Yesterday in these pages Margot Cleveland rightly noted that the most damning finding in the 306-page report from Special Counsel John Durham is not necessarily the FBI’s scandalous Crossfire Hurricane investigation of the Trump campaign in 2016, but that the egregious abuses of power detailed in the report cannot be remedied “absent a curing of the corrupted hearts and minds of law enforcement and intelligence agencies.”
For all the FBI’s blatant partisanship, its disregard of exculpatory evidence, and its outright deception to secure FISA warrants on Trump campaign associates, writes Cleveland, “what should terrify the country is not the catalog of malfeasance the special counsel recited — for mistakes and even gross failures can be corrected — but that Durham warned of corrupted hearts and minds, unfaithful to the people and their Constitution.”
For his part, Durham didn’t recommend any changes to FBI guidelines or policies, because no amount of reform will be sufficient if the people in charge feel free to disregard guidelines and policies whenever they see fit to do so. As such, wrote Durham, “the answer is not the creation of new rules but a renewed fidelity to the old. The promulgation of additional rules and regulations to be learned in yet more training sessions would likely prove to be a fruitless exercise if the FBI’s guiding principles of ‘Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity’ are not engrained in the hearts and minds of those sworn to meet the FBI’s mission of ‘Protect[ing] the American People and uphold[ing] the Constitution of the United States.’”
Durham is right, as is Cleveland. The abuse of power laid out in the report is terrifying, not just because what the FBI undertook in 2016 amounted to an attempted coup, but because it’s unclear how to prevent it from happening again. Indeed, we saw the same kind of abuse of power at play in 2020 when active and former CIA officials saw fit to interfere in the election by soliciting signatures for a letter designed to quash the Hunter Biden laptop story. There is every reason to believe that these kinds of abuses will happen again in 2024, and in every future presidential election.
As I wrote earlier this week, such abuse in our law enforcement and intelligence agencies represents a mortal threat to the republic, and we should understand the Durham report in that light.
But Durham’s damning indictment of the DOJ and FBI goes beyond those particular agencies, and indeed beyond the federal government. That people like former CIA Director John Brennan and former FBI Director James Comey, along with the entire cast of villains and liars in the Durham report, rose to positions of such power, and then proceeded to abuse that power by arrogating to themselves the right to decide who should be president — a right that belongs solely to the American people — says something about the state of our republic.
What it says is this: We have produced, and are still producing, a totally corrupt elite bereft of any sense of “Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity,” to say nothing of moral virtue or the common good.
Put bluntly, an elite like that makes self-government in a republic of free citizens impossible. It also means that the elite will work to corrupt ordinary Americans, eroding their respect for the rule of law and fidelity to the Constitution. As the elites go, so eventually the entire country goes.
Seen in this light, the Durham report should be understood as a dire warning about the fate of our country. John Adams issued a similar warning when he penned his famous line, that “Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” George Washington did the same in his farewell address when he said, “’Tis substantially true that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government.”
The founders knew what we seem to have forgotten: Without a virtuous people, without citizens and leaders who believe in objective moral truth and understand themselves to be bound by it, we cannot be a free people, and we cannot sustain a republic. Laws alone, to say nothing of guidelines and policies, are not enough to support and sustain self-government. You need citizens who will respect and uphold the law, and leaders who actually believe in the principle of self-government — something our current crop of leaders clearly rejects.
Without a morally virtuous citizenry, the founders also knew we would eventually become a society not of free men and women, but of slaves to a tyrannical regime. That’s the real warning embedded in the Durham report. The corruption of the FBI, the CIA, and the entire federal intelligence community, which led to the Russia-collusion hoax and almost took down Trump’s campaign, and then his presidency, cannot be fixed with new rules and policies. It’s a moral failing, moral corruption, and it can only be fixed by a spiritual renewal in America, by a return to — let’s be honest — a civic culture shaped and guided by Christian moral virtue.
It’s easy to look at the Durham report and conclude that the problem is just with a handful of bad apples in the federal intelligence agencies. But the rot goes much deeper than that. People like Comey and Brennan and the legions of corrupt agents and bureaucrats under them were produced by an American society that has lost its way, that has become unmoored from the morality that sustains our system of government and inculcates virtue in our citizenry.
New rules and regulations won’t be enough. Nor will it be enough to defund or disband the FBI. Unless we rediscover the moral virtue necessary for self-government, we will descend, bit by bit, into tyranny. And one day we will look back at the Durham report and understand that it wasn’t just an indictment of the FBI but an indictment of us all — and a harbinger of the end of our republic.
John Daniel Davidson is a senior editor at The Federalist. His writing has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, the Claremont Review of Books, The New York Post, and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter, @johnddavidson.
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