After Andrew McCabe’s recent firing from the FBI, outraged pundits from across the political spectrum demanded respect for the FBI’s independence.  For example, a Washington Post editorial called the firing “an affront to the integrity and independence of law enforcement.”  Likewise, after James Comey was fired last year, there was an almost universal demand for a successor who would be “independent.”* 

But such independence is dangerous.  It not only conflicts with the president’s constitutional authority; it also threatens civil liberties.  Today’s Wall Street Journal op-ed explains why J. Edgar Hoover’s tenure was a catastrophe for civil liberties, precisely because he was unaccountable.

The op-ed is based on a longer article that will be published later this year by the George Washington Law Review.


* For a sampling of calls for Comey’s successor to be independent, see: “The next FBI director must be strong and independent . . . .” (Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-CA); The Director must “protect the FBI from improper political influence from the White House.” (Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-VT); The Director should “maintain true independence from President Trump.” (Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-HI); “[T]he FBI is independent . . . .” (Rep. Anthony G. Brown, D-MD); “Now more than ever the country needs a well-credentialed, independent FBI director.” (Sen. John Cornyn, R-TX); It is “vitally important for the FBI director to be independent.” (Sen. Charles Grassley, R-IA); “The next director of the FBI, like Comey, must be an independent voice for the bureau.” (Sen. Cory Gardner, R-CO); “The American people must have faith in a strong, independent FBI.” (Sen. Rob Portman, R-OH); “We now need a top-notch, independent FBI director . . . .” (Rep. Ed Royce, R-CA); “[T]he FBI needs ‘an independent leader . . . .’” (Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, R-PA); “I believe that a public servant with unimpeachable credentials and a career of independence . . . serving as FBI Director is critical to affirming the public’s trust.” (Rep. Dan Donovan, R-NY); “Moving forward, it is imperative that a qualified, independent, and respected individual be nominated in a timely manner to lead the FBI.” (Rep. John Katko, R-NY); “I have always advocated for an independent and non-political FBI.” (Rep. Fred Upton, R-MI); “Current and former officials said that Trump either lacks an understanding of the FBI’s role as an independent law enforcement agency or does not care about maintaining such boundaries.” (Washington Post article); “I explained why it was so important that the FBI and Department of Justice be independent of the White House.” (Former FBI Director James Comey); “[T]he FBI’s new acting director, Andrew McCabe, appears just as determined and independent-minded as Comey.” (Chicago Tribune Editorial Board); “[T]he nomination of a qualified and politically independent new FBI director [] would help reestablish credibility.” (Washington Post Editorial Board); “A new FBI director will have an uphill battle in trying to convince the American people that he is completely independent of the president.” (Barbara McQuade, Op-Ed Columnist); “One way to restore credibility—and quickly—is to find an FBI director who is unimpeachable and clearly independent.” (Boston Globe article); “Congress Must Demand an Independent FBI Director to Replace James Comey.” (Reason Magazine Blog); “President Trump owes it to the country to replace the fired James Comey with a director who is fiercely independent and who has a proven career of objectivity.” (Washington Examiner Editorial Board).