Can partisans be neutral?
The recently-released Strzok/Page text messages reveal a pro-Clinton and anti-Trump bias on the part of Strzok and Page that got them removed from their respective positions. The texts made it difficult for them to be seen as part of an objective investigation of the very people for whom they had such strong feelings.
And yet the public’s trust in the integrity of such investigators rests on the idea that they can, and will, put aside such feelings entirely because most investigators are going to have political opinions and biases.
If the Strzok/Page emails had just been about their feelings towards Clinton and Trump, it would be difficult to say for sure whether those feelings influenced that pair’s actions and decisions during the course of their respective investigations. But the texts also contain statements that indicate the possibility that one or both of them may have done something (or at least planned and discussed doing something) to act on their biases to prevent Trump’s election.
For example, there’s plenty of speculation (see this, for example) on the meaning of the following text message sent from Strzok to Page: “I want to believe the path you threw out for consideration in Andy’s office — that there’s no way [Trump] gets elected — but I’m afraid we can’t take that risk.”
What was the “path”? What was the “risk” they couldn’t take? Was Strzok just saying that Page had said Trump’s election was impossible and that he disagreed and thought it possible? Or was he saying there was something they were going to try to do to prevent the possibility of his election? We may never know.
And the mystery is not just limited to that text—which Strzok sent to Page “just after he was handpicked to supervise the FBI’s investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia.” Another more basic question is whether their bias (especially that of Strzok, who had a multiplicity of roles) influenced the course of the investigations of Trump and of Clinton’s emails in other ways, as well as the handling of the Trump dossier or of Flynn. Neither their removal nor their texts have given us an answer.
The initial group of Strozok/Page texts were only discovered because the two were indiscreet enough to use their agency phones to send them. If they had used private phones instead, we probably still would not know about the extent of their bias and they would have continued to work on the cases from which they were removed, and would probably have been assigned to future investigations as well. That is not reassuring. After all, their texts were only discovered as part of a DOJ IG investigation ordered by the Democrats after the 2016 election in order to investigate whether Comey had been unfair to Hillary when making recommendations about her emails:
Ironically, Democrats pushed for the investigation. Many Clinton supporters blamed then-FBI Director James Comey’s actions during that investigation for Clinton’s election loss…
…[The DOJ’s IG Michael Horowitz’s] office obtained the Strzok texts after asking the FBI to produce communications from bureau-issued phones for a select group of employees who worked on the Clinton email probe.
Horowitz apparently found that first batch of Strzok/Page texts with their “politically oriented” messages to be of interest, and on the strength of that his office subsequently requested and obtained more of their communications from their agency phones, this time covering the entire period of the Clinton investigation (up to November 30, 2016). After the FBI handed those over and the DOJ had studied them, more texts were again requested, all the way up to July 28, 2017.
It would take a great deal of effort and skill and self-awareness to be objective in the face of opinions as strong as those expressed by Strzok and Page. Objectivity is a goal, and I believe some people can achieve it. But to do so would take some struggle and a great deal of integrity and devotion to the idea that objectivity is of overwhelming importance—and in the case of Strzok and Page, who seemed to think Trump’s election threatened the very foundations of the republic, it’s hard to believe that they would place the principle of objectivity above that. Objectivity in the face of such strong bias would also require intense self-examination, because people are often unaware of how much their expectations and leanings affect the judgments they make.
In other words, how can an extremely partisan person be objective? Can people with the degree of partisanship that the Strzok and Page texts reveal ever be objective? Haven’t they passed a point of obvious no-return that invalidates their participation in any investigation of those about whom they’re so very partisan?
Strzok and Page were removed to avoid the appearance of impropriety, and it was the right thing to do. But that only prevented future impropriety; it did not change what had already occurred at their hands. How can we ever know how much damage was already done? For example, we’ve recently learned that there were multiple edits that softened the statements implicating Clinton in the speech in which Comey gave his reasons for declining to prosecute her. But although one of the edits has been ascribed to Strzok, we don’t know if he was responsible for the rest of them.
And how many unknown others with roles in the investigations of these public figures were (and still are) every bit as partisan as Strzok and Page? In order for the public to have trust in the integrity of investigations of possible impropriety by those in public office, we need to believe that the investigators themselves either have no biases or that they are able to successfully put aside the biases they have. But at this point, it’s hard to know why we should believe either of those things.
[Neo-neocon is a writer with degrees in law and family therapy, who blogs at neo-neocon.]DONATE
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