'Criminal Cabal'? FBI Fears Political Attacks May Imperil Work Of Field Agents Current and former special agents worry that the Bureau's tumble through the political spin cycle might hurt their ability to do their jobs across the country.
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'Criminal Cabal'? FBI Fears Political Attacks May Imperil Work Of Field Agents

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'Criminal Cabal'? FBI Fears Political Attacks May Imperil Work Of Field Agents

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'Criminal Cabal'? FBI Fears Political Attacks May Imperil Work Of Field Agents

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So the FBI is this nation's top law enforcement agency. But it has come under attack from President Trump and his allies. And that has current and former FBI officials worrying about the toll this might take on the bureau's ability to do its job. Here's more from NPR's Ryan Lucas.

RYAN LUCAS, BYLINE: For some two months now, the FBI has found itself the target of a consistent campaign. Headlines in the conservative press and pundits on cable news shows have repeatedly raised questions about its integrity.

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JEANINE PIRRO: There is a cleansing needed in our FBI and Department of Justice.

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NEWT GINGRICH: I think it's pretty appalling, the level of corruption we're beginning to see in the FBI.

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TOM FITTON: There was no distinction between the Hillary Clinton campaign and the Department of Justice and the FBI.

LUCAS: That's Fox News host Jeanine Pirro, former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich and the conservative group Judicial Watch's president Tom Fitton. Democrats say the allegations are an attempt to distract from special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia. But for many current and former FBI officials, the immediate political battles are almost secondary to a bigger worry - will the allegations sap Americans' faith in the FBI?

CHRIS SWECKER: We're very concerned about the credibility of the FBI because we're having to defend it on a daily basis. And we've never had to do that before.

LUCAS: That's Chris Swecker. He spent 24 years at the FBI before retiring as an acting assistant director. He says there's been controversy in the past.

SWECKER: But never accusations that the FBI had become a political tool for one party or another.

LUCAS: It's difficult to gauge whether the efforts to discredit the FBI have gained traction with average Americans. Anecdotally at least, former agents say they are having to answer uncomfortable questions from family, friends and neighbors who want to know this - what's going on with the FBI?

STEPHANIE DOUGLAS: We all get asked that. Even FBI agents ask that to each other. What's going on with the bureau? What do you know? Who have you talked to? What have you heard?

LUCAS: That's Stephanie Douglas, a former FBI executive assistant director for the National Security Branch. She and other former officials say they worry the political allegations could hamper the work of agents out on the streets, the ones who are working cases on everything from bank robberies and terrorism to white-collar crimes or kidnappings. Again, Douglas.

DOUGLAS: There may be some temporary impact. When people feel like an organization like the FBI becomes political, it can impact the trust that certain people give to the organization.

LUCAS: It isn't just about politics, though. Douglas worries about agents being able to elicit the help of witnesses.

DOUGLAS: Will that impact the public's ability to cooperate with an investigation?

LUCAS: The potential is a concern. FBI sources tell me that agents have raised the issue of the public's perception of the bureau at office meetings. Critics point to anti-Trump text messages sent by a senior FBI agent involved in the Hillary Clinton email investigation and the Russia probe. They say that supports their claims that the FBI is tainted by political bias. Officials don't defend those texts. But they stress that some 35,000 people work at the FBI. Political opinions span the spectrum. Again, Swecker.

SWECKER: Let's face it, we all have political opinions. Agents vote. That's a political act in and of itself. But if you can't leave that at your house when you go to work as an FBI agent, then you need to be in another line of business. And people recognize that.

LUCAS: There's one aspect of the current criticism that sets it apart from past periods of turmoil. The president himself has repeatedly gone after the FBI. That, former FBI officials say, is shortsighted. Here's Konrad Motyka. He's a retired FBI special agent who also served as the head of the FBI Agents Association.

KONRAD MOTYKA: I think it's important for all politicians to remember that, you know, the FBI's a core institution of the United States government. And making its mission more difficult or harming its overall credibility is not in the best interest of the country.

LUCAS: At the same time, the Russia investigation shows no sign of coming to a close. That may mean the FBI will stay in the political crosshairs, too.

Ryan Lucas, NPR News, Washington.

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