In 1978, I was asked to head the F.B.I. at a perilous time. The bureau was mired in controversy, stung by criticism over Watergate and warrantless wiretaps, beleaguered by congressional investigations. I took on the job because, as I said back then, “this institution was too important to lose.”
We worked hard to restore trust. Ronald Reagan later appointed me to do the same at the C.I.A. after the Iran-contra scandal. Having served my country through these challenging chapters in American history, I am saddened by what I see happening today to the investigation led by the special counsel, Robert Mueller. From President Trump’s tweets to broadsides from his lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, denouncing the investigation, to calls from congressional Republicans for the ouster of Mr. Mueller’s boss, Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, it’s destructive.
I was disappointed to see Mr. Trump this week appear to express greater confidence in the word of President Vladimir Putin of Russia than in the unanimous judgment of the men and women of America’s intelligence community, whom I once led. Faith in the justice system and in our intelligence agencies cannot be collateral damage in a partisan grudge match. No matter which party wins, America loses; trust in the rule of law is always too important to lose. Sixty years ago, I was just one of many young Americans who enlisted and put on a uniform to defend America’s values in the world; today, we must defend those values here at home.
I’m a lifelong Republican. Mr. Giuliani was a fine federal prosecutor during the years I led the F.B.I. It is because he knows better that I expect him to do better than to demand that the Justice Department shut down an investigation into possible Russian interference in the 2016 election. That investigation has already led to 35 indictments — including those last week of 12 Russian intelligence officers in the hacking of the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign — as well as five guilty pleas and one prison sentence. To accuse Mr. Mueller of trying “to frame” Mr. Trump is wrong.
Mr. Mueller, a former Marine and decorated Vietnam combat veteran, was unanimously confirmed twice by the Senate to run the F.B.I. He’s a no-nonsense prosecutor with unquestioned integrity who calls balls and strikes devoid of ideology. Lest anyone wonder, he is of the same political party as the president and the majority in Congress. These are facts, and as John Adams once said, “Facts are stubborn things.”
Most important, I worry where today’s rhetoric takes America. I’ve been very proud to serve as a United States attorney and as a federal judge. I saw firsthand how important it is that average Americans trust that justice is delivered with fairness and impartiality. America works when we can all put our faith in a common set of facts and know that committed public servants are determined to find them.
Americans need to know that we are all still united in the pursuit of justice. We should not run down our own institutions, trivialize the impartial actions of our own grand juries, degrade our own justice system, or bully a free press for doing its job. We do so at our peril. The president should want this investigation to follow the facts where they lead and bring America the answers we all deserve.
I’ve humbly served my country all of my adult life. The proudest title I’ve ever held is one Americans share: citizen. In times like these, citizens have a duty — to serve, and to speak up. Robert Mueller is doing his duty. We need to do ours. When I was sworn in as director of the F.B.I., I said we would “do the work the American people expect of us in the way the Constitution demands of us.” That means defending values like truth, justice and civility, because the idea of an America united by the rule of law is too important to lose.
William Webster, a former federal judge, was director of the F.B.I. from 1978 to 1987, and director of the C.I.A. from 1987 to 1991.
cover painting “Room On The Verge” by Patissi Valdez
As an artist growing up in East Los Angeles, Valdez was the only Chicana in the conceptual performance group Asco (Spanish for nausea). Valdez is a multitalented artist in several media, including performance and conceptual art, installations, murals, fashion design, collage, photography, easel painting, and set design. Her painted domestic interiors often function as self-portraits—intimate glimpses into internal thoughts and feelings.
Vibrant, saturated colors electrify this topsy-turvy, magical room, where heavy theatrical curtains frame a wild and energetic scene [The Magic Room, SAAM, 1997.70]. Nothing is stable: carpet patterns swirl like whirlpools, wine glasses topple, chairs tip, rock, and float. Gymnastic rings swing freely side-to-side, as four balls on their own bounce merrily through the room. The green chair on the left climbs the thick curtain while a blue chair dances sensuously with the table—forks hanging on for dear life. Overall, the effect is dizzying, yet, despite the uneasy perspective, a balance exists between fantasy and reality. As Patssi Valdez has remarked, “My goal is to keep the paintings alive, to give them a sense of movement. I want to evoke a feeling that people just left the room.”
Valdez was born in 1951 and grew up in East Los Angeles. Valdez recalls that during the time she was growing up in Los Angeles, racism, police brutality and poor schools were a big problem. Valdez attended Garfield High School and graduated in 1970. She received a BFA from Otis Art Institute in 1985.
