There's a big problem with Donald Trump's insistence that crime is "out of control" -- an insistence that bolsters his argument that he deserves your vote as the "law and order" candidate. That problem is that crime rates have fallen dramatically over the past 20 years. Trump likens his fight on crime to that of Richard Nixon in 1968, but back then, crime was actually noticeably spiking, according to annual data collected by the FBI.
So how do you counter that? Well, if you're Trump's campaign manager, Paul Manafort, you suggest that the FBI isn't a reliable source.
CNN's Jake Tapper asked Manafort, "How can the Republicans make the argument that somehow it's more dangerous today when the facts don't back that up?" Manafort noted that people don't feel safe, which is true. He then said he didn't know what statistics Tapper was referring to, to which Tapper replied, "FBI statistics."
"Well," Manafort replied with a smile, "the FBI certainly is suspect these days after what they just did with Hillary Clinton."
This is a reference to the announcement from FBI director James Comey that the agency was not calling for charges against the presumptive Democratic nominee, a way of shifting the conversation to Manafort's benefit.
But it's a remarkable thing to say. It's not calling into question the FBI as it stands, which would be very unusual for a presidential campaign alone. It is necessarily calling into question decades of compiled FBI data. Look at that chart above. Is Manafort suggesting that the FBI has been ineptly gathering crime data for the past two decades?
Or, to be more accurate, Manafort is implying that the FBI's data collection is somehow inept. The numbers are compiled annually through the Uniform Crime Reporting system, through which 18,000 law enforcement agencies submit data that is then tabulated. Is the suggestion that the FBI, which didn't make the recommendation Manafort hoped, somehow massaged the data it received from those thousands of agencies?
It's not, of course. Manafort almost certainly doesn't think that the FBI is juicing or goofing up numbers on crime statistics, but, appearing on national television, he needs to provide a way of distracting sympathetic listeners from the valid point that Tapper was making. He could have pointed to data from the first half of 2015 -- the most recent FBI data available -- showing that crime rates had increased, though not to the extent that the country saw in the late 1960s.
But in that moment it was easier for the man trying to get Donald Trump elected president to imply that the investigatory arm of the Justice Department was incompetent or biased simply because it did something that Manafort and his candidate didn't like.