American people instead of partisan political patrons.” He continues, “Targeting career officials based on party affiliation would jeopardize the integrity of the government’s operations and, in a case like this, open us up to corrupt political influence on the law enforcement apparatus of the state.” He observes, “The depressing irony is that, in pressing their groundless claims of political bias in the investigation, these members of Congress are literally advocating for political bias by demanding the Justice Department ensure that the president is investigated only by ardent supporters — a view they definitely have not held for his political rival.”
As Cruz managed to highlight, the notion that an employer would probe employees’ political beliefs is a noxious one. The GOP should knock off its — what’s the phrase? — political witch hunt designed to ensure that Democrats do not populate sensitive law enforcement roles.