I. The Main Stream Media’s Victory Lap
The Deep State has done its dirty work, getting rid of Michael Flynn, the now-former national security adviser to President Trump. And so the MSM, having taken direction—even dictation—from the Deep State, is moving in for the kill. The ultimate target, of course, is Trump himself.
The Washington Post, which has long hated Republicans, and Trump in particular, is leading the charge. On February 15, seven of the eight top stories on its online home page were anti-Flynn, anti-Trump—and, of course, pro-MSM.
Let’s take a closer look: The Post seemed particularly proud of this moment-by-moment account, known in the trade as a “tick-tock”: “Flynn’s swift downfall: From a phone call in the Dominican Republic to a forced resignation at the White House.” And yet the Post was just getting warmed up. Here’s another headline: “Flynn episode ‘darkens the cloud’ of Russia that hangs over Trump administration.”
From there, the Post moved on to stories emphasizing what it saw as chaos in the White House: “Flynn departure erupts into a full-blown crisis for the Trump White House.” And the paper added this bit of ominousness: “Senators from both parties pledge to deepen probe of Russia and the 2016 election.” The Post’s guiding idea, of course, is that responsible leaders on both sides of the aisle are horrified by Trump, and so they are contemplating appropriate action.
What sort of appropriate action? Well, for starters, it would be a thorough investigation, but, after that, maybe forced resignation or impeachment. And to that end, the Post helpfully offered its readers a guide to the hoped-for Watergate 2.0; as another headline read, “Flynngate? Kremlingate? Russiagate? The gate’s out of the gate.”
Meanwhile, others in the MSM are piling on as well. Politico has whipped up such hot headlines as “Flynn’s ouster leads to more chaos in Trump world: The former national security adviser is only one of the White House’s many problems.” And then, striving to give the storyline legs by taking it beyond Flynn, the news site added: “Who Told Flynn to Call Russia? Let’s stop focusing on the resignation, and start focusing on the real issue here: The mystery of Trump’s Russia ties.”
So we can see where this is going: The story didn’t start with Flynn, and so Flynn’s exit doesn’t end it. Axios’ Mike Allen, a longtime Beltway observer, summed up the DC mood:
The news eruptions are gaining a Watergate aura — constant, complicated revelations from intelligence agencies and federal law enforcement; White House denials; frenzied competition among the great news organizations.
And Allen quoted CNN’s Brian Stelter:
Welcome to Day 1 of what is arguably the biggest presidential scandal involving a foreign government since Iran-Contra. . . . Hunker down, because this is a Class 5 political hurricane that’s hitting Washington.
The MSM narrative is two-fold: First, the crazy kook Flynn was finally removed; second, the Trump White House is headed for a shipwreck, and Captain Trump himself can’t manage the wheel.
And yet there’s a third narrative, lurking, flitting in and out of focus.
This third narrative is the demonstrable power of the Deep State. That is, the permanent government, the people who were here in DC when Trump arrived, and who look forward to seeing him leave—as soon as possible.
We’ll take a closer look at the Deep State in a moment, but first, we might note that a few reporters are willing to give credit where credit is due—that is, to their big brothers and big sisters in the Deep State. One such is Evan Osnos, a writer for The New Yorker, who tweeted:
The Flynn story is a reminder of a big truth: Journalism lives. And principled public servants who got the story out are hidden heroes.
Okay, of course, a journalist would say that journalism lives. Yet we might pause over Osnos’ further words: “principled public servants who got the story out are hidden heroes.” As in, Thanks, guys, we couldn’t have done it without you.
CNN’s Stelter went even further. Under the headline, “How leaks and investigative journalists led to Flynn’s resignation,” Stelter laid out the symbiotic relationship of journos and Deep Staters:
Investigative journalism created the conditions for Michael Flynn’s resignation from his national security adviser post. Journalists at The Washington Post, The New York Times and other outlets spoke with government officials who provided vital information about Flynn’s contacts with Russia. The sources insisted on anonymity, making it difficult to ascertain their agendas. But the sources caused journalists to dig for more and more details about Flynn’s calls. One story became 10 stories, and 10 became a hundred.
Ah yes, one story becomes ten stories, and ten stories become 100. Now that’s some strong symbiosis!
