Public trust in FBI has reached 'the red zone,' US inching closer to 'mayhem, chaos, anarchy:' WSJ columnist

Public confidence in the FBI has diminished by 15% in the last five years, poll finds

The United States is battling a "crisis of confidence" with U.S. governing institutions on the line and FBI Director Christopher Wray's recent testimony before Congress may have been the last straw for the bureau, Wall Street Journal columnist Dan Henninger warned.

In a Wall Street Journal column titled "The FBI Loses the Public," Henninger examined the public's diminishing trust in institutions like the FBI as studies show voter confidence in the bureau and the DOJ has hit rock bottom. An NBC poll cited in the column found the public’s positive view of the bureau has tanked by 15% in the last five years. The poll came days before Wray's contentious hearing before Congress and amid calls for his resignation from GOP lawmakers over his leadership of the bureau.

"Conservatives no longer trust the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Liberals—or more precisely progressives—no longer trust the local police. We have a problem," Henninger wrote.


Chris Wray

WASHINGTON, DC - AUGUST 04: FBI Director Christopher Wray is sworn in during a hearing before Senate Judiciary Committee at Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill August 4, 2022 in Washington, DC. The committee held a hearing on "Oversight of the Federal Bureau of Investigation."  (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

"Confidence in U.S. institutions such as the FBI, Supreme Court and Congress has been on a steady decline since 2017 and is now reaching record lows. More broadly, less than a third of voters trust the federal government – a 20-year low…what’s going on now is different. The U.S. is already amid a crisis of confidence in what we call our governing institutions. That word, governing, is taken for granted, but it took a long time for governing to become a fact of daily life. Consider the opposite of governing elsewhere—mayhem, chaos, anarchy," he continued.

With accusations of a politicized Department of Justice intensified by - among other things -  the FBI raid on former President Trump's home, Americans are turning away from the institutions that "provide the bedrock of domestic tranquility." Henninger argued.

"We may be inching closer than we imagine to the opposite of governing. Urban crime, mindless and random killings, tent-city homelessness, parents shouting at school boards, and the images of an FBI raid on a former president’s home. Instead of adjusting, many are turning away from the institutions that provide the bedrock of domestic tranquility.

During a contentious House committee hearing earlier this month, Republican lawmakers grilled Wray on the politicization of his agency, a recent federal court ruling detailing the bureau’s alleged suppression of conservative free speech related to the Hunter Biden laptop story, COVID-19 origins and other subjects discussed by Americans on social media. 

FBI Director Chris Wray testifies before House Judiciary committee

Christopher Wray, director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), speaks during a House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, DC, US, on Wednesday, July 12, 2023.  (Al Drago/Bloomberg via Getty Images)

Wray refused to directly address questions pertaining to his agency's alleged suppression of conservative free speech. GOP lawmakers rebuked the FBI director at the time, saying his failure to address the concerns of Americans could compound the already tenuous public trust in the American intelligence community.

Wray also refused to answer questions from House Judiciary Committee lawmakers on whether President Biden is under federal investigation for an alleged criminal bribery scheme and told the committee about the good work of the FBI, while denying any alleged politicization within the bureau. The FBI director also blasted claims he is biased against conservatives as "somewhat insane."

But despite his deflections and dismissals, Wray will have to come to terms with the fact that public trust in his agency has reached "the red zone," Henninger said.

"FBI Director Christopher Wray can sit before Congress placidly explaining away Republican discomfort with his agency all he wants, but it looks to me as if his organization is in the red zone," Henninger warned. "Among Republicans, support for the FBI is ... 17%. No matter the politics, that’s not good."


FBI logo and seal seen below the American flag

The FBI seal is displayed on a podium before a news conference at the agency's headquarters in Washington.  (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana, File)

"Institutional disintegration can happen when two sides talk past each other for so long that the original stakes or issues become forgotten. One had the feeling that happened last week between Mr. Wray and his Republican questioners," he continued. 

"He [Wray] wanted to talk about fentanyl gangs, crimes against children and Chinese cybercriminals. And he should. But he seemed utterly uninterested in the concerns conservatives have about the FBI’s involvement in free-speech suppression on social-media platforms, as described in a recent ruling by federal judge Terry Doughty," the columnist wrote.

.Henninger said the mass resignations plaguing the Los Angeles Police Department should serve as a warning for Wray. Officers, frustrated with treatment by city officials and the anti-police sentiment that emerged in the wake of George Floyd's 2020 killing, have been resigning in droves despite spiking crime and homelessness in the city

Mr. Wray may think the FBI is too big and important to go the way of the disintegrating Los Angeles Police Department. Don’t bet on it," Henninger wrote.

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