The war on the FBI was officially launched two months ago, when President Trump began openly trashing the agency.
Its reputation was “in tatters,” he said. Its conduct was “really, really disgraceful.”
Coming from a character like Trump, whose own reputation doesn’t rise to the level of disgraceful, such comments might be shrugged off. But the man happens to be the president and desperate to shut down an investigation that is creeping uncomfortably close to him and his family.
Republican leaders fell into line, pushing the release of an overhyped memo composed by unnamed GOP staffers on the House Intelligence Committee. It says the FBI used tainted information to obtain a surveillance warrant on a Trump campaign aide for the Russia probe.
The FBI has strongly pushed back, asserting that the memo leaves out key classified facts that “impact [its] accuracy.”
Meanwhile, the agency finds itself maligned in an unprecedented, partisan way. It’s a demoralizing situation that’s also bad for the country, because every insinuation by Trump and other politicians reaches every FBI agent on the street.
They’re not perfect, or above scrutiny, but they don’t deserve this.
The FBI’s regional headquarters in South Florida is a big modern building named for two agents, Benjamin P. Grogan and Jerry L. Dove. Most people driving past the place probably don’t know who they are, or what they did.
The men died on April 11, 1986, during a shootout with bank robbers in a neighborhood then called Suniland, in south Miami-Dade. It was the bloodiest, saddest day in FBI history.
The robbers were two armed-service veterans named William R. Matix and Michael Lee Platt. They’d been knocking over banks and armored cars — and murdering people, too. FBI stakeout teams had been hunting them for weeks.
Ben Grogan and Jerry Dove were riding together when they spotted the suspects in a stolen Monte Carlo. Other agents arrived, and the bad guys eventually were forced off the road.
That’s when all hell broke loose. Platt had a Ruger Mini-14, a powerful semiautomatic rifle. The FBI agents on the scene had handguns and shotguns.
In all, 145 shots were fired at close range in about five minutes. The bank robbers were struck multiple times but continued to shoot, hitting seven of the eight agents. Grogan and Dove were killed by Platt during the firefight.
A rifle bullet mangled the left forearm of Special Agent Edmundo Mireles Jr., who fired back one-handed with a shotgun. Then he grabbed his revolver and went straight for the robbers, who were trying to escape in the dead agents’ car.
Bleeding, Mireles stood beside the vehicle and emptied his gun at Matix and Platt, ending the nightmare. It was an astounding display of courage and composure.
By the time the media arrived, the scene was weirdly quiet. You could smell the gunfire, but mockingbirds were singing in the trees. The wounded agents had all been rushed away to hospitals.
I remember standing behind the crime tape as a breeze tugged at the bright yellow tarps on the ground. The tarp closest to me covered the body of Special Agent Dove, age 30.
Before he died, he fired a bullet that stopped one inch from Platt’s heart, but the maniac kept shooting.
After Suniland, the FBI began arming its agents with stronger, faster-firing weapons. Ed Mireles recovered from his wounds and received the FBI’s first Medal of Valor. He returned to work and stayed with the FBI, training new agents, until his retirement.
When I spoke to him last week, Mireles said that he and his wife — also a retired agent — have been closely following the political uproar. “The FBI seems to be in season. Everybody has a license to shoot,” he remarked.
All 35,000 employees of the agency, including street agents, “can’t help but be affected” by the ongoing controversy, Mireles said.
He was eager to read the Republican memo, but he said it would be something close to treason if FBI officials actually targeted somebody for political reasons, and intentionally misled a court to get a warrant.
“But we’ll see,” he said, “when everything comes out.”
Mireles remains in touch with the other surviving agents who were with him at Suniland. He said they usually talk every April 11, the anniversary of the shootout.
The stark memory of that day isn’t in tatters, and never will be.