Veteran FBI agents say FBI Director James Comey has permanently damaged the bureau’s reputation for uncompromising investigations with his “cowardly” whitewash of former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified information using an unauthorized private email server.
Feeling the heat from congressional critics, Comey last week argued that the case was investigated by career FBI agents, “So if I blew it, they blew it, too.”
But agents say Comey tied investigators’ hands by agreeing to unheard-of ground rules and other demands by the lawyers for Clinton and her aides that limited their investigation.
“In my 25 years with the bureau, I never had any ground rules in my interviews,” said retired agent Dennis V. Hughes, the first chief of the FBI’s computer investigations unit.
Instead of going to prosecutors and insisting on using grand jury leverage to compel testimony and seize evidence, Comey allowed immunity for several key witnesses, including potential targets.
The immunity agreements came with outrageous side deals, including preventing agents from searching for any documents on a Dell laptop owned by former Clinton chief of staff Cheryl Mills generated after Jan. 31, 2015, when she communicated with the server administrator who destroyed subpoenaed emails.
Comey also agreed to have Mills’ laptop destroyed after the restricted search, denying Congress the chance to look at it and making the FBI an accomplice to the destruction of evidence.
Comey’s immunized witnesses nonetheless suffered chronic lapses in memory, made unsubstantiated claims of attorney-client privilege upon tougher questioning and at least two gave demonstrably false statements. And yet Comey indulged it all.
What’s more, Comey cut a deal to give Clinton a “voluntary” witness interview on a major holiday, and even let her ex-chief of staff sit in on the interview as a lawyer, even though she, too, was under investigation.
Clinton’s interview, the culmination of a yearlong investigation, lasted just 3½ hours. Despite some 40 bouts of amnesia, she wasn’t called back for questioning; and three days later, Comey cleared her of criminal wrongdoing.
“The FBI has politicized itself, and its reputation will suffer for a long time,” Hughes said. “I hold Director Comey responsible.”
Agreed retired FBI agent Michael M. Biasello: “Comey has singlehandedly ruined the reputation of the organization.”
The accommodations afforded Clinton and her aides are “unprecedented,” Biasello added, “which is another way of saying this outcome was by design.” He called Comey’s decision not to seek charges “cowardly.”
“Each month for 27 years, I received oral and computer admonishments concerning the proper protocol for handling top secret and other classified material, and was informed of the harsh penalties, to include prosecution and incarceration,” for mishandling such material, he pointed out. “Had myself or my colleagues engaged in behavior of the magnitude of Hillary Clinton, as described by Comey, we would be serving time in Leavenworth.”
Former FBI official I.C. Smith knows a thing or two about Clinton corruption. After working at FBI headquarters as a section chief in the National Security Division, he retired as special agent in charge of the Little Rock, Ark., field office, where he investigated top Clinton fundraisers for public corruption and even Chinese espionage.
“FBI agents upset with Comey’s decision have every reason to feel that way,” Smith said. “Clearly there was a different standard applied to Clinton.”
“I have no doubt resourceful prosecutors and FBI agents could have come up with some charge that she would have been subject to prosecution,” the 25-year veteran added. “What she did is absolutely abhorrent for anyone who has access to classified information.”
Smith said Congress should subpoena the case’s agents to testify about the direction they received from Comey and their supervisors: “It would be interesting to see what the results would be if those involved with the investigation were questioned under oath.”
Comey made the 25 agents who worked on the case sign nondisclosure agreements. But others say morale has sunk inside the bureau.
“The director is giving the bureau a bad rap with all the gaps in the investigation,” one agent in the Washington field office said. “There’s a perception that the FBI has been politicized and let down the country.”
Comey has turned a once-proud institution known for its independence into one that bows to election pressure, hands out political immunity to candidates and effectively pardons their co-conspirators. He’s turned the FBI into the Federal Bureau of Immunity and lost the trust and respect of not only his agents but the country at large. He ought to step down.
