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OpinionEditorial

A grave time for America

FBI Director Christopher Wray listens during an interview

FBI Director Christopher Wray listens during an interview with The Associated Press on Monday in Washington. Credit: AP/Jacquelyn Martin

 The notion of America's greatness is rooted in many things, not least of which is our democracy. The trust of Americans in their government and, crucially, in the institutions that make it work, is what makes our nation different. We don't bend them to one person's will. We don't discard them at one person's whim. We don't attack and discredit them because their work is troublesome for one person — even if that person is the president of the United States.

Increasingly, that is no longer true. This is a grave time for America. It's easy to shrug off Washington as a partisan sewer. But that's too superficial a description for the crisis upon us.

 Department of Justice Inspector General Michael Horowitz's report on the FBI's Russia investigation released Monday became an instant casualty of the growing distrust urged by President Donald Trump, and exacerbated by the dishonest reporting of Fox News. We now have an environment in which partisan actors choosing to read the same thing differently have reduced objective truth to a quaint relic.

Horowitz found that the FBI had sufficient reason to begin its probe of candidate Trump in 2016, that there was no evidence of political bias in the investigation, and that spies were not planted in the Trump campaign. But Attorney General William Barr rejected the findings, which sadly was not surprising but is exceedingly distressing. Barr has been more Trump's wingman and less a principled attorney general; he must put the needs of the department and the nation first. Truly stunning was an out-of-nowhere, break-the-rule-book statement by John Durham, the U.S. attorney from Connecticut chosen by Barr to conduct yet another investigation of the FBI's probe. Durham said his investigation, which is not close to complete, does not support Horowitz's conclusions, giving Trump and his supporters cover to say the truth still is not known.

But FBI Director Christopher Wray, appointed by the president after he fired James Comey, accepted the findings about his own agency, including that it made a  dismaying number of serious errors in applications for court permission to wiretap a Trump campaign adviser with ties to Russia. That led Trump to attack Wray, and brought further criticism from Barr, moves that  have rattled FBI agents and career prosecutors all over the country. There could be no better way to undermine our federal law enforcement system.

Adding to the maelstrom in Washington were the winds of impeachment. House Democrats unveiled two articles against Trump Tuesday, the more troubling of which alleged obstruction of Congress for refusing demands for documents and officials to interview. That's from Trump's businessman playbook, thumbing his nose at convention, refusing to play by the rules, refusing to pay vendors. But that behavior by a president has much more serious consequences. His broadsides against Congress, the FBI, the judiciary and others are weakening the nation. And for surreal counterpoint, his and Barr's salvos were launched the same day Trump hosted Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov in the White House.

Wray has issued more than 40 directives to address the FBI's failures. Reforms to the wiretap authorization process are pending before Congress. That's how our democracy should respond to the IG's findings, not with determined attacks that erode the very things that make us strong. — The editorial board

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