FBI Agents Association Moves to Help Members Navigate Post-Comey Uncertainty

In the wake of President Trump’s dismissal of FBI Director James Comey, the group representing rank-and-file agents is working to reassure the public, respond to members’ concerns, and ensure that agents' input is considered in choosing the next director.

President Trump’s surprise firing of FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday ushered in a week of turmoil and uncertainty across official Washington. But the immediate effects may have been felt most acutely within the FBI, where the agents who conduct the bureau’s daily law enforcement work had suddenly lost their boss.

What’s happening today in Washington is going to impact how our members do their jobs.

“A change in FBI leadership of this magnitude must be handled carefully and with an eye towards ensuring that the bureau can continue to fulfill its responsibility to protect the American public from criminal and national security threats,” said FBI Agents Association President Thomas O’Connor in a statement.

FBIAA, which represents more than 13,000 active and retired agents nationwide, is also looking to the longer-term future, saying its members should have a say in selecting the next FBI director.

Agents “are very interested in us having a voice in the selection of the next director of the FBI—and also very concerned anytime the FBI comes under this kind of scrutiny,” said Paul Nathanson, the association’s communications advisor. He added that during selection processes in the past, “we’ve made known the qualities we believe a director should have.”

FBIAA has been keeping its members up to date on the situation through its member portal and email updates.

“What’s happening today in Washington is going to impact how our members do their jobs,” Nathanson said. “Our job at the FBIAA is to ensure that we are supporting our agents and their requirement to fulfill their mission, which is to protect the American people.”

Key to the association’s successful handling of past crises, and critical in this one as well, has been an active membership and open lines of communication with members, he said: “Members believe that they can call us anytime, whether they have a personal issue or they have a viewpoint on what we should be doing.”

News reports have painted a picture suggesting that many FBI agents are angry about Comey’s termination and how it was handled. According to a Washington Post report, O’Connor called Comey’s firing “a gut punch. We didn’t see it coming, and we don’t think Director Comey did anything that would lead to this.’’

“We had a great deal of respect for Director Comey,” Nathanson said. “He had open lines of communication with members, he listened to our concerns, and he understood our concerns and acted on our issues.”

In a Senate hearing on Thursday, Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe challenged the administration’s narrative that Comey had lost agents’ support. McCabe said Comey enjoyed “broad support within the FBI and still does to this day,” according to a CNN report.

Meanwhile, maintaining the public’s confidence is a high priority for FBIAA, Nathanson said.

“Whenever there’s controversy that is beyond our control, we want to reassure the American people that agents are doing their jobs.” He added that active agents generally can’t speak publicly, so the association “plays a really important role in communicating with the public and with officials on behalf of agents.”

“We were working on cases on Sunday, we were working on cases on Monday, Tuesday, and all during this week, and we’re working on cases tomorrow,” Nathanson said. “We’re doing surveillance, we’re conducting interviews—that has not changed with all this turmoil in Washington.”

(Brookings Institution/Flickr)

Allison Torres Burtka

By Allison Torres Burtka

Allison Torres Burtka, a longtime association journalist, is a freelance writer and editor in West Bloomfield, Michigan. MORE

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