Over the last couple of weeks, the FBI has been ramping up a corruption investigation of New York mayor Eric Adams. The mayor is a political newcomer who was formerly a senior police official in New York, elected, in part, to restore public safety. He has failed to do so. Now, he’s the center of a federal corruption investigation, centered on illegal foreign contributions. No one has been indicted yet.
The first shoe to drop publicly was a raid on the Brooklyn home of Adams’s top fundraiser, Brianna Suggs. She was only twenty-three when she headed that major effort. The FBI conducted a surprise search of her home and seized documents and electronic devices. Although the search warrant has not been released, the New York Times reports that they obtained it. They say the warrant deal with a conspiracy by the Adams campaign to receive illegal campaign funds from the Turkish government.
The second shoe dropped on Adams himself. A few days ago, the FBI seized the mayor’s cellphone and iPad, presumably for the same reasons.
The third shoe is that there are now reports that Adams not only received illegal foreign contributions, but that he did something for the donor in return. He cut through bureaucratic obstacles to speed the approval of a new, high-rise Turkish consulate in New York. If a connection can be proven between the campaign donations and Adams’s official actions, it’s a bribe.
There are really two issues here. One, obviously, is public corruption. The other, which has received less attention, is the government’s illegal disclosure of secret information to harm a target.
The public is rightly concerned about corruption, and so is the press. We’ll discuss that in a moment. But we should not ignore how law enforcement agencies routinely trample citizens’ rights by illegally leaking information.
That’s not because those agencies are inherently porous. They can keep secrets when they want to. If you doubt it, tell me who traveled on Jeffrey Epstein’s plane or visited his private island, where sex with minors was the prime attraction. The public doesn’t have that information. The FBI and DoJ have it, but they have zealously protected the powerful people on those lists. They are absolutely right to do so. That information should not be disclosed unless a federal court makes that determination.
The secrecy in a high-profile case like Epstein’s raises troubling questions about its absence in Adams’s case. The mayor was entitled to privacy from federal law enforcement agencies and didn’t get it. Now he has pushed back, alleging the public only knows about the damning allegations because the FBI improperly leaked them.
If those leaks came from the FBI, they are a felony, and Adams is right to zero in on them. If “anonymous sources” at the FBI whisper, “Hey, we didn’t do it,” who would believe them? The Bureau has forfeited the public’s trust thanks to its deception, political bias and incompetence over the past decade or more.
The Department of Justice, which oversees the FBI, is in the same sinking ship. The DoJ routinely leaks information that should be kept under seal until an indictment. If there is no indictment, the information should never be released. After all, it was secured for law-enforcement purposes and those alone, not public judgment. Why do they leak? To make themselves look good, their targets look bad and any potential targets looking to make a deal.
When James Comey and Andrew McCabe headed the Bureau, they constantly leaked information against their political foes. We know that from sworn testimony to Congress, including Comey’s own admission, wrapped in his usual bundle of self-righteousness. Those officials still haven’t admitted their repeated deceit to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Courts to get secret warrants to spy on people surrounding Donald Trump. But the inspector general nailed them on it.
The FBI is doing a little better under Director Christopher Wray, but the leaks and bias continue, as they have in the Adams case. So, too, does the collapse in public trust for America’s most powerful law enforcement agencies. That’s why it’s impossible to discount rumors that Adams was targeted because he hasn’t just complained about the illegal immigrants flooding New York, he has — gasp! — directly criticized President Biden for the open border and its devastating consequences. Rumors like that flourish when the public has lost faith in law enforcement and believe the law is selectively enforced. If they believe one party uses federal agencies to punish political enemies, our democracy is in a deep hole.
The public’s mistrust — and dismay — grows every time the head of Homeland Security opens his mouth. Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas is charged with enforcing America’s laws against illegal immigration. Naturally, he says he’s doing a great job and the border is secure. Nobody with an IQ bigger than a shoe size believes him. To quote the great Philomena Cunk, his boast can be disproven by a careful process of looking around. Americans who have looked around are more likely to believe in unicorns than in Mayorkas.
The public’s justified skepticism is bad news for the confidence any democratic government needs to function well. The stability of our constitutional arrangements is undermined when citizens believe the institutions they entrust with great power are biased, deceitful, and self-serving. That’s exactly what they think now. It is the fuel driving populist resistance to Washington.
This erosion of confidence in government in general and law enforcement in particular doesn’t lessen the gravity of allegations swirling around the mayor of America’s largest city. Still, we need hard evidence to bring criminal charges. It is possible that the Turkish government did not donate funds, but used some sophisticated legal conduit. It is possible that Mayor Adams did not know about the contributions, only his fundraiser did. And if is possible that the illegal contributions were not a provable bribe because they cannot be linked to a quid pro quo, in this case cutting through red tape for Turkey. Adams could have helped for other reasons, and he will surely say he did.
The Department of Justice needs to have hard evidence before charging Adams. But the raids on the mayor and his fundraiser strongly suggest they have lots of it, with more to come. First, foreign governments don’t make illegal contribution just to receive a smile and a handshake. They want something valuable in return. Second, there will be bank records showing where the money came from and where it went. When those records involved foreign income for the Biden family, the DoJ was happy to ignore them. They won’t in this case. Third, the cellphones and computers seized by the FBI will reveal evidence the targets may think they have deleted. Finally, Adams is vulnerable because his fundraiser faces enormous pressure to flip on the boss.
Mayor Adams, elected to enforce the law in a crime-ridden city, is now facing big legal trouble of his own. He may not have gold bars stashed in his closet, like Senator Bob Menendez from neighboring New Jersey. But he’ll wish had some when he sees the bills from his defense lawyers.