If there’s one thing Donald Trump has always believed, it’s that the FBI should not divulge information about ongoing investigations — especially when doing so might impact American politics.
The president had an opportunity to reflect on this old credo Tuesday night, when the New York Times published a story about his campaign aides’ frequent contact with Russian intelligence agents during the 2016 campaign — a story built off leaked information from anonymous intelligence and law-enforcement officials.
On Wednesday morning, Trump reiterated his long-established opposition to the FBI’s interference in domestic politics.
The president also noted one of the many potential harms of such interference: By divulging misleading, partial information about an ongoing inquiry into one politician, the FBI could distract attention away from the more significant failings of that politician’s opponent(s).
This is a point that the president’s critics should take seriously. Even if one thinks that the FBI served the public interest by leaking in this specific case, the principle that our unelected law-enforcement agencies should not publicize the details of ongoing investigations is one worth protecting. For now, the FBI’s leaks are merely alerting the public to possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence agencies — and, thereby, making it more politically difficult for the president to quash existing inquiries into that matter.
But how else might the FBI use its power to selectively reveal investigatory information in the future? It is not impossible to imagine the agency actually swinging an election over baseless insinuations, by disclosing bits of information in a misleading way.
This may sound like a slippery-slope fallacy. But as recent political history has proven, the inconceivable sometimes happens. Which is why, Democrats would be better off emulating the president — and staunchly opposing the FBI’s interference in our politics, no matter whom it may benefit.
When the time comes for Democrats to call out the FBI’s interference in our politics, they don’t want to come off as having a casual and opportunistic relationship with the truth.