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Opinion Trump’s slurs against the FBI endanger agents, former employee says

Vice President Pence listens to President Trump speak about a report released by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on how the department and the FBI launched their investigation into the 2016 campaign.
Vice President Pence listens to President Trump speak about a report released by Justice Department Inspector General Michael Horowitz on how the department and the FBI launched their investigation into the 2016 campaign. (Mark Wilson/AFP/Getty Images)
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Jane Turner joined the FBI in 1978 and left 25 years later. Asked if she’s ever heard a president dump on the agency and its people the way President Trump does, she answers with one word, four times:

“Never, never, never, never.”

This is some of what Trump has said about the agency she defends:

● “They’ve destroyed the lives of people that were great people, that are still great people,” he said Tuesday about FBI agents investigating his 2016 presidential campaign. “Their lives have been destroyed by scum, okay, by scum.”

● “This was an overthrow of government,” he said Monday following the release of the Justice Department Inspector General’s report on that investigation. “This was an attempted overthrow, and a lot of people were in on it, and they got caught, they got caught red-handed.”

● “My Campaign for President was conclusively spied on,” he tweeted, falsely, in May, adding: “TREASON means long jail sentences, and this was TREASON!

Slurs like these and previous presidential vilifications do more than insult federal employees. His words damage trust and confidence in the federal workforce, particularly in national security agencies. And, Turner said, Trump’s fanning of conspiracy theory flames makes it “very dangerous for agents.”

Certainly, there were many valid criticisms of the FBI in the inspector general’s report. But they don’t amount to treason by scumbags.

Words have consequences.

While Trump also has praised FBI agents, his previous hits against them were used in the defense of three white terrorists convicted in a plot to slaughter Somali Muslims in Garden City, Kan.

A Kansas City Star column last year had this headline: “In Garden City Muslim bombing case, it’s the FBI on trial.”

“Not so long ago, the FBI would have gotten the presumption of innocence among law-and-order lovers,” wrote columnist Melinda Henneberger, formerly with The Washington Post. “But with distrust of the ‘deep state’ prevalent and the FBI under regular attack on President Donald Trump’s Twitter feed, maybe it’s not so hard to see why the defense explicitly wanted the jury pool extended into even redder Western Kansas to pull in more Trump voters.”

The FBI and the Justice Department had no comment on Trump’s remarks that undermine the agency. Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), the chairman of the House Government Operations subcommittee, criticized Trump for a “new low in his attacks on federal employees.”

His Republican counterparts — Rep. Mark Meadows (N.C.), the ranking minority party member on the panel, and Sen. James Lankford (Okla.), chairman of the Senate federal management subcommittee — did not respond to requests for comment.

“I thought this was a totally unexpected body blow he threw at the bureau . . . just for that coarseness of the language and the emotion behind it,” said Turner, 68, a former FBI special agent in Minneapolis.

Trump’s comments do “terrible harm,” she said, because if agents knock on someone’s door and the resident “believes that we’re out to get the president or out to overthrow the government . . . we’re in deep trouble.” Citizens must know “we’re trying to do the best for this country. They’ve got to believe that.”

She thinks Trump feeds conspiracy theory followers who believe in a “deep state” of federal employees determined to thwart his presidency.

“There is nothing further from the truth,” she added about his overthrowing-the-government remarks. Talk of an FBI coup is “exactly the opposite of what the FBI does. . . . It’s absolutely phenomenal how he does this, pulls this crap.”

Trump’s latest comments mark a pattern of undermining national security personnel. Among the others:

● Trump offended foreign policy officials who testified under subpoena in the House impeachment hearings last month — including those who work in his White House — calling some, with no proof, “Never Trumpers.” His unfounded “bad news” attack on Marie Yovanovitch, former ambassador to Ukraine, left her wondering “why it was necessary to smear my reputation.” Trump recalled her apparently because she didn’t fit into his plan to have Kyiv announce an investigation that would embarrass potential 2020 campaign rival Joe Biden. It was that effort that lead to the current impeachment process against him.

● Just days before taking office in January 2017, Trump assailed federal intelligence community employees, comparing them to “Nazi Germany” officials because of leaks related to him. On the day after taking office, he shocked CIA employees by giving a campaign-style, self-aggrandizing speech in front of a display of carved stars honoring dead CIA officers.

● To the consternation of officers and Defense Department civilians, Trump upended the military system of justice last month when he reinstated the rank of a Navy SEAL, Chief Petty Officer Edward Gallagher, who had been accused of war crimes.

Trump’s insults are taking a toll on the workforce.

“The faith of the American people in us, I think is wavering, and I think that is directly attributable to the president’s continuing to disparage the FBI and intelligence services,” said one FBI agent who agreed to provide an insider’s view in exchange for confidentiality. “We are still the same organization, still trying every day to go to work to serve the American people to the very best of our ability still, with fidelity, bravery and integrity in everything that we do. . . .

“It is very disheartening.”

Democrats call them public servants. Republicans say they’re ‘unelected bureaucrats.’

The diplomatic corps has been wounded. The State Department needs to heal.

Trump wants the whistleblower revealed. Others push for more protection.

Despite Trump’s taunting and harassment, whistleblowers remain undaunted