So who, exactly, are these Deep State people? What are their names? Their precise identities seemed to be perpetually veiled, cloaked in journalistic omerta.
And yes, that hiddenness opens up the possibility that reporters are exaggerating, or compositing, their sources—or even making them up altogether. And yet if the stories about Flynn had been completely made up, the retired three-star would still be on the job. So the Deep State has proven that it can provide the fire, as well as the smoke.
Still, some clues as to Deep State identities have emerged. On Tuesday night, the 14th, Fox News’ Bret Baier put it plainly: The anti-Flynn material “came from someone in the Obama administration.”
Then Baier interviewed Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who said that there was obviously an orchestrated plan against the Trump administration. “I’ve never seen anything like it,” Nunes continued, dwelling on the partisan double standard:
If you look at the fact that an American was having a conversation, and it leaked to the press. . . if the shoe was on the other foot here, and this was the Democrats, as you can imagine, the Democrats in the House and the Senate would be going crazy.
And just on February 10 came this headline in Politico: “CIA freezes out top Flynn aide: The agency denied a security clearance for a key aide to the National Security Adviser — ratcheting up tensions between Flynn and the intel community.”
Now we might ask ourselves: How did Politico come to know that the CIA had refused a security clearance to one Robin Townley, whom Flynn had chosen to run the Africa desk at the NSC? By what legal due process was Townley not only rejected, but then smeared in the media?
The Trump administration, for its part, has tried to steer the narrative toward just that—the question of how these leaks happened. As White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said at his briefing on Tuesday:
There is an issue of classified information . . . people entrusted with classified information are leaking it out… That . . . is a big story.
And Flynn himself has hit that point even harder. In an interview with The Daily Caller, just hours before his February 13 resignation, he said:
In some of these cases, you’re talking about stuff that’s taken off of a classified system and given to a reporter. That’s a crime. You call them leaks. It’s a criminal act. This is a crime.
Flynn has a strong point about illegality, although, of course, the MSM doesn’t care. On February 14, ABC News’ Pierre Thomas raised the possibility that Flynn had lied to the FBI. If so, Thomas volunteered, that would be a felony. Yes, Thomas was happy to use the “f-word,” felony, in regard to Flynn, even as he didn’t bother to mention that the leaks against Flynn are, indisputably, felonies.
Meanwhile, President Trump himself has raised the criminality point on Twitter:
The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington? Will these leaks be happening as I deal on N. Korea etc?
And the next day, the 15th, he tweeted:
Information is being illegally given to the failing @nytimes & @washingtonpost by the intelligence community (NSA and FBI?). Just like Russia.
Without a doubt, these are serious legal issues, and yet the MSM reaction has been a collective yawn. In the dismissive comment of Fox News’ Shepard Smith, who has stopped trying to hide his liberalism, “When you start blaming the leaks and not the substance, there’s a problem.”
For their part, the Democrats are even more dismissive. As Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA), also a member of the House Intelligence Committee, said on Fox:
If the Republicans’ takeaway from this is that we have a leaking problem, and not that we have a problem with the Russian government and its relationship with the Trump administration, they’re taking away the wrong lesson.
In the meantime, other Democrats, who have long been demanding a full-blown Congressional investigation, are eagerly escalating the issue; Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA) suggested on CNN that Trump might be guilty of “treason.”
And perhaps it was just as predictable that Trump-hating Republicans would be heading in the same direction. As Sen. John McCain said with an inward chortle, “Obviously the administration is in significant disarray.” Meanwhile, McCain’s close ally, Sen. Lindsey Graham, seemed to support the idea of a Congressional investigation, going beyond just Flynn:
What I’d like to know is, did General Flynn make this phone call by himself? If he was directed, by who? Did they try to engage the Russians before they were in office? Was this part of a continuing pattern between the Trump people and Russia?
So now we’ll have to wait and see if other Republican elected officials pick up that anti-administration meme. Two who seem at least somewhat interested are Sens. Bob Corker and Roy Blunt.
In the meantime, though, we can see that some un-elected Beltway Republicans—the right wing of the Deep State, one might say—are cheerleading the anti-Trump effort. One such is the neoconservative pundit Bill Kristol, who in a February 14 tweet, basically endorsed the idea of a soft coup:
Obviously strongly prefer normal democratic and constitutional politics. But if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state.
