The Deep State vs. Donald Trump As Our Democracy Hangs In The Balance
There is some serious blood in the water as it is clear that the intelligence community has essentially declared war on Donald Trump. The resignation of Michael Flynn as National Security Adviser (NSA) looks to be merely a prelude to some serious trouble for Trump and his administration. As both Eli Lake and Martin Longman point out, whatever you make think of him, and I think he’s a delusional loose canon, Flynn was clearly brought down by targeted leaks from the intelligence community.
The ostensible reason for Flynn’s firing, and that’s what it is, was because he misled Pence and other members of Trump’s team about whether he had discussed the newly imposed sanctions that Obama had put in place in a call with the Russian ambassador in late December. But after acting Attorney General Sally Yates informed the Trump administration that Flynn had indeed lied, it appears the administration did nothing. Yates was backed up in her presentation by then CIA Director John Brennan and DNI James Clapper. Yates told the White House that Flynn could be subject to blackmail by the Russians for that lie, but the real possibility of blackmail should have gone out the window when the Trump administration was informed about the lie. Instead the Trump team was silent and let Flynn continue in his role with access to the nation’s secrets.
That was a test for the Trump administration and it failed. Flynn was clearly severely compromised and apparently in way over his head as NSA, so it would not be surprising for the intelligence agencies to want to get rid of him. And they gave Trump the time and the opportunity to do it. When Trump did not act, the intelligence agencies decided to do the dirty work for him. When the story about Yates’ warning came out, Flynn and the Trump team were in an impossible situation. You could not have the NSA lying to the Vice President. In addition, you could not have the President know that the NSA was lying and do nothing about it. Other stories were also out there that Flynn had possibly lied to the FBI in an interview about his Russian contacts, that Flynn was being investigated by the Army for payments received from Russia, that the intelligence services were withholding certain information because the Russians “had ears” in the Situation Room, and that Flynn had multiple contacts with the Russians even during the campaign. There was no way Flynn could survive this barrage of damning leaks. And, to be clear, all those leaks had to be coming from inside the intelligence services. It may also be more than a coincidence that the leaks brought the Flynn issue to a head immediately after the launch of an intermediate range missile by North Korea.
If the idea was to get rid of Flynn, then the intelligence services’ job was finished on Monday night. Yes, Trump might face some uncomfortable questions about why he did nothing after finding out Flynn lied, but that could be handled any number of ways, certainly by saying that Flynn assured him that the discussions about the sanctions were general in nature and no promises were made. That may very well be true or the transcripts will show that Flynn really did make explicit promises about the sanctions. Either way, Trump can claim some deniability, pick a new NSA, and try to move on.
On the other hand, if the intelligence services believe that Trump himself is similarly compromised or have seen enough of his instability and ignorance to make them believe he is simply not up to the job, the revelation that Flynn lied and Trump essentially abetted that lie is just the opening salvo in their attempt to actually get rid of Trump. And last night’s story from the New York Times reporting that the Trump campaign had frequent contacts with the Russians while Russia was doing its best to hack the election for Donald Trump seems to indicate that the intelligence services do believe Trump is compromised and are going to act on that belief. The report is a clear threat to Trump’s presidency. In less than a day, the story has morphed from a theoretical and never punished Logan Act infraction by a senior Trump adviser to the fact that the current President was potentially colluding with Russia during and after the campaign. And there is plenty of anecdotal evidence to back that theory up such as Trump’s unwillingness to criticize Russia and Putin, his calling on Russia to hack Hillary Clinton, and his seeming lack of interest in the fact that Flynn did discuss the sanctions with the Russian ambassador. I would expect that there will be further revelations about the general content of those contacts. According to the Times, “The officials would not disclose many details, including what was discussed on the calls, the identity of the Russian intelligence officials who participated, and how many of Mr. Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians.” I would think all of those details will emerge in one way or another in due course.
