This commentary is by Paul Dame, chair of the Vermont GOP.
Last week the special report issued by special counsel John Durham detailed some disturbing news about the internal working of America’s largest law enforcement agencies. Members of the FBI and the Department of Justice appeared to have abused the power granted to them by the American people in a way that demonstrated a severe political bias and led to improper conduct.
This is ironic because at the time news agencies, like the Atlantic, were convinced by the misinformation from our own government that President Trump’s actions were “Worse Than Watergate,” but the special report appears to not only clear Trump of any charges of colluding with Russia, it goes on instead to suggest these branches of government were conspiring with one presidential candidate in order to harm their opponent.
As CNN Anchor Jake Tapper described it, this report was “devastating” and in many ways the truth this report revealed is actually worse than Nixon’s Watergate. The Durham report proved that our nation’s law enforcement agency was far too eager to take the misinformation fed to them by a political campaign, and launch an unwarranted investigation that ensnared the Republican President’s first two years, and cast a shadow over his entire term. Never before have we seen government agents putting their thumb on the scale with the intent to interfere with the narrative surrounding a U.S. Presidential election
Every fair-minded Democrat and Independent should be concerned about what this report uncovers. Because no matter how much some people dislike Trump, that doesn’t justify the FBI and DOJ starting an “investigation” when there was no reliable evidence to begin with. And if it can be done to one political party, it can be done to the other — or a candidate who doesn’t fit the mold of either party.
This is our most serious threat to Democracy. These agencies were originally created to serve a useful purpose that was designed to be of a benefit to the American people. But just like the broom in the Sorcerer’s Apprentice, these agencies have gone beyond the intent of their creators. The parallels to the growing concern around AI are on point. No one wants to see something that has a specific and useful purpose grow to a point where it assumes the authority that doesn’t belong to it, because it may exercise that authority in a harmful way. While evil robots trying to destroy humanity is relegated to the realm of science fiction for now, history is all too full of examples of central governments choking the life and liberty out of their constituents.
But there is nothing new under the sun. Our founding fathers understood clearly the principles which are at work today, even if they could not have imagined or dreamed of electricity, computers or AI. Anything with great unilateral power, must have some reliable mechanism to rein in that power when it grows outside of its bounds – because that’s what power has a tendency to do. To me, this is the issue upon which Republicans and Democrats have a foundational disagreement. Democrats have been fighting to continue to build up and strengthen the power of government agencies, by appointing new “czars” and creating new agencies that will promulgate new rules and regulations. Every effort they make to address a problem is to create a new program, a new revenue source with a new group of technocratic oligarchs who will be able to wield their power for good. This is all based on the assumption that Democrats get to prescribe to all of us what their belief of “Good” is, and that is will be equally good for all people.
But the Republican Party was built and established for such a time as this. When these agencies and powers have grown beyond their appropriate authority, it is time to devise an intentional plan to return them to their appropriate bounds. While Democrats are trying to stop and regulate the bad actors they see in the private sector, the value that Republicans bring to the table, is that we are mindful of all the ways we need to curb the bad actors inside our public sector.
Some on the right are calling to abolish the FBI. That might have a whole host of other unintended consequences that haven’t been examined yet. But it is clear that there needs to be considerable reform to create a more functional system of checks and balances within the Executive Branch.
One thing that needs desperate reform is the FISA court. The idea that this court is operating entirely in secret and it’s actions and decisions are unknowable to too many people has proven to have the very kind of dystopian outcomes that many had warned about. When the court grants the authority to place under surveillance the politicians who have oversight of the operations of the court, we know there is a dangerous game in play. Because the court is purposefully one-sided, it means that it is handicapped in its pursuit of truth the way a proper criminal court has two sides to balance it out, and challenge the misinformation from both sides with an adversarial approach.
But its also clear that the FBI and DOJ need some other mechanism of accountability that is missing. We only know about these improprieties because they affected the President of the United States. How many more examples of wrongdoing may exist that just not have risen to the surface yet, because they involve injustices against people whose names we do not know? Thankfully Republicans took back control of the House and are committed to getting to the bottom of this, and other kinds of government abuses of power.
As we start looking more carefully at how our government is operating, it’s clear that Republicans are best suited to shine a spotlight on these kinds of abuses. Our mission, and one of the threads that binds together so many different kinds of Republicans, is the basic and fundamental commitment to the fact that when government power grows, it is usually at the expense of protecting personal freedom.
Republicans want to end the kind of “unlimited power” that comes from an Empire, and restore a Republic, which emphasizes the rights and freedoms of the individuals.