The privilege of being the only American in our history to serve as the director of both the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. gives me a unique perspective and a responsibility to speak out about a dire threat to the rule of law in the country I love. Order protects liberty, and liberty protects order. Today, the integrity of the institutions that protect our civil order is, tragically, under assault from too many people whose job it should be to protect them.
The rule of law is the bedrock of American democracy, the principle that protects every American from the abuse of monarchs, despots and tyrants. Every American should demand that our leaders put the rule of law above politics.
I am deeply disturbed by the assertion of President Trump that our “current director” — as he refers to the man he selected for the job of running the F.B.I. — cannot fix what the president calls a broken agency. The 10-year term given to all directors following J. Edgar Hoover’s 48-year tenure was created to provide independence for the director and for the bureau. The president’s thinly veiled suggestion that the director, Christopher Wray, like his banished predecessor, James Comey, could be on the chopping block, disturbs me greatly. The independence of both the F.B.I. and its director is critical and should be fiercely protected by each branch of government.
Over my nine-plus years as F.B.I. director, I reported to four honorable attorneys general. Each clearly understood the importance of the rule of law in our democracy and the critical role the F.B.I. plays in the enforcement of our laws. They fought to protect both, knowing how important it was that our F.B.I. remain independent of political influence of any kind.
As F.B.I. director, I served two presidents, one a Democrat, Jimmy Carter, who selected me in part because I was a Republican, and one a Republican, Ronald Reagan, whom I revered. Both of these presidents so respected the bureau’s independence that they went out of their way not to interfere with or sway our activities. I never once felt political pressure.
I know firsthand the professionalism of the men and women of the F.B.I. The aspersions cast upon them by the president and my longtime friend, Attorney General William P. Barr, are troubling in the extreme. Calling F.B.I. professionals “scum,” as the president did, is a slur against people who risk their lives to keep us safe. Mr. Barr’s charges of bias within the F.B.I., made without providing any evidence and in direct dispute of the findings of the nonpartisan inspector general, risk inflicting enduring damage on this critically important institution.
The country can ill afford to have a chief law enforcement officer dispute the Justice Department’s own independent inspector general’s report and claim that an F.B.I. investigation was based on “a completely bogus narrative.” In fact, the report conclusively found that the evidence to initiate the Russia investigation was unassailable. There were more than 100 contacts between members of the Trump campaign and Russian agents during the 2016 campaign, and Russian efforts to undermine our democracy continue to this day. I’m glad the F.B.I. took the threat seriously. It is important, Mr. Wray said last week, that the inspector general found that “the investigation was opened with appropriate predication and authorization.”
As a lawyer and a former federal judge, I made it clear when I headed both the F.B.I. and the C.I.A. that the rule of law would be paramount in all we did. While both agencies are staffed by imperfect human beings, the American people should understand that both agencies are composed of some of the most law-abiding, patriotic and dedicated people I have ever met. While their faces and actions are not seen by most Americans, rest assured that they are serving our country well.
I have complete confidence in Mr. Wray, and I know that the F.B.I. is not a broken institution. It is a professional agency worthy of respect and support. The derision and aspersions are dangerous and unwarranted.
I’m profoundly disappointed in another longtime, respected friend, Rudy Giuliani, who had spent his life defending our people from those who would do us harm. His activities of late concerning Ukraine have, at a minimum, failed the smell test of propriety. I hope he, like all of us, will redirect to our North Star, the rule of law, something so precious it is greater than any man or administration.
This difficult moment demands the restoration of the proper place of the Department of Justice and the F.B.I. as bulwarks of law and order in America. This is not about politics. This is about the rule of law. Republicans and Democrats alike should defend it above all else.
In my nearly 96 years, I have seen our country rise above extraordinary challenges — the Great Depression, World War II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, segregation, assassinations, the resignation of a president and 9/11, to name just a few.
I continue to believe in and pray for the ability of all Americans to overcome our differences and pursue the common good. Order protects liberty, and liberty protects order.
William Webster, a former federal judge, was director of the F.B.I. from 1978 to 1987, and director of the C.I.A. from 1987 to 1991.