The next question is one that Rachel Maddow addressed on her show last night and that is who exactly is going to investigate these allegations and answer the innumerable questions that are now hanging out there. Attorney General Jeff Sessions was a senior member of Trump’s campaign. House Intelligence chairman Nunes was on the Trump transition team and is focused on identifying the leaks, not what Flynn was up to. Says Nunes, “We are going to be outlining all of our concerns over the last 60 days that appear to all be related, maybe even coordinated in some ways,” committee Chairman Devin Nunes, R-Calif., told Fox News. “I am going to be asking the FBI to do an assessment of this to tell us what’s going on here because we cannot continue to have these leaks as a government.” Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence committee simply thinks this is a personnel change at the discretion of the President, saying, “Mike Flynn served his country with distinction. The president needs a national security adviser whom he can trust and I defer to him to decide who best fills that role”. Chaffetz, head of the House Oversight committee believe that the Flynn resignation simply took care of the problem. James Comey at the FBI not only now reports to Sessions but is simply not credible after his unlawful interference in the election. All the usual avenues for any type of real investigation are fatally compromised at this point.
It seems we are at an extraordinary crisis point in our democracy. As Eli Lake says in his article, “Normally intercepts of U.S. officials and citizens are some of the most tightly held government secrets. This is for good reason. 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.” This is absolutely correct. The leaks are illegal. They are destructive. And they are anti-democratic.
On the other hand, there is overwhelming evidence that Trump is somehow severely compromised by the Russian government. Trump and those in his administration repeatedly and continually lie about the extensive contacts they have had with the Russians during and after the campaign. It defies credulity that Flynn did not know his conversations with the Russian ambassador were being monitored, meaning he felt comfortable talking about the sanctions, probably because those were his instructions. It defies credulity that Trump would keep Flynn on knowing that he lied about the sanctions discussion, unless Trump himself approved. Trump has shown himself to be mentally unfocused and unstable, a narcissistic and compulsive liar who is clearly engaged in enriching himself and his family through the use of his office. He refuses to release his taxes and thereby hides who controls his purse strings. He ignores the Constitution, belittles the judiciary, and has a penchant for authoritarianism. He has shown himself to be incapable of managing a bureaucracy like the US Government. Hundreds of sub-cabinet positions remain open. He runs the government with a small cabal of advisers and refuses to use the institutional knowledge of the government bureaucracy to help craft and enforce his policies. His closest adviser believes that war with China and Iran is inevitable and we might as well fight those wars while we still have a significant military advantage. Trump’s Muslim ban is putting Americans at risk around the world. He has alienated important allies in Europe, Australia, and, yes, Mexico. The chain of command is broken as Mattis and Tillerson have essentially been missing in action since their confirmations. The response to provocations by Iran, North Korea, and now Russia has been muddled and weak. Those who oppose the US already see Trump as a “paper tiger” who can be easily intimidated. He won the election in the Electoral College by less than 100,000 votes across three states and suffered a massive popular vote defeat. The sustained protests since his inauguration seem to be growing rather than diminishing and Trump is intent on dividing the country further, as opposed to trying to bring the country together. He is quite clearly a danger to the safety of the country and a threat to our democracy.
In addition, the usual check on presidential overreach lies primarily with the Congress. But this GOP-controlled Congress has shown no regard for democracy for the last few decades, culminating in the refusal to sit a Supreme Court justice. They answer only to their corporate overlords and will do nothing to rein in Trump until that mission is completed. Incredibly, there seems not to be one GOP Senator who is willing to defy their party and Trump to stand up for democracy. McCain and Graham make all the right noises but never follow through. Democrats are powerless and the judiciary can only do so much, even when it is not being undermined.
There are so many dangers that lie ahead. Trump will not go easily. He and the Republicans are already gearing up for a massive witch hunt in an attempt to find the leakers. The chances that reporters will be jailed and dragged into court to divulge their source are pretty high, as are extrajudicial attempts to use the massive power of the surveillance state. The right wing propaganda machine is already glomming onto the meme that these leaks are an attempt by Obama officials still within the government to destroy Trump, that this is the bureaucracy combating and undermining Trump because he is “shaking things up”. The world will look on in horror as the state and the country goes to war with itself. And our enemies will take advantage of our weakness.
The irony of our situation is that Trump won election through a silent coup by a cabal within the FBI and abetted by James Comey. Now Trump’ presidency is under threat from a counter-coup by the intelligence services. Our democracy is severely crippled as the popular vote winner in 2 of the last 5 elections has not ascended to the presidency. Through aggressive gerrymandering, Republicans control the House, despite winning 1.5 million fewer votes nationwide. The people still can make their voices heard but seem powerless to control this battle between two potent anti-democratic forces, the deep state and Donald Trump. When Trump was elected I wondered but believed our democracy would somehow survive. Today, I’m not so sure.
[I’ve also written about this and other issues on my personal blog at tidalsoundings.blogspot.com]