The writer, an FBI agent for 31 years, retired as resident agent in charge of the Ann Arbor office in 2006.
By Greg Stejskal
On March 10, 1975, I reported to the Department of Justice Building in Washington, D.C. — “Main Justice” — to be sworn in as a FBI special agent with my fellow new agents. In a large room that was used for the secret trial of the Nazi saboteurs during World War II, I raised my right hand and took the oath that every agent takes:
“I (my name) do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”
The Constitution prescribes a similar oath for the president in Article II.
Unlike those Nazi saboteurs who swore an oath to the Fuhrer, we swore allegiance to the concept that we are a country of laws, and no man is above the law. We would not be taking an oath of fealty to anyone. In fact during the Revolution, those serving in the Continental Army not only pledged allegiance to the United States, but specifically denounced any allegiance to King George III.
For me what followed was an almost 32-year career investigating and prosecuting violations of federal laws. I had the good fortune to be involved in a number of high-profile cases, and it was a rewarding career.
So when I watched the recent impeachment hearing, I had a somewhat unique perspective.
Most people didn’t have the time to watch the hearings. Others prejudged them as a hoax or a witch hunt.
Being retired, I did have time and tried to view the hearings objectively. (Full disclosure: I’m a lifelong Republican.)
I’m not going to recount the evidence or try to make a case for or against impeachment although I thought the evidence was compelling and creditable. But what especially troubled me were the personal attacks on the witnesses by the president. Most of the witnesses were career foreign service officers. All of whom took an oath to support and defend the Constitution.
No right to publicly disparage
The third public witness was Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine and a career foreign service officer. She was removed as ambassador by President Trump. In the now infamous, “perfect,” July 25 call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump characterized Ambassador Yovanovitch as “bad news.”
Whilee Yonanovitch was testifying Nov. 15 at the congressional hearing on national TV, President Trump tweeted:
“Everywhere Marie Yovanovitch went turned bad. She started off in Somalia, how did that go? Then fast forward to Ukraine, where the new Ukrainian President spoke unfavorably about her in my second call with him. It is a US President’s absolute right to appoint ambassadors.”
It is the president’s “absolute right” to appoint and/or remove an ambassador, but I don’t believe the president has any kind of right to publicly disparage a career foreign service officer with an outstanding reputation and stellar career. Leaving aside the issue of whether his tweet constituted witness intimidation.
On Nov. 19, Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman and Jennifer Williams testified. Jennifer Williams is a veteran State Department official who has served as a special advisor to Vice President Mike Pence on European and Russian affairs.
Before her testimony, President Trump again took to twitter saying, she [Williams] should read the transcripts of the July 25 call and another one that took place in April. “Then she should meet with the other Never Trumpers, who I don’t know and mostly never even heard of and work out a better presidential attack!”
The president’s twitter attacks disparaging the witnesses and questioning their veracity were reminiscent of Joseph McCarthy’s attacks on witnesses during his notorious hearings of the early 1950s – those really were witch hunts. Coincidentally, McCarthy’s chief counsel during the hearings was Roy Cohn. Cohn later was Donald Trump’s attorney and according to Trump his mentor.
Impressed, Inspired and Proud
As a retired FBI agent, I was impressed, inspired and proud of the foreign service and intelligence officers who testified.
They are dedicated Americans, patriots, who swore an oath to protect and defend the constitution, not an individual. They witnessed or became aware of what appeared to them to be inappropriate conduct by the president and some individuals ostensibly acting on his instructions. They had the courage to report that conduct, to testify under oath and in some cases to suffer the slings and arrows of the president’s wrath.
The witnesses did not have a political agenda. They had a country agenda. They are not denizens of the deep state. They are sailors on the ship of state, not to be vilified, but to be saluted. They are Teddy Roosevelt’s men and women in the arena.
I once served in the company of such people and would be proud to stand with them now.