How the FBI Violated the Privacy Act to Undermine Trump's 'Presidential Appointments': Watchdog Report
How the FBI Violated the Privacy Act to Undermine Trump's 'Presidential Appointments': Watchdog Report

By Naveen Athrappully

The FBI’s background investigations into President Donald Trump’s nominees, to fill various posts during his administration were biased and benefited people who were “politically opposed” to him revealed a recent report by nonprofit advocacy America First Legal (AFL).

“The federal background investigation (BI) process is broken,” stated the Sept. 14 AFL report (pdf). “During the Trump Administration, candidates for presidential appointments were subject to a BI process that involved the FBI’s repeated, agency-wide violations of the Privacy Act and the Paperwork Reduction Act, among other laws.” It alleges that certain agents in D.C. tanked President Trump’s potential appointees through selective reporting of unsubstantiated, derogatory information.

The report “reveals procedural infirmities that biased the FBI BI process in ways that benefited those politically opposed to former President Trump.”

During the Trump administration, the FBI provided files directly to the Senate without filtering unsubstantiated allegations or determining which information was relevant and which was not, said the report. The White House then disclosed such unedited accounts of potential nominees to the relevant Senate committees.

The report gave the example of Justice Brett Kavanaugh to describe how the “broken” background investigation process of the FBI was used to smear him. Justice Kavanaugh was nominated to the Supreme Court by President Trump.

“In 2018, due to concerns that Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh may have committed inappropriate activities when he was a minor, the Senate Judiciary Committee sought—and the White House complied with—a supplemental FBI investigation into the allegations,” it said (pdf).

“After Justice Kavanaugh was confirmed with no findings of wrongdoing, Senate Democrats determined that the FBI supplemental investigation was ‘fake’ and that ‘proper oversight’ must be made into how thoroughly the FBI investigated Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.”

The fact that the background investigation processes can be steered by either the White House or the Senate is “evidence that it is subject to significant bias,” the report said.

“Several of President Trump’s nominees, including Representative Darrell Issa, Representative Ronny Jackson, Judge Sul Ozerden, Jeffrey Byard, and William Bryan were denied confirmations on the basis of FBI BI issues.”

Biden Compromises Nominee Protections

The Department of Justice’s Office of Legal Policy (OLP) coordinates with the FBI in matters related to background investigations on appointees to law enforcement and the courts. Following the Clinton administration’s “politicization of privacy to spy on its political enemies,” the OLP established rules to prevent such issues from happening again, the report said.

Hunter Biden walks to a waiting SUV after arriving with President Joe Biden on Marine One at Fort McNair in Washington on July 4, 2023. (Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images)

But under the Biden administration, “those protections have been rescinded.” The OLP revoked such regulations that were “designed to protect individuals subject to the BI process.”

The Privacy Act of 1974 establishes a code of practices governing the collection and dissemination of information of individuals by federal agencies.

AFL notes that several requirements of the Privacy Act were not enforced by the FBI to protect judicial nominees during background investigations.

For instance, new regulations by the Biden administration allowed the White House to direct the FBI’s investigation of any potential candidates as the agency was no longer required to obtain written consent of the nominees. Moreover, the White House and the FBI can now disclose such background investigations outside of the Executive Branch without any notice.

“The will of the American people is thwarted when the deep state interferes with the nominations process established in the Constitution and laws of the United States,” said Gene Hamilton, AFL vice president and general counsel.

“The President deserves to have the Senate give proper advice and consent to his nominees, but the manner in which the background investigation process has worked has deprived the President–and in turn, the American people–of that right. This report highlights the need for reform and how gamesmanship behind the scenes can interfere with our constitutional order.”

The Epoch Times has reached out to the FBI for comment.

The Politicization Issue

The AFL report comes as concerns about the politicization of federal departments is a hot-button topic among lawmakers.

In May, Special Counsel John Durham’s report (pdf) on the FBI’s investigation into President Trump’s 2016 campaign stated that the agency’s handling of the matter was “seriously deficient.”

It also found that some of the FBI officials involved in the investigation were antagonistic to the former president like, for instance, Deputy Assistant Director for Counterintelligence Peter Strzok who had “pronounced hostile feelings toward Trump.”

FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok testifies at the Committee on the Judiciary and Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Joint Hearing on, “Oversight of FBI and DOJ Actions Surrounding the 2016 Election” in Washington on July 12, 2018. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

Following the release of the Durham report, House Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Mike Turner (R-Ohio) called on Congress to establish “new guardrails” for keeping the FBI in check.

“The report confirms that FBI personnel repeatedly disregarded critical protections established to protect the American people from unlawful surveillance,” he said to The Epoch Times.

“Such actions should never have occurred, and it is essential that Congress codifies clear guardrails that prevent future FBI abuses and restores the public’s trust in our law enforcement institutions.”

Recently, House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) sent subpoenas to six Biden administration officials over allegations that the Secret Service tipped off the Biden transition team about a planned interview of Hunter Biden regarding his tax probe.

“The Department of Justice initiated the Biden family coverup and now DHS under the leadership of Secretary Mayorkas is complicit in it,” Mr. Comer said in a statement.

He called the incident one of the “many examples of misconduct and politicization” during the Department of Justice’s (DOJ) criminal investigation into the president’s son.

Mark Tapscott contributed to this report.

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