Valdez was a founding member of the Asco artist collective. Valdez started working with Asco right out of high school. She was very involved with street performance art and “cinematic Goth film stills” during the 1970s and 1980s. Valdez relates that during her time in Asco, she had “grand ideas about being a great painter,” but she felt lacked the skills she needed to be a successful painter. Instead of painting, she focused on performance art, installations and photography. During her time with Asco, she collaborated and created work that reflected shared “political and social concerns.” Many of her performances with Asco took place in areas where there had recently been gang conflict or fatal shootings of individuals by the police. She and the other founders of Asco had seen that a disproportionate number of Mexican-Americans were singled out for the Vietnam draft: this and “the sight of their friends returning in body bags and the elite political class’s apathy to their plight scarred all the members.” Asco commented on Mexican-Americanidentity and rampant stereotyping of Mexican-Americans by the media. Valdez relates how she was “always angry” as a young person watching movies “because she never saw the beautiful Mexicans she knew on screen.”
Valdez’ installations are considered feminist works that defy cultural expectations of a woman’s role in society. The temporary nature of her installations also tap into the “Mexican cultural practice of the impermanent.”
Since the 1980s Valdez has focused on her painting. She honed her skills and invited honest critique of her first works which helped boost her confidence in her painting.Valdez’s painting are bright, colorful and “seem just a little enchanted.” “I’ve been trying to get away from the brighter palette for years,” she says, “but the more I try, it just comes out.” Her “vibrant” work is very emotive and has a sense of magical realism. Valdez’s subject matter is often focused on the female figure or domestic scenes and settings.Her work draws on her “private experiences, the nature of which [are] distinctly painful and feminist.”
Valdez is the recipient of J. Paul Getty Trust Fund for the Visual Arts fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts fellowship, and the Brody Arts Fellowship in Visual Arts. She won a 2001 Durfee Artist Fellowship.
When C.S. Lewis was a boy, his mother died. “With my mother’s death,” he wrote, “all settled happiness, all that was tranquil and reliable, disappeared from my life. There was to be much fun, many pleasures, many stabs of Joy; but no more of the old security. It was sea and islands now; the great continent had sunk like Atlantis.”
It may seem melodramatic, but that passage comes to mind when I think of the death of America’s relationship with Europe, and Donald Trump’s betrayal Monday of the democratic values that were the basis for that relationship.
Europe is America’s mother continent. Our foundational institutions were inherited from Europe. Our democracy is Greek and British. Our universities are German. The etiquette book George Washington read to improve himself was translated from French, and so were Thomas Jefferson’s ideals.
Europe represented a path to progress; America saw itself embracing that path and surpassing it. After the revolution, as the historian Joseph Ellis has written, Americans were sure a new generation of Shakespeares, Dantes and Ciceros would arise on North American soil.
Then as a mature nation, we became our parent’s partner. After World War II, a reforged, American-led West stabilized itself. There were fights and rivalries, but underneath, there was an unspoken awareness — these are our kin.
This trans-Atlantic partnership was a vast historical accomplishment, a stumbling and imperfect effort to extend democracy, extend rights, extend freedom and build a world ordered by justice and not force. Since 1945 it is the thing we have all taken for granted.
Over the weekend, Trump ripped the partnership to threads. He said the European Union is our “foe.” On Monday, Trump essentially sided with Vladimir Putin, who has become the biggest moral and political enemy of the Euro-American relationship. Trump essentially dropped a project that has oriented American culture and policy for centuries. He pointed us to a world in which the central ethos is that might makes right.
But remember, Donald Trump exists only to put a capstone on every poisonous trend that preceded him. It took many hands to kill the Euro-American bond.
Right-wing politicians and commentators began to use Europe as a stand-in for American liberals. It’s a bunch of godless socialists, just like those heretics in Berkeley and Cambridge. Euro-bashing became a unifying conservative trope.
Progressives fell into the poisonous trap of racialism. They looked at the glories of Aristotle, Shakespeare and Mozart, and the most interesting thing they had to say about them was that they were dead white males. Future historians will marvel at how sophisticated people willfully made themselves so simple-minded. Eurocentrism became a code word for colonialism, oppression and privilege, taking a piece of European history for the whole of it.
Europeans didn’t help. In the wake of the Cold War, they have dedicated themselves to a post-nationalist project that is too top-down and technocratic and is now crumbling.
The Euro-American political project is now nearing end times. George W. Bush feuded with Europe over the Iraq war. Barack Obama pivoted away. Now, as Robert Kagan writes in The Washington Post, Trump is taking a sledgehammer to the Atlantic alliance.
Trump could have gone to last week’s NATO summit and taken credit only for increased European military spending. Instead, he moved the goal posts, humiliated the Europeans, reasserted his trade war talk and made it impossible for European leaders to do anything that might seem to support him. These are the actions of a man who wants the alliance to fail.