Feminist male-bashing has come to sound like a cliché — a misogynist caricature. Feminism, its loudest proponents vow, is about fighting for equality. The man-hating label is either a smear or a misunderstanding.
Yet a lot of feminist rhetoric today does cross the line from attacks on sexism into attacks on men, with a strong focus on personal behavior: the way they talk, the way they approach relationships, even the way they sit on public transit. Male faults are stated as sweeping condemnations; objecting to such generalizations is taken as a sign of complicity. Meanwhile, similar indictments of women would be considered grossly misogynistic.
This gender antagonism does nothing to advance the unfinished business of equality. If anything, the fixation on men behaving badly is a distraction from more fundamental issues, such as changes in the workplace to promote work-life balance. What’s more, male-bashing not only sours many men — and quite a few women — on feminism. It often drives them into Internet subcultures where critiques of feminism mix with hostility toward women.
To some extent, the challenge to men and male power has always been inherent in feminism, from the time the 1848 Seneca Falls Declaration of Sentiments catalogued the grievances of “woman” against “man.” However, these grievances were directed more at institutions than at individuals. In The Feminine Mystique, which sparked the great feminist revival of the 1960s, Betty Friedan saw men not as villains but as fellow victims burdened by societal pressures and by the expectations of their wives, who depended on them for both livelihood and identity.
That began to change in the 1970s with the rise of radical feminism. This movement, with its slogan, “The personal is political,” brought a wave of female anger at men’s collective and individual transgressions. Authors like Andrea Dworkin and Marilyn French depicted ordinary men as patriarchy’s brutal foot soldiers.
This tendency has reached a troubling new peak, as radical feminist theories that view modern Western civilization as a patriarchy have migrated from academic and activist fringes into mainstream conversation. One reason for this trend is social media, with its instant amplification of personal narratives and its addiction to outrage. We live in a time when jerky male attempts at cyber-flirting can be collected on a blog called Straight White Boys Texting (which carries a disclaimer that prejudice against white males is not racist or sexist since it is not directed at the oppressed) and then deplored in an article titled Dear Men: This Is Why Women Have Every Right To Be Disgusted With Us.
Sitting with legs apart may be a guy thing, but there is plenty of visual documentation of women hogging extra space on public transit with purses, shopping bags and feet on seats. As for “mansplaining,” these days it seems to mean little more than a man making an argument a woman dislikes. Slate correspondent Dahlia Lithwick has admitted using the term to “dismiss anything said by men” in debates about Hillary Clinton. And the day after Clinton claimed the Democratic presidential nomination, political analyst David Axelrod was slammed as a “mansplainer” on Twitter for his observation that it’s a measure of our country’s “great progress” that “many younger women find the nomination of a woman unremarkable.”
Men who gripe about their ex-girlfriends and advise other men to avoid relationships with women are generally relegated to the seedy underbelly of the Internet — various forums and websites in the “manosphere,” recently chronicled by Stephen Marche in the Guardian. Yet a leading voice of the new feminist generation, British writer Laurie Penny, can use her column in the New Statesman to decry ex-boyfriends who “turned mean or walked away” and to urge straight young women to stay single instead of “wasting years in succession on lacklustre, unappreciative, boring child-men.”
Feminist commentary routinely puts the nastiest possible spin on male behavior and motives. Consider the backlash against the concept of the “friend zone,” or being relegated to “friends-only” status when seeking a romantic relationship — usually, though not exclusively, in reference to men being “friend zoned” by women. Since the term has a clear negative connotation, feminist critics say it reflects the assumption that a man is owed sex as a reward for treating a woman well. Yet it’s at least as likely that, as Australian-born feminist writer Rachel Hills argued in a rare dissent in the Atlantic, the lament of the “friend zoned” is about “loneliness and romantic frustration,” not sexual entitlement.
