WASHINGTON — A senior FBI official acknowledged Thursday that the nation's top law enforcement agency has lost public trust after the revelation that it failed to investigate a potentially life-saving tip before the Florida school shooting, a mistake he suggested was the result of bad judgment.
David Bowdich, the FBI's acting deputy director, said he visited the FBI's call center in West Virginia, where the tip was received, to help understand why a warning that the suspect, Nikolas Cruz, had access to guns and a "desire to kill" was not referred to agents in Florida for further investigation.
"People make judgments out on the street every day," Bowdich said. "Every now and then those judgments may not have been the best judgments based on the information they had at the time." He added that the bureau is still trying to determine exactly what went wrong.
The comments, the FBI's most extensive so far regarding the missed tip, came as the bureau faced a fresh wave of politically charged criticism, this time from the National Rifle Association, whose leaders seized on the failure as a chance to discredit the FBI's broader work. The FBI is facing unprecedented criticism from President Donald Trump and other Republicans, who have accused it of partisan bias in its investigations of both Hillary Clinton and Trump's ties to Russia.
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Trump himself raged at the FBI for what he perceived to be a fixation on the Russia investigation at the cost of failing to deter the attack. And Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Trump ally and fellow Republican, called for FBI Director Christopher Wray to resign.
Wayne LaPierre, leader of the NRA, joined the chorus Thursday, telling a cheering crowd at the Conservative Political Action Conference that "even the FBI is not free of its own corruption and its own unethical agents."
"What's hard to understand is why no one at the FBI stood up and called BS on its rogue leadership."
Bowdich, who spoke at a news conference about the Justice Department's efforts to crack down on fraud targeting older people, would not address the criticism directly, but said the greatest threat to the FBI is losing public trust.
As for the botched tip, Bowdich said, the FBI's protocols were apparently not followed.
The call was one of about 765,000 the call center receives each year in addition to at least 750,000 internet tips, most of which do not yield investigative leads. The FBI was mining its "holdings" to make sure it didn't miss any tips similar to the one about Cruz.
"I'm not making excuses," Bowdich said. "Because what happened was truly a tragedy."