His embrace of Putin Monday was a victory dance on the Euro-American tomb.
“This is not just another family quarrel,” Kagan writes. “The democratic alliance that has been the bedrock of the American-led liberal world order is unraveling. At some point, and probably sooner than we expect, the global peace that that alliance and that order undergirded will unravel, too. Despite our human desire to hope for the best, things will not be okay.”
Kagan was writing before Monday’s press conference, and now his core point is doubly true. If you thought we could ride the Trump storm and then return to normal, you can surely see now this view is mistaken. The fundamental arrangements of our world are being remade.
Today, Europe and America face common perils and common problems — including the rise of ravenous strongmen who want to remake the world order. We’ve lost the bonds that might enable us to fight them together. Worse, the wolves are not only in the henhouse; they are in the Executive Mansion.
Beware what happens when you walk away from your lineage.
Credit Ruth Fremson/The New York Times
Either Donald Trump is flat-out an agent of Russian interests—maybe witting, maybe unwitting, from fear of blackmail, in hope of future deals, out of manly respect for Vladimir Putin, out of gratitude for Russia’s help during the election, out of pathetic inability to see beyond his 306 electoral votes. Whatever the exact mixture of motives might be, it doesn’t really matter.
Or he is so profoundly ignorant, insecure, and narcissistic that he did not realize that, at every step, he was advancing the line that Putin hoped he would advance, and the line that the American intelligence, defense, and law-enforcement agencies most dreaded.
Conscious tool. Useful idiot. Those are the choices, though both are possibly true, so that the main question is the proportions.
Whatever the balance of motivations, what mattered was that Trump’s answers were indistinguishable from Putin’s, starting with the fundamental claim that Putin’s assurances about interference in U.S. democracy (“He was incredibly strong and confident in his denial”) deserved belief over those of his own Department of Justice (“I think the probe is a disaster for our country”).
Trump manifestly cannot help himself. This is who he is.
Those who could do something are the 51 Republican senators and 236 Republican representatives who have the power to hold hearings, issue subpoenas, pass resolutions of censure, guarantee the integrity of Robert Mueller’s investigation, condemn the past Russian election interference, shore up protections against the next assault, and in general defend their country rather than the damaged and defective man who is now its president.
For 18 months, members of this party have averted their eyes from Trump, rather than disturb the Trump elements among their constituency or disrupt the party’s agenda on tax cuts and the Supreme Court. They already bear responsibility for what Trump has done to his office.
But with every hour that elapses after this shocking performance in Helsinki without Republicans doing anything, the more deeply they are stained by this dark moment in American leadership.
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WESTON BOYLES, FOUNDER OF RÍOS TO RIVERS | PHOTO BY ETHAN WELTY
In 2011, Weston Boyles launched his kayak into Chile’s Río Baker, which runs through the Aysén region of Patagonia and boasts some of the world’s most remote big-water rapids. A few days into the trip, he met a young man along the river who told him that he belonged to Club Naútico Escualo, a local group of young rafters and kayakers based in Cochrane, a town of about 3,500 near the Río Baker. The stretch of river that had seemed so wild to Boyles runs right by the Escualos’ home. The kayaker told Boyles about the club’s fight to protect the Río Baker and the Río Pascua, which were under threat at the time from five proposed hydroelectric dams.
“I realized that young kayakers can be the best spokespeople for river conservation,” Boyles said, “because they’re having fun on rivers in their backyard.” In 2012, he founded Ríos to Rivers, an organization that coordinates a river-running exchange each year between young adults from the United States and Chile. Last summer, eight Escualos joined students from Northern California and Oregon—including youths from four Klamath Basin Native American tribes—for a trip along the Klamath River.
During the trip, participants met with scientists to discuss how the Klamath’s decades-old hydroelectric dams impact water quality and disrupt salmon runs. The students from the Klamath Basin led the group through salmon roasts and traditional ceremonies.
The Klamath River is slated for the biggest dam-removal project in U.S. history, but the watershed may never fully recover. “Before I came here, I didn’t value what I had in Patagonia, a small paradise,” said Diego Delgado Rial, a 17-year-old from Cochrane, at the end of the trip.
In February, the Escualos hosted the American students on the Río Baker. The group floated sections of the river on rafts and canoes. When they reached the mouth of the Río Baker, many participants were in tears at the prospect of separating. “They end up feeling a deep connection,” Boyles said. “The door into each other’s world gives them a profound understanding of river conservation.”
This article appeared in the July/August 2018 edition with the headline “River Stewards.”