Rule by Law, Not by Men

Everyone in our police community and nation needs to “read, mark, and inwardly digest this important letter from former FBI and CIA Director William Webster. He captures my deepest values and feelings about our nation and the danger we face.


The F.B.I. Is Not Broken

FBI Headquarters in Washington, DC

And President Trump and William P. Barr are wrong to say that it is.

By William Webster

From the New York Times, Dec. 16, 2019, 6:00 a.m. ET

William Webster

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 are, 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 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.


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 are 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.


“Rule by law, not men” is the necessary foundation of a great nation and a free society.

Here’s my reader’s comment to Webster’s op-ed:

As a 30+ year career police officer and chief I found Bill Webster’s op-ed to be “spot on.” I have not always agreed with FBI practices and protocol (even refused to attend their National Academy), but overall, our FBI has been a model of lawfulness and decorum. Our naton’s value of the rule of law must be not only protected, but cherished. We are at a crossroads in our a democratic experiment. Who shall prevail, man or law? At this time, I remember the words of Dr. King, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools!” As we approach impeachment and the 2020 election, I tremble’ yet find solace in the words of another prophet, “Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain” (Psalm 127). Let us not be fools.


  1. I don’t like the sorry history of the FBI even today and where was Webster when the FBI was spying on Americans who disagreed with Ronald Reagan’s policies towards Central America (aka The Contra Affair)?


  2. It is refreshing indeed to hear someone from the United States speak about the Rule of Law. The loudest voices from the US to reach Australia in recent times seem to have been directed to personal abuse sharply divided along political lines and without any reference to the merits of the debate. The shouts of “Yes you did – no I didn’t” have descended to “OK I did but so what? – I can do anything because I’m the President.” They bespeak a society that has lost its way. No longer are you the greatest democracy on earth. There is every indication that your democratic way of life is crumbling as you succumb to the myth that a sitting president cannot be indicted and that what you do is less important than who you are. This is an excellent article and should be shouted from the rooftops. The police, FBI, CIA and the President of the USA would all do well to remember the adage: “Be you ever so high, the law is above you.”


  3. I don’t know Revernd Couper. We have failed several times as a nation. Ford pardon Nixon. Bush, Senior pardon anyone who had connections with the Iran Contra Affair. No bankers went to prison for causing the meltdown of the economy in 2008. Trump has allowed white collar, corporate crime to flourish, and the FBI is now paying the price for supporting Republican presidential administrations and not learning its lessons from the Hoover years and the years of spying on Americans from the Reagan to the two Bushes years plus unable to police itself and send their own top officials to prison.


  4. I also add that we did not punish the members of the Bush Senior and Junior administrations for getting us stuck in Iraq and Afghanistan with no legal justification. Plus the FBI using the flimsy evidence and excuses to get a warrant from the FISA court and not get right of the FISA court.


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