President Donald Trump’s latest round of attacks on the FBI has left morale at the Justice Department at a new low, with officials bemoaning what they view as a full-frontal assault on their institution.
“It’s a deliberate campaign to delegitimize institutions where the people who are inside those institutions are professionals and giving up lots of money for the jobs that they’re doing and it’s extremely demoralizing,” said one current federal prosecutor.
“As my father used to say, history goes forward and backward. And things go backward when the trust in bedrock institutions—which are trustworthy, by the way—is diminished for the benefit of a few. It accelerates, and you wake up one day and we’re in Venezuela.”
Trump has been pushing a conspiracy theory that the FBI sicced a spy on his campaign during the election season. In reality, a longtime FBI informant—per numerous reports—spoke with several Trump campaign officials, including Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, and shared the information with FBI investigators. The Daily Caller reported the name of the person believed to be that informant.
Using informants is typical for federal law enforcement, including in large and complex cases like the one involving Team Trump. But the president took to Twitter to assert that something more nefarious may have happened.
“I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes - and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” he tweeted on Sunday.
After the president’s tweet, a spokesperson for the Justice Department announced that the department’s inspector general would expand an existing probe to look into “whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.”
On Monday afternoon, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein—who is overseeing the Russia probe—met with Trump, along with Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and FBI Director Chris Wray.
The attacks have left many in the DOJ feeling beleaguered and demoralized.
“Where I sit, people mostly suffer in silence,” one federal prosecutor told The Daily Beast. He pointed to a piece in the blog Lawfare by Ben Wittes and Quinta Jurecic as capturing “a feeling that’s broadly held” in the department. Wittes and Jurecic wrote that the revelation of the identity of the alleged informant “will have a long tail and big consequences—all of them terrible.”
“You can’t overstate how critical it is for us—and in particular for the FBI—that people who have information to share will trust us to protect them,” the prosecutor continued. “My personal view is that Trump and [House Intel Chair Devin] Nunes must know that their actions will give pause to anyone considering cooperation with the special counsel, and that’s part of their plan—the consequences for law enforcement writ large be damned.”
Another DOJ official told The Daily Beast that morale at the FBI has hit rock bottom. That official said he hears a constant refrain, over and over, among his colleagues: “This is such a dark time for the FBI.”