Few politicians in modern American history have waged a public smear campaign against the FBI with the vigor and enthusiasm of Donald Trump.
In recent months, the former president has equated the FBI with “the Gestapo.” He’s told the public that the bureau is led by “Marxist Thugs.” He’s promoted a piece that referred to the FBI as “the Fascist Bureau of Investigation.” He’s condemned the FBI as “corrupt” and “crooked.” He’s described FBI officials as “mobsters” and a “real threat to democracy.” He’s slammed the FBI as the “Fake Bureau of Investigation,” before accusing the bureau of secretly paying people to “steal” the 2020 election from him, as part of the FBI’s plot to “rig” the election and “illegally change” the results.
Despite all of these tantrums, the Republican did not go so far as to call for Congress to defund federal law enforcement — that is, until this morning. Trump published this missive to his social media platform (it was originally published in an all-caps harangue, but to make it easier to read, I’m converting it to standard capitalization):
“Republicans in Congress should defund the DOJ and FBI until they come to their senses. The Democrats have totally weaponized law enforcement in our country and are viciously using this abuse of power to interfere with our already under siege elections!”
As hysterical nonsense from the former president goes, this morning’s message featured cascading absurdities. Trump was, for example, arraigned in a New York courtroom yesterday as part of a criminal case that has nothing to do with the Justice Department or the bureau. (Perhaps he received another unpleasant briefing from his defense attorneys overnight?)
In fact, every claim in the former president’s missive was ridiculous. No one has “totally weaponized” law enforcement — though Trump certainly tried to do so while in office — and U.S. elections are not “under siege.”
But there’s also a larger context to this. Revisiting our earlier coverage, quite a few leading Republican voices have tried to convince the public that the Federal Bureau of Investigation is, at its core, a wildly liberal institution in league with Democrats. The claims have never made sense: The FBI has earned a reputation as one of the single most conservative institutions in the federal government.
As Joyce White Vance, former U.S. attorney and an NBC News legal analyst, explained last year, “The notion that the FBI isn’t, in essence, a conservative-leaning organization is really silly.”
And yet, a growing group of far-right Republicans have nevertheless embraced the idea that Congress should strip the FBI of its funding.
At an event last summer, for example, Republican Rep. Andy Biggs, the former chair of the right-wing House Freedom Caucus, talked up possible priorities if the GOP took control of the House. “There are things you can do,” the Arizonan said, reflecting on Congress’ power. “You start defunding some of these bad agencies. The FBI. The DOJ.”
After the search at Donald Trump’s glorified country club, similar talk became much louder. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene of Georgia, for example, became a leading proponent of “defunding” the FBI. Last month, Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida told a far-right audience, “We either get this government back on our side or we defund and get rid of, abolish the FBI, the CDC, ATF, DOJ, every last one of them if they do not come to heel.”
This past weekend, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jim Jordan told Fox News, “We control the power of the purse, and that’s, we’re gonna have to look at the appropriations process and limit funds going to some of these agencies, particularly the ones who are engaging in the most egregious behavior.”
When the host asked if he was referring to the FBI and the Department of Justice, the Ohio Republican said he was.
But it’s one thing for radical House members to push an outlandish anti-FBI idea, it’s something else for a former president — and by some measures, the frontrunner for the Republican Party’s 2024 nomination — to throw his weight behind the same bizarre pitch.
To be sure, there’s no reason to believe Congress actually will try to defund federal law enforcement, but in the recent past, the GOP used to build entire campaigns around “defund the police” talk. Ahead of 2024, don’t be surprised if the Republican push to “defund the FBI” becomes a similar topic of conversation.
This post revises our related earlier coverage.