It is never proper to characterize every member of a group or organization as being bad or evil, but clearly there are enough officials, agents and conspirators at the FBI to warrant some serious housecleaning.

The trouble in accomplishing this, however, is the same as it has always been.

It isn’t that no one knows who is and is not guilty of so many “blunders” and “mistakes” made by the agency of late; the problem is, who’s going to step up to the plate and kick some butt?

Last week the Justice Department just happened to “stumble upon” nearly 3,200 pages of documents in the case of OKC bomber Timothy McVeigh that neither Clinton Justice officials nor Clinton-era FBI officials saw proper to turn over to McVeigh’s defense attorneys.

Because of that gaffe, Attorney General John Ashcroft has delayed McVeigh’s execution for at least 30 days until his lawyers and a federal court have time to sift through the information and see what they can see.

The families of the 168 victims, the scores of survivors, and millions of other Americans are going to feel compelled to be ticked off at Ashcroft for his decision and President Bush’s support of it. They shouldn’t be; if anyone is to blame here, it is the FBI for failing to produce this information years ago when they were required by our legal system’s rules of discovery.

What is going to be the relevance of these documents? Who knows — but whatever they do or do not show, the fact is the FBI’s reputation has taken yet another hit in a long series of embarrassing and destructive lapses of ethics.

Besides this OKC document “gaffe,” Americans learned last week that the FBI had kept a man in prison for three decades even though the agency knew he wasn’t guilty of the crime of which he was convicted.

Also, earlier this month, we learned that the FBI withheld information in a church bombing 30 years ago that could have shed light on the incident and led, most probably, to the arrest of others who were involved.

Finally, since the early 1990s, the FBI has been involved in a series of other incidents — most notably the 1992 Ruby Ridge shootings and the 1993 assault against the Branch Davidians — in which its agents and officials have either lied, covered up or obfuscated the facts before investigators and Congress.

But so far the only Justice official to be charged with any crime was a lone federal prosecutor, who was charged with — now don’t laugh — concealing evidence during the Waco inquiries because he didn’t believe then-Attorney General Janet Reno would properly handle or act on it.

And he was right. Reno, along with her accomplice, now-departing FBI Director Louis Freeh — have left behind an agency with a legacy of criminal misconduct staffed by liars and cheats who don’t give a damn about truth, justice and the American way.

How many more examples of FBI malfeasance will Congress need before it acts to clean up this out-of-control agency? How many more examples of FBI lies and “misstatements” will the American people need before they rise up en masse to demand that guilty agents and officials be tried and convicted like the people they framed or mischaracterized?

Last week, when Rep. James Traficant, D-Ohio — who has just been indicted by the FBI — said he had plenty of evidence to prove agency malfeasance in his case, many people snickered about it.

I wonder if now, after the McVeigh case “admission” of withholding evidence, these same people are still chuckling?

I don’t know if Traficant is guilty of what he’s been charged with or not, but with the abysmal record of honesty in the FBI, how in the world are Americans supposed to know if Traficant was railroaded or not if he is ultimately convicted?

The FBI has grown from a legitimate law enforcement branch of the Justice Department into a self-serving, “untouchable” organization. A “good ol’ boys club,” as one source told me last week, that is more and more becoming filled with liars, cheats and criminals at its highest levels — leaders and managers who cover for each other the way adulterous men and women do.

If Ashcroft or President Bush won’t clean the scum out of the FBI, then the scourge of dishonesty will only worsen. As time goes on, the agency will garner less and less respect from the American people, if not outright hostility. And, the administration will also lose its legitimacy, as will the Congress that is supposed to oversee these agencies and departments.

If the FBI cannot conduct lawful, honest investigations, then the American people should not be bound by the agency’s authority. It’s just as simple as that.

We don’t want promises or phony inquiries; the American people want some heads to roll and some people put on trial for what they’ve done. After all, if ordinary people did what some of these FBI officials have done, they’d be on trial too.

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