What is the ‘deep state’ — and why is it trying to take down Trump?
The firing of Gen. Michael Flynn has popularized the concept of the “Deep State” across the political spectrum.
Breitbart’s Joel Pollak attacks the disloyal “Deep State #Resistance” to President Trump, while conservative pundit Bill Kristol defends it.
“Obviously [I] strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics,” Kristol tweeted Tuesday. “But if it comes to it, [I] prefer the deep state to the Trump state.”
And the conflict is deepening. The New York Times reports Thursday that Trump wants to bring in Wall Street billionaire Stephen Feinberg “to lead a broad review of American intelligence agencies.”
The idea is reportedly provoking “fierce resistance” from intelligence officials who fear it “could curtail their independence and reduce the flow of information that contradicts the president’s worldview.”
What Is the Deep State?
The Deep State is shorthand for the nexus of secretive intelligence agencies whose leaders and policies are not much affected by changes in the White House or the Congress. While definitions vary, the Deep State includes the CIA, NSA, Defense Intelligence Agency, and components of the State Department, Justice Department, Department of Homeland Security, and the armed forces.
With a docile Republican majority in Congress and a demoralized Democratic Party in opposition, the leaders of the Deep State are the most—perhaps the only—credible check in Washington on what Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) calls Trump’s “wrecking ball presidency.”
The leaders of these agencies are generally disturbed by Trump’s cavalier treatment of their intelligence findings and particularly worried about contacts between Trump’s entourage and Russian intelligence officials.
As Taegan Goddard’s Political Wire notes, the undisputed facts are accumulating:
- Multiple U.S. intelligence services believe that Russian operatives, at Putin’s directions, tried to help Trump get elected. The FBI is investigating contacts between Russian officials and at least three people connected to Trump’s presidential campaign: Paul Manafort, Carter Page and Roger Stone.
- There were “continuous” contacts between Trump’s presidential campaign and Russian intelligence officials. At least some of the claims made in a dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official have been confirmed, though none of the more salacious details.
- Trump has had many financial dealings with Russian oligarchs, as shown in an investigation by the American Interest.
As a result, the intelligence agencies are withholding sources and methods from the president out of fear they will leak to foreign powers, according to the Wall Street Journal. Senior officials are also leaking the results of the ongoing investigation into Trump to reporters at the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal.
The leaking of classified information, which Trump welcomed during the 2016 campaign, is indeed a felonious violation of the law, although it has been standard procedure for Washington power players since the passage of the National Security Act in 1947. If today’s leaks targeted a Democratic national security adviser, they would likely induce the outrage now heard mostly on the political right.
In denouncing the “political assassination” of Flynn, Bloomberg’s Eli Lake notes that, “Selectively disclosing details of private conversations monitored by the FBI or NSA gives the permanent state the power to destroy reputations from the cloak of anonymity. This is what police states do.”
Writing in Foreign Policy, Marc Ambinder observes, “The fact the nation’s now-departed senior guardian of national security was unmoored by a scandal linked to a conversation picked up on a wire offers a rare insight into how exactly America’s vaunted Deep State works.”
Roger Stone Responds
One target of the leaks, hard-right political operative Roger Stone, says the allegations that he had contact with “senior Russian intelligence officials,” as reported in the Times, are “categorically false.”
“Show me the proof,” Stone said in a telephone interview with AlterNet. “Show me an email. Show me a copy of a financial transaction. They’ve got nothing.”
“I have never been contacted by the FBI,” Stone added. “If they’re conducting an investigation, it’s in secret.”
Stone charged that former CIA director John Brennan is the source of the leaks, noting that the Times report cited “current and former officials.” Brennan should be investigated for leaking classified information, he insisted.
“This is an effort by the Deep State to destabilize the president,” Stone said.
Vanity Fair calls the crisis of Trump’s presidency Watergate 2.0. The historical analogy is apt because the Watergate scandal that engulfed President Richard Nixon in the early 1970s was also a struggle between the White House and the intelligence agencies. But today’s crisis is more accurately described as Trump vs. the Deep State.
It is the death match of American political power and it will determine the fate of Trump’s troubled presidency.