Column: Republicans keep gunning for Justice Dept. and FBI, but it’s Democrats who should have a beef with the feds

A man at a Department of Justice lectern and a woman in a blue jacket in the background
Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland and Deputy Atty. Gen. Lisa Monaco at the Department of Justice in April.
(Evan Vucci / Associated Press)

This week opened with more proof: If Democrats are weaponizing the federal government against their political opponents, as Republicans charge, they’re doing a really bad job of it.

No wonder the Republicans are firing blanks as they seek evidence of dirty deeds at the Justice Department and the FBI, through their specially created House “weaponization of government” subcommittee. There is no evidence.

Opinion Columnist

Jackie Calmes

Jackie Calmes brings a critical eye to the national political scene. She has decades of experience covering the White House and Congress.

In fact, the wonder is that it’s not Democrats who are the ones bellyaching about the nation’s top law enforcement agencies and calling to “defund” and “destroy” the FBI. After all, Donald Trump might never have been president had a Republican FBI director not announced just days before the 2016 election that he’d reopened an (ultimately doomed) investigation of Hillary Clinton.


The latest evidence underscoring the lunacy of Republicans’ complaints about a diabolical Democratic Deep State was the Washington Post’s lengthy investigative piece this week with the headline: “FBI resisted opening probe into Trump’s role in Jan. 6 for more than a year.”

In all that time, of course, it was appointees of a Democratic president, Joe Biden, who were running Justice and the FBI and steering clear of targeting Trump. The Post provided new details about how Atty. Gen. Merrick Garland and his deputy, Lisa Monaco, among other senior officials, were so obsessed with restoring public trust in the department after its actual weaponization under Trump and his attorney general, William Barr, they moved belatedly, and even then cautiously, to examine Trump’s actions. “You couldn’t use the T word,” one unnamed Justice official told the Post.

Beyond the civil and criminal allegations of misconduct, perhaps the single most compelling argument for Trump’s unfitness for the presidency is his cruelty,

June 19, 2023

Justice and the FBI finally acted after reporters and the House Jan. 6 committee uncovered evidence of Trump’s direct involvement in various schemes to overturn the 2020 election — pressuring state officials, his Justice appointees and his vice president — and after a federal judge in a related case found that Trump “more likely than not” committed federal crimes.

“Only after they were embarrassed did they start looking,” said another Post source. FBI Director Christopher A. Wray, the Trump appointee kept on by Biden (so much for Biden as weaponizer in chief), waited 15 months to authorize an investigation of Republican conniving to replace some states’ pro-Biden electors with pro-Trump fakes. Justice investigators didn’t interview witnesses to Trump’s notorious call to the Georgia secretary of state — the one in which he asked the official to “find” enough votes for Trump to win that state — until this year.

Donald Trump and other Republicans have criticized the Justice Department deal with President Biden’s son on tax and gun charges. They’re off-base as usual.

June 20, 2023

The story was much the same in the separate investigation of Trump’s retention of highly classified documents, despite nearly two years of entreaties from the feds and a subpoena seeking their return — the alleged crimes for which he has finally been indicted. For months, according to the Post, FBI agents opposed a last-resort plan to raid Mar-a-Lago to recover material the government had good reason to suspect was there. Some agents argued for taking Trump’s word that he’d returned everything and dropping the case. (Take Trump’s word? Who would do that?)

Yet most Republicans, even those critical of Trump for the documents mess, lambaste the FBI and Justice for railroading him somehow. Take it from a (somewhat) reformed Barr: “Trump’s indictment is not the result of unfair government persecution. This is a situation entirely of his own making.” To suggest otherwise, Barr wrote this week, is “cynical political propaganda.”

Here’s another reason that Democrats rather than Republicans are the party with a beef against the law enforcement agencies. In 2018, the FBI assisted Republicans in effectively taking control of the Supreme Court. At the direction of Trump and then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, wily Republican from Kentucky, Wray’s FBI did an investigation of the allegations of sexual assault against Supreme Court nominee Brett M. Kavanaugh that was so limited in time (less than a week) and scope (an eyewitness to an unreported assault was ignored, for one thing) that it was hardly any investigation at all. Yet the bogus probe allowed McConnell to falsely claim that the FBI had exonerated Kavanaugh, ensuring his confirmation.


The Justice Department on Tuesday announced it reached a deal with the president’s son, who will plead guilty to misdemeanor tax offenses and a felony charge of illegally possessing a gun.

June 21, 2023

Predictably, Republicans were silent about the Post revelations, contrary as they are to the party’s message about demonic Democrats and Justice Department bias. But — echoing Trump — they were quick to pounce on the news Tuesday that the president’s son Hunter Biden had agreed to plead guilty to two misdemeanor tax charges and pretrial diversion on a gun violation.

A Trump super PAC condemned the agency for making a “sweetheart deal,” and House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, the Bakersfield Republican, demanded that Justice officials turn over their records for a Republican-led House committee to examine. Here again, though, there were inconvenient facts: When Biden took office he kept in place the Republican U.S. attorney charged with investigating his son, and the prosecutor has had broad authority to sniff and dig into Hunter Biden’s conduct and business dealings. For five years.

Republicans’ constant condemnation of the nation’s law enforcement pillars is not only wrong-headed, it’s unfortunately damnably effective. The chilling effect from their harping is obvious in the crazy caution Justice and the FBI displayed toward Trump. Worse, though, is the way Republicans are undermining Americans’ confidence in the rule of law, all to score political points.

That is the real weaponization of the government.