By Editorial Board
The country is still reeling after the bombshell report that Donald Trump asked the former FBI director James Comey to shut down the bureau’s investigation into Michael Flynn . Did the president fire Comey to slow down the FBI Russia investigation? Did Trump obstruct justice?
These questions are getting the attention that they deserve. But the focus on Comey’s firing is obscuring the issue of who Trump will hire to replace him – and the threat that this appointment poses to Americans’ civil liberties and civil rights.
Recently, the journalist Ashley Feinberg uncovered Comey’s personal Twitter account; he had used the pseudonym “Reinhold Niebuhr”. Tellingly, the real Niebuhr was a theologian, public intellectual, and Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient targeted for FBI  surveillance because of his lawful opposition to the Vietnam war.
Niebuhr wasn’t alone. The FBI has a long history of abusing its power to serve political ends. In the early 20th century, J Edgar Hoover created his Radical Alien Division to conduct dragnet surveillance of American immigrants. It surveilled Marcus Garvey to collect evidence used in his deportation to Jamaica. It wiretapped Dr Martin Luther King Jr during the civil rights era. At President Dwight Eisenhower’s direction, Hoover compiled a “list of homosexuals” to root out gay people working for the government.
Comey had serious flaws. But he understood the past misdeeds of the FBI. He kept a copy of the original order to wiretap King on his desk and required new FBI agents and analysts to visit King’s memorial on the National Mall. As Comey put it in 2015, he tried to “to ensure that we remember our mistakes and that we learn from them”.
Trump, on the other hand, seems anxious to return to the Hoover era.