The FBI’s failure in Florida could cast a shadow on its Russia investigation

Police in Parkland, Florida.
Police in Parkland, Florida.
Image: Reuters/Zachary Fagenson
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The FBI failed to follow up (paywall) on disturbing tips about Florida shooter Nikolas Cruz, in a lapse that could have consequences far beyond this week’s lethal school attack.

According to the FBI’s statement.

On January 5, 2018, a person close to Nikolas Cruz contacted the FBI’s Public Access Line (PAL) tipline to report concerns about him. The caller provided information about Cruz’s gun ownership, desire to kill people, erratic behavior, and disturbing social media posts, as well as the potential of him conducting a school shooting.

Under established protocols, the information provided by the caller should have been assessed as a potential threat to life. The information then should have been forwarded to the FBI Miami Field Office, where appropriate investigative steps would have been taken.

We have determined that these protocols were not followed for the information received by the PAL on January 5. The information was not provided to the Miami Field Office, and no further investigation was conducted at that time.

Florida governor Rick Scott responded today by calling for FBI director Christopher Wray to resign. Senator Marco Rubio slammed the FBI’s failure as “inexcusable.” Far-right pundits reportedly blamed the agency’s Russia probe for distracting its attention.

The lapse gives further ammunition to critics of the beleaguered agency. The FBI has been under fire for months by Republicans displeased with its probe into the Trump campaign’s Russia ties. In December, Trump tweeted that the agency’s reputation was “in tatters.” More recently, Trump and Wray were involved in a public spat over the much-disputed “Nunes memo,” which suggested that the FBI had violated an American’s civil liberties.

Wray has reportedly threatened to resign over attempts to oust his deputy Andrew McCabe. After repeated public attacks by Trump, McCabe himself resigned in January. Their predecessor, former FBI director James Comey, was fired by Trump less than a year ago.

Currently, Wray and deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein—another thorn in the Trumpian side—are still overseeing the Russia investigation. While it would be politically toxic for Trump to fire Wray over Russia-related issues, the Florida screw-up could provide an alternative reason.

Attorney general Jeff Sessions, who has come under sustained fire from the president for not protecting him from the investigation, has already called for a review of Department of Justice and FBI processes. Sessions is recused from the Russia investigation, but there’s nothing to stop him from acting in response to the Florida review.

Read more: The Republican campaign to discredit the FBI—explained