Things have gotten to a point where casual low-level male-bashing is a constant white noise in the hip progressive online media. Take a recent piece on Broadly, the women’s section of Vice, titled, “Men Are Creepy, New Study Confirms” — promoted with a Vice Facebook post that said: “Are you a man? You’re probably a creep.” The actual study found something very different: that both men and women overwhelmingly think someone described as “creepy” is more likely to be male. If a study had found that a negative trait was widely associated with women (or gays or Muslims), surely this would have been reported as deplorable stereotyping, not confirmation of reality.
Meanwhile, men can get raked over the (virtual) coals for voicing even the mildest unpopular opinion on something feminism-related. Just recently, YouTube film reviewer James Rolfe, who goes by “Angry Video Game Nerd,” was roundly vilified as a misogynistic “man-baby” in social media and the online press after announcing that he would not watch the female-led “Ghostbusters” remake because of what he felt was its failure to acknowledge the original franchise.
This matters, and not just because it can make men less sympathetic to the problems women face. At a time when we constantly hear that womanpower is triumphant and “the end of men” —- or at least of traditional manhood — is nigh, men face some real problems of their own. Women are now earning about 60 per cent of college degrees; male college enrolment after high school has stalled at 61 per cent since 1994, even as female from 63 per cent to 71 per cent. Predominantly male blue-collar jobs are on the decline, and the rise of single motherhood has left many men disconnected from family life. The old model of marriage and fatherhood has been declared obsolete, but new ideals remain elusive.
Perhaps mocking and berating men is not the way to show that the feminist revolution is about equality and that they have a stake in the new game. The message that feminism can help men, too — by placing equal value on their role as parents or by encouraging better mental health care and reducing male suicide — is undercut by gender warriors like Australian pundit Clementine Ford, whose “ironic misandry” often seems entirely non-ironic and who has angrily insisted that feminism stands only for women. Gibes about “male tears” — for instance, on a T-shirt sported by writer Jessica Valenti in a photo taunting her detractors — seem particularly unfortunate if feminists are serious about challenging the stereotype of the stoic, pain-suppressing male. Dismissing concerns about wrongful accusations of rape with a snarky “What about the menz” is not a great way to show that women’s liberation does not infringe on men’s civil rights. And telling men that their proper role in the movement for gender equality is to listen to women and patiently endure anti-male slams is not the best way to win support.
Valenti and others argue that man-hating cannot do any real damage because men have the power and privilege. Few would deny the historical reality of male dominance. But today, when men can lose their jobs because of sexist missteps and be expelled from college over allegations of sexual misconduct, that’s a blinkered view, particularly since the war on male sins can often target individuals’ trivial transgressions. Take the media shaming of former Harry Potter podcaster Benjamin Schoen, pilloried for some obnoxious tweets (and then an insufficiently gracious email apology) to a woman who had blocked him on Facebook after an attempt at flirting. While sexist verbal abuse toward women online is widely deplored, there is little sympathy for men who are attacked as misogynists, mocked as “man-babies” or “angry virgins,” or even smeared as sexual predators in Internet disputes.
We are headed into an election with what is likely to be a nearly unprecedented gender gap among voters. To some extent, these numbers reflect policy differences. Yet it is not too far-fetched to see the pro-Trump sentiment as fueled, at least in part, by a backlash against feminism. And while some of this backlash may be of the old-fashioned “put women in their place” variety, there is little doubt that for the younger generation, the perception of feminism as extremist and anti-male plays a role, too.
This theme emerged in Conor Friedersdorf’s recent interview in the Atlantic with a Trump supporter, a college-educated, 22-year-old resident of San Francisco who considers himself a feminist and expects his career to take a back seat to that of his higher-earning fiancee – but who also complains about being “shamed” as a white man and voices concern about false accusations of rape.
As this campaign shows, our fractured culture is badly in need of healing – from the gender wars as well as other divisions. To be a part of this healing, feminism must include men, not just as supportive allies but as partners, with an equal voice and equal humanity.