It isn’t a pretty face, but one scarred from a dark past, repackaged now by the frenzy of “resistance.” Accusing Donald Trump recklessly, implying he knows more than he lets on, promising redemption: John Brennan is the face of American politics in 2018.
But before all that, Brennan lived in a hole about as far down into the deep state as one can dwell while still having eyes that work in the sunlight. He was director of the Central Intelligence Agency. He was Obama’s counterterrorism advisor, helping the president decide who to kill every week, including American citizens. He spent 25 years at the CIA, and helped shape the violent policies of the post-9/11 Bush era. He was a fan of torture and extrajudicial killing to the point that a 2012 profile of him was entitled, “The Seven Deadly Sins of John Brennan.” Another writer called Brennan “the most lethal bureaucrat of all time, or at least since Henry Kissinger.” Today, however, a New York Times puff piece sweeps all that away as a “troubling inheritance.”
On Twitter this week, Brennan cartoonishly declaimed, “Donald Trump’s press conference performance in Helsinki rises to and exceeds the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors. It was nothing short of treasonous. Not only were Trump’s comments imbecilic, he is wholly in the pocket of Putin.”
Because it is 2018, Brennan was never asked to explain exactly how a press conference exceeds the threshold of high crimes and misdemeanors the Constitution sets for impeachment, nor was he asked to lay a few cards on the table showing what Putin has on Trump. No, Brennan is a man of his times, all bluster and noise, knowing that so long as he says what a significant part of the country apparently believes—that the president of the United States is under the control of the Kremlin—he will never be challenged.
Brennan slithers alongside those like Nancy Pelosi and Cory Booker who said Trump is controlled by Russia, columnists in the New York Times who called him a traitor, an article (which is fast becoming the Zapruder film of Russiagate) in New York Magazine echoing former counterterrorism coordinator Richard Clarke in speculating that Trump met Putin as his handler, and another former intelligence officer warning that “we’re on the cusp of losing the constitutional republic forever.”
Brennan’s bleating has the interesting side effect of directing attention away from who was watching the front door as the Russians walked in to cause what one MSNBC analyst described as a mix of Pearl Harbor and Kristallnacht. During the 2016 election, Brennan was head of the CIA. His evil twin, James Clapper, who also coughs up Trump attacks for nickels these days, was director of national intelligence. James Comey headed the FBI, following Robert Mueller into the job. Yet the noise from that crowd has become so loud as to drown out any questions about where they were when they had the duty to stop the Russians in the first place.
The excuse that “everybody believed Hillary would win” is in itself an example of collusion: things that now rise to treason, if not acts of war, didn’t matter then because Clinton’s victory would sweep them all under the rug. Only after Clinton lost did it become necessary to create a crisis that might yet be inflated (it wasn’t just the Russians, as originally thought, it was Trump working with them) to justify impeachment. Absent that need, Brennan would have disappeared alongside other former CIA directors into academia or the lucrative consulting industry. Instead he’s a public figure with a big mouth because he has to be. That mouth has to cover his ass.
Brennan is part of the whole-of-government effort to overturn the election. Remember how recounts were called for amid (fake) allegations of vote tampering? Constitutional scholars proposed various Hail Mary Electoral College scenarios to unseat Trump. Lawsuits claimed the Emoluments Clause made it illegal for Trump to even assume office. The media set itself the goal of impeaching the president. On cue, leaks poured out implying the Trump campaign worked with the Russian government. It is now a rare day when the top stories are not apocalyptic, rocketed from Raw Story to the Huffington Post to the New York Times. Brennan, meanwhile, fans the media’s flames with a knowing wink that says “You wait and see. Soon it’s Mueller time.”
Yet despite all the hard evidence of treason that only Brennan and his supine journalists seem to see, everyone appears resigned to have a colluding Russian agent running the United States. You’d think it would be urgent to close this case. Instead, Brennan admonishes us to wait out an investigative process that’s been underway now through two administrations.
The IRS, meanwhile, has watched Trump for decades (they’ve seen the tax docs), as have Democratic and Republican opposition researchers, the New Jersey Gaming Commission, and various New York City real estate bodies. Multiple KGB/FSB agents have defected and not said a word. The whole Soviet Union has collapsed since the day that some claim Trump first became a Russian asset. Why haven’t the FBI, CIA, and NSA cottoned to anything in the intervening years? Why are we waiting on Mueller Year Two?
If Trump is under Russian influence, he is the most dangerous man in American history. So why isn’t Washington on fire? Why hasn’t Mueller indicted someone for treason? If this is Pearl Harbor, why is the investigation moving at the pace of a mortgage application? Why is everyone allowing a Russian asset placed in charge of the American nuclear arsenal to stay in power even one more minute?
You’d think Brennan would be saying it is time to postpone chasing the indictments of Russian military officers that will never see the inside of a courtroom, stop wasting months on decades-old financial crimes unconnected to the Trump campaign, and quit delaying the real stuff over a clumsy series of perjury cases. “Patriots: Where are you???” Brennan asked in a recent tweet. Where indeed?
Is Brennan signaling that there is one step darker to consider? A Reuters commentary observes that “Trump is haunted by the fear that a cabal of national-security officers is conspiring in secret to overthrow him…. Trump has made real enemies in the realm of American national security. He has struck blows against their empire. One way or another, the empire will strike back.” James Clapper is confirming reports that Trump was shown evidence of Putin’s election attacks and did nothing. Congressman Steve Cohen asked, “Where are our military folks? The Commander-in-Chief is in the hands of our enemy!”
Treason, traitor, coup, the empire striking back—those are just words, Third World stuff, clickbait, right? So the more pedestrian answer must then be correct. The lessons of Whitewater and Benghazi learned, maybe the point is not to build an atmosphere of crisis leading to something undemocratic, but just to have a perpetual investigation, tickled to life as needed politically.
Because, maybe, deep down, Brennan (Clapper, Hayden, Comey, and Mueller) really do know that this is all like flying saucers and cell phone cameras. At some point, the whole alien conspiracy meme fell apart because somehow when everyone had a camera with them 24/7/365, there were no more sightings and we had to admit that our fears had gotten the best of us. The threat was inside us all along. It is now, too.
Peter Van Buren, a 24-year State Department veteran, is the author of We Meant Well: How I Helped Lose the Battle for the Hearts and Minds of the Iraqi People and Hooper’s War: A Novel of WWII Japan. Follow him on Twitter @WeMeantWell.