The president is under FBI investigation. Is this normal?

The President Is Under FBI Investigation. Is This Normal?

The President Is Under FBI Investigation. Is This Normal?

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March 22 2017 4:25 PM

The President Is Under FBI Investigation. Is This Normal?

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President Donald Trump returns to the White House on March 15, after speaking at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee.

Olivier Douliery - Pool/Getty Images

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Is This Normal? is a Slate series that attempts to determine which controversial Trump World behaviors are outrageously unprecedented, which are outrageous but within the realm of what others have gotten away with, and which shouldn't be considered outrageous at all.

The Issue

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FBI Director James Comey confirmed in a hearing Monday that Donald Trump’s Russia ties are the subject of an FBI investigation. Some have suggested that an FBI investigation into the White House, a sitting president, or those connected to a sitting president lacks recent precedent and perhaps hasn’t happened since Watergate:

The Precedent

The FBI has had a role in investigating several post-Watergate scandals involving the White House.

Debategate: The FBI investigated Debategate, a 1983 scandal that emerged over the Reagan campaign’s acquisition and use of Jimmy Carter’s prep materials during a 1980 debate. Although Reagan himself was never seriously implicated, the FBI’s investigation and a concurrent House subcommittee investigation prodded at figures high up in the administration who had prominent roles in the campaign, including White House chief of staff James Baker and CIA Director William Casey. Both the FBI and the House subcommittee’s investigation failed to reach any conclusions about who was responsible.

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Iran-Contra: In 1986, the FBI was called in to investigate Iran-Contra, the scandal that erupted over arms sales to Iran, then under an arms embargo, organized by Reagan officials to finance the Contras, right-wing militants in Nicaragua. To the ire of many, the agency’s investigators were brought in too late to prevent the destruction of potentially relevant documents by National Security Council staffer Oliver North and National Security Adviser John Poindexter, both of whom were later indicted for their involvement along with several other administration officials including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger. During the investigation, FBI Director William Webster said that Reagan had likely told the truth about being unaware of the scheme to divert funds to the Contras.

Whitewater, Filegate, Monica Lewinsky: The FBI directly investigated both Bill and Hillary Clinton during the Whitewater scandal over the circumstances of a failed real estate venture both had invested in. This scandal spun off several others, including Filegate, about the White House's improper possession of FBI files on prominent Republicans, which the FBI investigated, and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, for which FBI agents aided Kenneth Starr’s investigation of Clinton by recording conversations with Lewinsky and reportedly threatened Lewinsky and others into cooperating.

Chinagate: In 1997, it was revealed that the FBI had launched an investigation with echoes of the current Trump imbroglio into whether Chinese government officials, including China’s head of military intelligence, influenced American elections by funneling donations intended for President Clinton and other candidates to the Democratic Party through fundraisers close to the Clintons. Senate Republicans on the Governmental Affairs Committee investigating the case found circumstantial evidence that a Chinese government plot to influence elections had existed, and three fundraisers were ultimately convicted of violating campaign finance law and on other charges. No administration officials were charged with wrongdoing.

Plamegate: The George W. Bush White House also found itself the subject of an FBI investigation into the leaking of the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame in 2003. Scooter Libby, an adviser to Vice President Cheney, was ultimately convicted in part for lying to FBI agents during the investigation.

The Ruling

Sadly, the FBI has had occasion to investigate the White House and those close to the president many times. In one case, the FBI even investigated whether officials from a foreign government had worked to influence a presidential election. Strangely enough, this is normal.