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Opinion| Will the FBI interfere in determining next president of the US?

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Once again, accusations against the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) regarding interference in the presidential elections return to the political scene in the US.

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For the first time in US history, a large force of the FBI stormed one of the private residences of former president Donald Trump at his home in Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida.

US media confirmed that the raid came after the FBI obtained a search warrant from the court and that it was indeed legal, stressing that the reason behind the raid was related to the presence of secret presidential documents that Trump took with him from the White House after the end of his term.

In an immediate response, the former US president published a statement through his account on the social networking site Social Truth — which he owns — to announce the storming of his home, attacking the US Public Prosecution saying that “what happened is misconduct on the part of the Public Prosecution.”

He also stressed that the justice system was being used as a weapon by Democrats and supporters of the extreme left to prevent him from running for president in 2024.

Moreover, Trump accused the FBI of “planting” evidence at his Mar-a-Lago residence during the raid on Monday. He added that the FBI did not allow anyone, including lawyers, to be anywhere near the places searched during the raid, noting that “everyone was asked to leave the building, and that they wanted to be alone, without any witnesses to see what they were doing or taking or planting.”

“Why did they insist so strongly that no one was watching them, and everyone was outside?” he asked, noting that the homes of former president Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton were not inspected despite the great controversies surrounding them.

This is not the first time that Trump has accused the FBI of working for the Democratic Party. In 2018, for example, Trump confirmed on his official Twitter account the involvement of the FBI — as well as the Departments of Justice and State — in information leaks, lies, and corruption.

This was after a sharp dispute between the institutions of the US over the nature of Russian interference in the elections that concluded with Trump’s victory. Not long after the accusation, the White House announced the release of a classified memo condemning the use of the FBI’s authority in the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 US presidential election.

The White House deputy spokesperson at the time confirmed that the memo consisted of “four pages drafted by Republican Representative Devin Nunes — Chairperson of the House Intelligence Committee.”

This memo contained references to cases in which the FBI abused the US government’s monitoring powers in its investigations into Russian interference. In turn, the FBI and the Department of Interior tried to pressure Trump into not releasing the memo, stating that declassifying it “may harm national security and mislead the public.”

Trump then tweeted: “Leaders and investigators of the FBI and Department of Justice have politicised the sacred course of investigations for Democrats against Republicans.”  

Furthermore, a few weeks ago, Republican Senator and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee Chuck Grassley announced that the FBI had been downplaying negative information about Hunter Biden in the run-up to the 2020 election.

Grassley said that an allegedly “highly credible” whistle-blower came forward and claimed that the FBI exerted widespread effort to downplay negative information about President Joe Biden’s son, describing information and intelligence about the president’s son as “potential misinformation” and closing the case immediately ahead of the 2020 presidential elections.

In fact, despite the FBI’s stated commitment to protecting elections and protecting the vote of the American electorate — since fair elections are the foundation of democracy — the FBI indeed has a long history of meddling in presidential elections since its inception, especially under the leadership of John Edgar Hoover, who was the first head of the FBI until he died in 1972.

For example, as John Hoover’s assistant William Sullivan tells us in his book, ‘The Bureau: My Thirty Years in Hoover’s FBI’, when Roosevelt began preparing for a third term, Hoover eliminated his rival Father Charles E. Coughlin — an ultra-conservative priest who was as a major thorn in Roosevelt’s side.

He said that in January 1940, 17 members of the pro-Coughlin Christian Front were arrested by the FBI and accused of plotting to murder several members of Congress. Whether the charges were accurate or not, the arrests wiped out Coughlin as an influential political figure.

Also, in the 1948 presidential campaign, the FBI leaked to Republican rival Thomas E. Dewey a lot of classified information around former President Harry Truman’s association with some politically corrupt officials in Kansas City.

Again, in the 1952 presidential campaign, the FBI managed to discredit Adlai Stevenson as an introverted homosexual who received less attention. According to Hoover’s biographer, Kurt Gentry, Hoover was the source of rumours that Stevenson had once been arrested on moral charges; the same rumours spread in 1956.

It is well known, of course, that after Hoover’s death, there was a massive reform campaign within the FBI’s office to ensure its integrity and impartiality. However, recent repeated allegations by Trump and some Republicans certainly reduce the credibility of the FBI in the eyes of the American people and may also undermine the integrity of the presidential elections as a whole, especially in light of the current great polarisation in US society and the questioning of the integrity of the past presidential elections.

It suffices to point out that according to the latest Gallup poll on the subject, public confidence in the FBI has declined in recent years. In 2019, 57% of American adults said the FBI was doing an “excellent” or “good” job. However, in 2021, it dropped to 44%.

This change is mostly due to lower confidence on the Republican side, which has seen a decline from 46 to 26% over the past two years. On the other hand, Democrats maintained slightly higher levels of confidence at 66%.

* Marwa Al-Shinawy is an Assistant Professor at the International American University for Specialised Studies (IAUS)

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