EDITORIAL: Independent probe needed of FBI involvement in Schoharie limo crash

The top of a stretch limousine that crashed in Schoharie can be seen.
PHOTOGRAPHER:
The top of a stretch limousine that crashed in Schoharie can be seen.

“In recent months, concerns have been raised about this incident and whether there was any FBI involvement in the investigation. As a result, the director ordered that the FBI further review the matter.”

“In recent months, concerns have been raised about this incident at the henhouse and whether there was any fox involvement in the investigation. As a result, the director ordered that the foxes further review the matter.”

The FBI is finally looking into its role in the October 2018 limousine crash in Schoharie that killed 20 people.

At issue is whether the FBI covered up or turned its back on any illegal activity prior to the crash by limousine company owner Shahed Hussain, who was working as an undercover FBI informant on anti-terrorism cases.

What role did FBI agents play in keeping Hussain out of trouble for the safety violations at his limousine company? How much of a role did the FBI play in allowing Hussain to avoid scrutiny by the state Department of Transportation and the state Department of Motor Vehicles for the condition of his company’s vehicles, including skirting permitting and inspection requirements and drug testing of its drivers?

What role did the FBI take in the investigation into the fatal crash, which also was being investigated by state police, the Schoharie District Attorney’s Office and the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB)?

Did the agency try to steer the investigation and culpability away from Hussain because of his role as an FBI informant?

The FBI certainly owes answers to the victims’ families and the public.

But the last people investigating the FBI’s role in this case should be the FBI — which, if found to have played a role, could be exposed to lawsuits from the families of the 20 people killed, as well as potentially other sanctions.

After more than three years of shirking responsibility and ignoring requests for an investigation into its role from members of Congress, including Democrat Rep. Paul Tonko and Republican Rep. Elise Stefanik, the same agency that’s under the microscope is now seriously asking that we trust it to provide a fair and thorough review of its actions and culpability?

What makes this internal investigation any different than those conducted by other law enforcement agencies that have been caught covering up for their own? How often have we heard of a member of law enforcement being credibly accused of wrongdoing and then watching as the department allows that individual to slip off the hook with no punishment or a slap on the wrist? And that’s assuming that officials release the outcome of their investigation at all. Police agencies routinely go to court to challenge public disclosure of disciplinary actions.

FBI officials may very well be sincere in rooting out the agency’s role in this crash and punishing anyone within the department who violated bureau protocols. But how can we be sure?

Credit Tonko and Stefanik for continuing to push for an investigation.

But an internal investigation by the FBI into its own actions isn’t enough to satisfy the public’s concerns.

The only way is for Congress or another independent federal panel to conduct a true independent investigation into the FBI’s role, with the FBI demonstrating its sincerity by fully cooperating with that investigation.

Only then will we have a chance to know what role the department truly played in this tragedy.

The victims, their families and the public deserve at least that.

Categories: Editorial, Opinion

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