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Internal Documents Show The FBI Is Only Interested In Punishing Anti-Trump Speech By Its Employees

from the protecting-the-most-powerful-man-in-the-world-from-hurtful-texts dept

It doesn't pay to anger the man in charge. Trump's DOJ is more vindictive than most, it appears. Documents obtained via a FOIA request by Lawfare shows the FBI is more motivated to hunt down internal critics of this administration than any other it has served previously.

Two agents involved in the investigation of Hillary Clinton's email server have already been served up for punishment by this administration for their texted anti-Trump sentiments. Their political texts violated FBI internal guidelines -- ones meant to prevent personal feelings from tainting investigations. But to date, the FBI really hasn't done much about this sort of behavior. It took criticism of Trump to force the FBI to finally start dealing with this misconduct.

As Scott Anderson and Benjamin Wittes point out, this recent discipline is an anomaly.

Five employees, the documents show, have been disciplined for private communications using government devices in which they have criticized President Trump. But none, at least not since 2011, has been disciplined for similar conduct with respect to presidential candidates Hillary Clinton or Mitt Romney, or President Barack Obama—or for praising Trump.

This relative flurry of disciplinary activity is the only thing on record over a period covering two presidential administrations. And this lack of consistency has already been pointed out by Peter Strzok, the FBI agent demoted for his anti-Trump text messages. His lawsuit against Bill Barr and FBI Director Chris Wray pointed out the inequitable treatment of certain speech by FBI agents. There are limitations to the free speech protections granted to government employees, but whatever restrictions exist have to be enforced consistently. That simply doesn't happen under Trump.

During the Trump Administration this viewpoint discrimination has infected the FBI as well. While Special Agent Strzok and others who expressed negative opinions of President Trump have been subject to administrative punishments of various degrees of severity, no actions have been taken against agents who expressed harsh criticism of Secretary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, or those in the New York Field Office who leaked negative information about Secretary Clinton to the Trump campaign in the weeks before the election.

This lawsuit prompted Lawfare's FOIA request. Unsurprisingly, Lawfare had to engage in litigation of its own to obtain the requested documents. The supplemental information the FBI finally released made it clear no agents had been punished for political speech prior to 2018's demotion of Peter Strzok.

Punishing government employees for their political opinions seems like something that comes down on the wrong side of the First Amendment. It's also a convenient way to discourage whistleblowers and suppress criticism. But it doesn't appear to have been enforced until Trump took office, suggesting it isn't the FBI that has a problem with political speech, but those receiving the criticism.

If the FBI is going to clamp down on political statements and criticism by its agents, it needs to be consistent. If it can't be, then it shouldn't do it at all. Engaging in politically-motivated punishment of political speech is the worst route the FBI could have taken. A little bit of litigation may be all it takes to make it all but impossible for the FBI to address behavior that could raise the appearance of impropriety in investigations involving political entities. Adding another "appearance of impropriety" layer with inconsistent discipline isn't helping anything.

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Filed Under: doj, donald trump, fbi, free speech


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  • icon
    PeterV (profile), 5 Nov 2020 @ 10:44am

    And amazingly almost 50% of this country looked at this shit show over the last four years and thought, "Gee wouldn't another four years of this be real peachy keen!".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Baron von Robber, 5 Nov 2020 @ 2:06pm

      Re:

      America has a serious issue. Nearly 1/2 of it is ok with corruption, nepotism, childish name calling, antithetical leaders of their depts' missions, etc.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2020 @ 2:18pm

      Crawling out on slow day as all bite nails over the election,

      are yet more ZOMBIES! With the characteristic name change ang long gaps.

      This one has over SIX YEARS OF GAPS:

      Peter or Peter Voveris: 12 (1.5), 37 mo gap; 43 mo gap; Mar 19th, 2012 https://www.techdirt.com/user/pvoveris

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Spot Light, 5 Nov 2020 @ 2:19pm

        Re: Crawling out on slow day as all bite nails over the election

        Which this next easily tops with its ONE HUGE GAP after two comments the day it began:

        Brandon or spenoza: 3 (<0.3), EIGHT AND HALF YEAR GAP; May 3rd, 2012 https://www.techdirt.com/user/marurun

        (only in after tried AC and "Resend")

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
          identicon
          Spot Light, 5 Nov 2020 @ 2:19pm

          Re: Re: Crawling out on slow day as all bite nails over the elec

          Then "Bill Jackson" out with several today, though skipped 2017, two in 2018, and one long gap:

          106 (10), 30 mo gap; 26 Jul 2010 https://www.techdirt.com/user/aurizon

          Bill is a foreigner, states: "Here in Canada", but keen on US of A problems -- and on helping out Techdirt on a slow day.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
        identicon
        Spot Light, 5 Nov 2020 @ 2:20pm

        Techdirt is ASTRO-TURFING to look as though has activity.

        No one has ANY other explanation.

        Given that inescapable conclusion, the anonymous ones and repeated names are more than suspect too.

        The style of these jumps out when suspect: unique unnecessary combinations of words, a pseudo-medieval techno-babble, way too many syllables that lose the point. Just as Timothy Geigner can't help doing.

