The FBI didn’t directly confirm that for him but it acknowledged in a letter that all agents retain Top Secret clearance. And since there’s been no word that either Strzok or Page have been fired…
— Senator Rand Paul (@RandPaul) April 11, 2018
This is canny packaging by Paul of one of his pet issues. He’s been pushing for months for reforms to FISA’s Section 702 to require a new warrant whenever U.S. intelligence wants to search a database containing information on American citizens that’s been incidentally collected in foreign surveillance. The politics of mass surveillance are rarely galvanizing to either the left or right, though. And despite his endless criticism of the FBI and the “deep state,” Trump isn’t the sort to relinquish a law-enforcement tool that might be useful in sniffing out terrorist plots. Paul’s dilemma, then, is how to tilt the average voter — and the president — towards the side of libertarianism.
The answer is to steer away from abstract arguments and give them a vivid, concrete example: Do you want Peter Strzok or Lisa Page running rogue database queries about Trump and his associates? If he frames this in terms of the Fourth Amendment or “liberty,” people will zone out. If he frames it in terms of “Trump haters” harassing the president, now he’s cooking. The tweet above, in fact, seems phrased to appeal squarely to Trump himself. If you want get the Republican Party excited about civil liberties, you need to get the man who owns the party excited about it. And nothing gets through to him quite like warning him how he, personally, might be getting taken advantage of.
Other civil libertarians were unimpressed with Paul’s nakedly partisan framing:
If “bias” just means “having a political opinion” then every minimally informed adult who cares about their country is “biased.” If a lack of “bias” in that sense is necessary to perform a job with professional neutrality, nobody qualifies.
— Julian Sanchez (@normative) April 11, 2018
“You can’t style yourself a champion of the First Amendment & then demand federal employees be stripped of clearance unless they’re personally pro-Trump,” Sanchez added. Maybe, but it’s a nifty way to try to get Trump’s attention. Another nifty way is to go on Fox News and make your pitch to him through the TV screen. So that’s what Rand did. Watch him below on Harris Faulkner’s show earlier this afternoon.
Two points, though. First, read the short letter above that he received from the FBI and you’ll see that it doesn’t say what privileges, specifically, Strzok and Page currently have to search databases. Every agent has a Top Secret clearance but not every agent may be able to access the same information at will. After Bob Mueller found out about Strzok’s anti-Trump texts with Page, he was reassigned from the Russiagate probe to … human resources. What does he get to see there? Paul’s broader point about warrantless surveillance still stands but it’s hard to know what data Strzok and Page specifically are able to view right now.
As for their employment, I *assume* the coming report from the DOJ’s Inspector General will address Strzok and Page just as it addresses the Andrew McCabe saga. It was the IG who referred McCabe’s “lack of candor” to the FBI’s Office of Professional Responsibility, which recommended he be fired, so he’s already proved that he’s willing to usher bad actors towards the exit if the evidence suggests wrongdoing. It was also the IG who uncovered the now famous Strzok and Page texts, so they’re on his radar. If Strzok and Page committed firing offenses, presumably that’ll be detailed in the report and Chris Wray and Jeff Sessions will act appropriately. They may be waiting for that report to issue before acting for legal reasons, in fact, so as not to be accused of having terminated Strzok and Page without cause. But there’s also a chance that the IG won’t recommend termination: Maybe they’ll be reprimanded for shaking the public’s faith in the FBI via their political texts about Trump but the evidence won’t turn up any actual behavior on their part to try to sabotage Trump’s campaign or presidency. Why not wait for the IG report? It’s coming. In theory.