For its part, the MSM-Deep State combo keeps firing volleys. Late Tuesday night, The New York Times headlined its breaking story, “Trump Campaign Aides Had Repeated Contacts With Russian Intelligence.” The article named only Paul Manafort, who has been named before, and yet it seems a certainty that more Trump-connected names will come drip-drip-dripping out.
As an aside, we might note that the liberal left no longer seems to object to Uncle Sam’s surveillance of phone calls. Opposition to electronic intercepts by the National Security Agency was a major MSM cause just a few years ago, and yet now the MSM very much enjoys having such intercepts as a reportorial resource.
And the Times story also included this little item, recalling the “dirty dossier” flap of a month ago:
As part of the inquiry, the FBI is also trying to assess the credibility of information contained in a dossier that was given to the bureau last year by a former British intelligence operative. The dossier contained a raft of salacious allegations about connections between Mr. Trump, his associates and the Russian government. It also included unsubstantiated claims that the Russians had embarrassing videos that could be used to blackmail Mr. Trump.
In other words, the Deep State is still actively investigating—some might say, hounding—the President. And, yes, of course, still leaking about it.
So what’s going on here? How did the Deep State get to be so powerful?
II. A Closer Look at the Deep State
The rest of us might say that it’s a whacked-out world when un-elected government officials can commit crimes—leaking classified material is always a crime—and then, with the megaphone of the MSM, shift the blame onto a high government official chosen by a newly elected president, and then get that official removed. Welcome to Washington.
Virgil, grizzled Beltway veteran that he is, saw this coming. Back on December 12, under the headline, “The Deep State vs. Donald Trump,” he defined the Deep State this way:
The term “Deep State” refers to the complex of bureaucrats, technocrats, and plutocrats that likes things just the way they are and wants to keep them like that—elections be damned.
He added this warning:
Let’s not kid ourselves: These anti-Trump constituencies might have lost the 2016 presidential election at the ballot box, but they don’t intend to lose their power. And to that end, they have real clout, and they are using it.
Yet the specific case of Deep State vs. Flynn got going on January 12, when Washington Post columnist David Ignatius, always known to be close to the “intelligence community,” revealed Flynn’s December 29 phone conversation with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.
At that time, in mid-January, Virgil took note of this leak; he asked, “How did Ignatius know that?” For his part, Ignatius attributed the information only to a “senior US government official.” Whereupon Virgil observed, “Such disclosures aren’t legal, but once again, nobody in Washington, DC, seems to care.”
We might note that the Deep State goes by other names, including “permanent government,” “shadow government,” or even, simply, “The Establishment.”
Veteran journalist Kenneth Timmerman calls them “shadow warriors.” A few years ago, he published a book with that title, focusing on the Deep State’s mostly successful efforts to undermine the Bush 43 administration.
But back in the here and now, on February 14, a detailed account of the Flynn wiretap appeared in The Washington Post; the story reported, for example, that Flynn was on vacation in the Dominican Republic when he spoke to the Russian ambassador, Kislyak. The Post also observed:
As a veteran intelligence officer, Flynn must have known that a call with a Russian official in Washington would be intercepted by the US government, pored over by FBI analysts and possibly even shared with the White House.
We might add this point: Flynn, a former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, was obviously familiar with Uncle Sam’s wiretapping capabilities. And so the fact that he would talk on the phone with the Russian ambassador suggests that his conversation was, in fact, innocent. That is, in his phone call, Flynn might simply have told the Russian that the incoming Trump administration would soon be reviewing its policies toward Russia—and nothing more. In other words, Flynn had no qualms about talking to the Russian, because he was not saying anything wrong. (Of course, Flynn might not have adequately considered the possibility of a leak to the media.)
And if it’s true, that Flynn did nothing wrong, then we might see why it is that the Deep State leaked the fact of the phone call, but not any more detail about the call, such as the actual transcript.
We can further see how only partial information would play out in the media: If it’s reported that Flynn had a “secret” phone call with a Russian diplomat, that might, indeed, sound sinister. And so from a foe’s point of view, it’s best to leave it at that; there’s no point in releasing the actual transcript if that would make Flynn look good. In fact, it’s been reported that even when the FBI was investigating Flynn over these past few weeks, he was not allowed to see the transcript of his call.