        Ya really ought to purge old accounts, Maz, at least those inactive for over six years! Even if genuine, make ya look like what ya are: PHONY.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Baron von Robber, 5 Nov 2020 @ 2:32pm

          Re: Techdirt is ASTRO-TURFING to look as though has activity.

          You have some pretty serious issues. Tin foil hat needs some loosening.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2020 @ 3:17pm

          Re: Techdirt is ASTRO-TURFING to look as though has activity.

          You need serious help. Stop posting and go to the nearest mental health facility as soon as possible

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2020 @ 8:47pm

          Re: Techdirt is ASTRO-TURFING to look as though has activity.

          I love how your vast (and literally insane) conspiracy is about a few random innocuous posts.

          It's like your cult leader complaining about imaginary voter fraud in a middle school student council election.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PeterV (profile), 5 Nov 2020 @ 5:05pm

        Re: Crawling out on slow day as all bite nails over the election

        I don't comment often, although I read this site most everyday and normally find comments I would have made already made. I guess, according to your anonymous post, if you don't comment often enough your points are less valid?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Khym Chanur (profile), 5 Nov 2020 @ 6:28pm

          Re: Re: Crawling out on slow day as all bite nails over the elec

          I don't comment often, although I read this site most everyday and normally find comments I would have made already made.

          Pfft, real people don't let "I have nothing new to add to the discussion" stop them from cluttering up the conversation.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 5 Nov 2020 @ 8:25pm

          Don't mind Woody, they're obsessed with TD to such an extent that a psychologist would be set for life if they ever realized that they were in dire need of mental help and one of the results of their obsession is thinking that anyone that isn't as fixated on the site as they are simply must be part of some wild conspiracy.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 6 Nov 2020 @ 4:18am

          Re: Re: Crawling out on slow day as all bite nails over the elec

          ".... according to your anonymous post, if you don't comment often enough your points are less valid?"

          Yeah, Baghdad Bob has this conspiracy theory going where any account not used often enough on Techdirt, with a long hiatus, or with sufficiently long times between posts has to be Mike Masnick, waking up in the middle of the night and building himself a sock puppet JUST to show the resident troll up.

          The irony is that old Baghdad Bob himself is that troll who got caught multiple times building half a dozen new nicknames to support his own commentary with and even today he loves his "angry kitten" nickname generator. It's why he's completely given up commenting on the sites which demand an actual account login - he keeps getting banned over unacceptable behavior.

          If he accuses you of anything just remember - he's projecting a confession.

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

          • icon
            Khym Chanur (profile), 6 Nov 2020 @ 11:29pm

            Re: Re: Re: Crawling out on slow day as all bite nails over the

            Yeah, Baghdad Bob has this conspiracy theory going where any account not used often enough on Techdirt, with a long hiatus, or with sufficiently long times between posts has to be Mike Masnick, waking up in the middle of the night and building himself a sock puppet JUST to show the resident troll up.

            I thought that his claim was that inactive accounts get sold to astroturfers.

            reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

            • icon
              Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 9 Nov 2020 @ 12:48am

              Re: Re: Re: Re: Crawling out on slow day as all bite nails over

              "I thought that his claim was that inactive accounts get sold to astroturfers."

              Yeah, and those "astroturfers" then all come in swinging for Mike Masnick because Baghdad Bob has such an inflated ego he takes for granted dozens of people get up at 3 in the morning just to follow the dictates of the New World Order to beat that one shitposting forum troll with it's own broken arguments.

              Under normal circumstances I'd just think Baghdad Bob - or bobmail, Jhon smith, Out_of_the_blue, etc - was just your average forum troll shitposter. But after what, ten years of him running that same skit unchanged I've been forced to conclude he's either a genuinely deranged paranoid schizophrenic or a maliciously programmed iteration of Googlebot.

              reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 5 Nov 2020 @ 5:08pm

      Re:

      It certainly wasn't a pleasant revelation, especially finding out just how many people fell into the category, but Trump's presidency has resulted in a lot of people taking their masks off and letting everyone around them see just how horrible they really were and how eagerly they would embrace the ugliest parts of humanity as soon as they saw someone in power getting away with acting like that.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    fairuse (profile), 5 Nov 2020 @ 12:51pm

    Don't Get Caught for $1

    What Would Nixon Say (WWNS) is all I can offer on this.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 5 Nov 2020 @ 2:00pm

    Are you serious?

    Are you f-ing people high? Or is your delusion just that strong? Blind? Biased? the FBI has been working for 4 years AGAINST Trump, wtf? How can you be in this much denial of objective reality? It boggles the mind.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 5 Nov 2020 @ 5:10pm

    How very reassuring

    Because if anything creates confidence in the belief that a government agency can be trusted to act in an unbiased manner and in accordance with the law it's seeing them toss precedent under the bus in order to punish anyone who says anything that's not gushing with praise towards the Dear Leader.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    imrankh (profile), 14 Nov 2020 @ 9:28am

    It's against freedom of speech

    if it's happening then it is totally against the freedom of speech.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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