President Donald Trump, who said last month that he would take responsibility for shutting the government down if Congress refused to appropriate $5.7 billion for his border wall, proposed what he described as a compromise over the weekend. But he continued to insist on the wall. Democrats rejected the proposal immediately.
The president did not mention the more than 800,000 federal workers affected by the impasse, let alone the effects it has had on counterterrorism, counterintelligence, and drug-trafficking and cybersecurity operations by the FBI—an agency for which he has little affection. In the two and a half years since the bureau launched its counterintelligence investigation into potential coordination between members of Trump’s campaign and Russia, the president has chided the FBI in dozens of tweets, rallies, and interviews. The withering morale and possibility of having to work without pay has made it difficult to recruit new agents, current and former agents have told me.
Read: The Republican Party turns against the FBI
The thousands of FBI agents and other federal employees whose unfettered work is imperative for national security have received “no assurances” about when their next paycheck will come or when they will be reimbursed for travel expenses—including overseas trips crucial to operations, one agent told me. The agent, who works in a particularly sensitive counterterrorism unit, was recently asked to travel to Africa out of his own pocket should his counterparts there need assistance.
Another agent told me that “funding for all day-to-day operations is gone. There is no rainy-day fund of cash sitting somewhere.” He wryly added that he and his colleagues are “getting about as much [information] as you are hearing from press office—very little and very late.”
An FBI spokesperson would not elaborate on the funding mechanisms available for daily operations. But she said that FBI agents and support personnel in field offices are excepted from furlough, meaning they are allowed to come to work but still won’t be paid. “FBI operations are directed towards national security and violations of federal law, and must be able to continue during a lapse in appropriations,” the spokesperson said.
Despite their best efforts to proceed with business as usual, however, agents say their investigations are being put on hold by forces out of their control, such as a lack of funds from U.S. attorneys’ offices to issue grand-jury subpoenas. “Operationally, I requested a subpoena from the U.S. attorney’s office yesterday and was told it may take a while because their legal assistants are furloughed,” one agent said. “Depending on how long the shutdown lasts, it could be several weeks before my subpoena is issued.”
The federal judiciary is running out of money, too—the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts said in a statement on Tuesday that the federal courts can sustain funded operations through January 31, 2019 through an extension made possible by moving funds around. Courts will continue to conduct criminal trials, but some federal courts have had to issue orders “suspending or postponing civil cases in which the government is a party,” according to the statement. A federal judge in Illinois said on Tuesday that the court may run out of money to pay jurors and employees if the shutdown continues past February 8.