May 22, 2023 - 6:13pm

A substantial majority of voters are concerned about FBI interference in a future presidential election, with a similar number saying the agency needs wide-ranging reform. 

According to a new poll by Harvard CAPS-Harris, 70% of respondents said that they were either very or somewhat concerned about interference by the FBI and other intelligence agencies in elections. Further, 71% agreed that changes post-2016 had not done enough to prevent further interference and that “wide-ranging” reform was still required.

Credit: Harvard CAPS-Harris

These results arrive on the heels of the Durham Report, which found that the FBI’s justification for launching the Trump-Russia probe, known as “Russiagate”, in 2016 was “seriously flawed”. John Durham, who led the investigation, wrote that the FBI relied on “raw, unanalyzed and uncorroborated intelligence” when it applied for electronic surveillance search warrants against Trump campaign aides, and chased a politically explosive inquiry that was based on flimsy suspicions about the then Republican candidate.

In the same poll, a similarly large majority of respondents (69%) were “not surprised” that the FBI violated its own standards in initiating the Trump probe. And while a larger proportion of Republicans and independents than Democrats said they were not surprised (79% and 75% respectively), a majority of blue voters (55%) also agreed with the statement. However, there was a partisan debate over whether voters believe that Trump colluded with Russia to win the presidency: only 19% of GOP voters agreed with this statement versus 70% of Democratic voters.

Credit: Harvard CAPS-Harris

This year the Republican Party intensified its attacks on the agency. Since taking the House in the midterm elections, Republicans have created a committee reviewing the “weaponization of the Federal Government”, which has been told to investigate “the expansive role” of the executive branch to “collect information on or otherwise investigate citizens of the United States, including ongoing criminal investigations”. Last week, former FBI officials provided succour to GOP criticisms after they accused the bureau of politicisation having lost their clearance — allegedly due to their views on Jan 6.

The FBI also came under further scrutiny after a heavily redacted court order was released on Friday. Based on a secret court order issued last year by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, which oversees the US Government’s spy powers, FBI officials repeatedly violated their own standards when searching for information relating to the events of 6th January and the George Floyd protests in 2020. Patrick Toomey, deputy director of the ACLU’s National Security Project, responded to the report by saying that “these unlawful searches undermine our core constitutional rights and threaten the bedrock of our democracy. It’s clear the FBI can’t be left to police itself”.

James Billot is UnHerd’s Newsroom editor.