So we might ask: What’s the motivation of the Deep State? Is it just hostility to Trump? Or to Republicans? Or is there something more?
Adam Kredo, writing in The Washington Free Beacon, argues that the 2015 Iran nuclear deal was the prime locus of Deep State animus toward Flynn. Under the headline, “Former Obama Officials, Loyalists Waged Secret Campaign to Oust Flynn,” Kredo asserted that the ringleader of the anti-Flynn effort was former Obama deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes. Rhodes, of course, had been the prime mover in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, a pro-Iranian deal which Flynn had strongly denounced. By this reckoning, Rhodes & Co. were simply defending their handiwork. And of course, Trump, too, has been a strong opponent of the nuclear deal.
III. What Comes Next
Without a doubt, the MSM is now having a lot of fun. Mediaite even offered its readers an online poll: “After Flynn, Who’s Next To Get the Boot From Team Trump?”
Yet once the “fun” is over, the rest of us must ask: What is to become of our government—no matter who’s in charge—if everything leaks? After all, it was less than a year ago that Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign was being battered by an earlier wave of leaks. Indeed, the US government seems helpless to defend itself against hacks, to say nothing of US citizens as well.
In the meantime, the Trump administration will surely do what it can to stop the leaks. And the press, of course, stands ready to make sure that the leaks will continue to keep gushing. For example, as soon as Trump announces any sort of anti-leak plan, the MSM will dredge up the memory of Richard Nixon’s “plumbers,” that being the operation that led to Watergate.
Virgil believes that any effective anti-leak operation will have to be far broader than the efforts of just a few sleuths. Rep. Nunes, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, has the right idea when he says that we need a full-scale FBI investigation.
Indeed, we will probably have to do much more than that: If the traditional culture of trustworthy professionalism inside the government has completely broken down, then we will have to change structures and agencies within the federal national-security complex, and that can’t be done by mere executive order.
So what’s needed, instead, is the buy-in of majorities in Congress, dedicated to the permanent reworking and rewriting of operating budgets and statutory laws. Nothing less than such a comprehensive effort will prove effective. In other words, that’s a new mission for the Trump administration—a lot of work, to be sure, but truly worth it. Virgil believes, moreover, that it would be popular with the public; a new commitment to improved and leak-free government would be a political winner.
Finally, we might close on a note of warning: If the Trump administration can’t manage these reforms, then, well, the situation will only get worse; the new future inside the federal government will be the bureaucratic version of kill-by-leak or be- killed-by-leak.
Interestingly, even a few in the MSM see this point. One such is Damon Linker, writing for the liberal-leaning The Week; he headlined his February 14 piece, “America’s spies anonymously took down Michael Flynn. That is deeply worrying.” As he put it, what we’re seeing is a sneaky effort “to manipulate public opinion for the sake of achieving a desired political outcome. It’s weaponized spin.”
Linker added that a grim end-justifies-the-means ethos has settled in:
Far too many Trump critics appear not to care that these intelligence agents leaked highly sensitive information to the press — mostly because Trump critics are pleased with the result. . . . No matter what Flynn did, it is simply not the role of the deep state to target a man working in one of the political branches of the government by dishing to reporters about information it has gathered clandestinely.
And another MSM-er, Eli Lake of Bloomberg News, went even further, bluntly entitling his piece, “The Political Assassination of Michael Flynn.” Lake observed that what we’re seeing now is what we see in police states, where the government security apparatus is a sword against its own people, not a shield against foreign enemies.
As for how all this might end if the Deep State domination continues, Lake approvingly quoted Rep. Nunes: “First it’s Flynn, next it will be Kellyanne Conway, then it will be Steve Bannon, then it will be Reince Priebus.” To which Lake added, “Flynn is only the appetizer. Trump is the entree.”
Interestingly, Trump himself read Lake’s piece and tweeted praise:
Thank you to Eli Lake of The Bloomberg View – “The NSA & FBI . . . should not interfere in our politics . . . and is” Very serious situation for USA
Yes, it’s a very serious situation for America. The Deep State can now claim a Trump administration scalp. And it’s hungry for more—a lot more.