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The Deep State Gets a Scalp

Michael Flynn was a seriously dangerous man, and I am very relieved that he will no longer be in a position of power. But Damon Linker is absolutely right [1] that the way he was brought down should worry everyone who cares about the health of American democracy:

Flynn’s ouster was a soft coup (or political assassination [2]) engineered by anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats. The results might be salutary, but this isn’t the way a liberal democracy is supposed to function.

Unelected intelligence analysts work for the president, not the other way around. 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. “Finally,” they say, “someone took a stand to expose collusion between the Russians and a senior aide to the president!” It is indeed important that someone took such a stand. But it matters greatly who that someone is and how they take their stand. Members of the unelected, unaccountable intelligence community are not the right someone, especially when they target a senior aide to the president by leaking anonymously to newspapers [3] the content of classified phone intercepts, where the unverified, unsubstantiated information can inflict politically fatal damage almost instantaneously.

The Eli Lake article [2] that Linker links to is worth reading in full, but I’ll pull out a key section here:

The fact that the intercepts of Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak appear to have been widely distributed inside the government is a red flag.

Representative Devin Nunes, the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told me Monday that he saw the leaks about Flynn’s conversations with Kislyak as part of a pattern. “There does appear to be a well orchestrated effort to attack Flynn and others in the administration,” he said. “From the leaking of phone calls between the president and foreign leaders to what appears to be high-level FISA Court information, to the leaking of American citizens being denied security clearances, it looks like a pattern.”

Nunes said he was going to bring this up with the FBI, and ask the agency to investigate the leak and find out whether Flynn himself is a target of a law enforcement investigation. The Washington Post reported [4] last month that Flynn was not the target of an FBI probe.

The background here is important. Three people once affiliated with Trump’s presidential campaign — Carter Page, Paul Manafort and Roger Stone — are being investigated [5] by the FBI and the intelligence community for their contacts with the Russian government. This is part of a wider inquiry into Russia’s role in hacking and distributing emails of leading Democrats before the election.

Flynn himself traveled in 2015 to Russia to attend a conference put on by the country’s propaganda network, RT. He has acknowledged he was paid through his speaker’s bureau for his appearance. That doesn’t look good, but it’s also not illegal in and of itself. All of this is to say there are many unanswered questions about Trump’s and his administration’s ties to Russia.

But that’s all these allegations are at this point: unanswered questions. It’s possible that Flynn has more ties to Russia that he had kept from the public and his colleagues. It’s also possible that a group of national security bureaucrats and former Obama officials are selectively leaking highly sensitive law enforcement information to undermine the elected government.

Here’s the thing: I understand why the bureaucracy and the intelligence agencies are behaving the way they are. It’s not just that they are opposed to Trump’s policies, or that they have personal reasons to hate Flynn or Bannon or anybody else on the Trump team. It’s that they are genuinely afraid [6] that this administration is functionally a threat to national security because it contains highly placed individuals actively working for a foreign power or, at best, extremely senior people (including the President himself) who flagrantly disregard basic security precautions:

For decades, NSA has prepared special reports for the president’s eyes only, containing enormously sensitive intelligence. In the last three weeks, however, NSA has ceased doing this, fearing Trump and his staff cannot keep their best SIGINT secrets.

Since NSA provides something like 80 percent [7] of the actionable intelligence in our government, what’s being kept from the White House may be very significant indeed. However, such concerns are widely shared across the IC, and NSA doesn’t appear to be the only agency withholding intelligence from the administration out of security fears.

What’s going on was explained lucidly by a senior Pentagon intelligence official, who stated that “since January 20, we’ve assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM,” meaning the White House Situation Room, the 5,500 square-foot conference room in the West Wing where the president and his top staffers get intelligence briefings. “There’s not much the Russians don’t know at this point,” the official added in wry frustration.

None of this has happened in Washington before. A White House with unsettling links to Moscow wasn’t something anybody in the Pentagon or the Intelligence Community even considered a possibility until a few months ago. Until Team Trump clarifies its strange relationship with the Kremlin, and starts working on its professional honesty, the IC will approach the administration with caution and concern.

When the press first started hyperventilating about Russia, I wrote a column [8] about how we all needed to calm down — because my concern was that the focus was misplaced, because Russia isn’t the problem:

Russia’s alleged actions are entirely unsurprising and far from unprecedented [9]. They are not only the kind of thing that Russia has done before, they are the kind of thing that we have done before — including in Russia’s neighborhood [10]. Russia’s actions may well deserve a response — but the most important response would be to make cyber security a significantly higher priority. They certainly don’t merit panic about Russian intentions, or about the fragility of American institutions.

By contrast, the opacity of Trump’s financial relationships does remain a serious problem, and the possibility that he is personally subject to Russian “influence” because of financial liabilities held by Russian banks could taint any attempt to improve relations between our countries. And of course if the Trump campaign actually coordinated with Russia on dirty tricks, that would be a crime amply deserving investigation, and potentially impeachment.

Meanwhile, those arguing that Russia undermined the integrity of the American electoral system need to take a good look in the mirror. Nothing Russia did or didn’t do can come close to the damage that will potentially be done by exaggerating the extent and impact of that influence, much less creating a constitutional crisis in response.

It certainly looks at this point like major elements within the national security bureaucracy are prepared to create a constitutional crisis in response to what they believe is a serious and real threat to American national security from the White House itself. And there is really only one way to avoid such a crisis: for Congress to step up and begin the necessary investigations of the Trump administration.

I completely understand why a Republican Congress would be reluctant to do this. There’s not only the risk that they’d cripple their own party’s presidency; there’s the very real risk of retaliation by the Trump administration, and the President taking steps to mobilize his supporters against members of Congress that threaten him.

But that is not the only quarter from which threats may come. The GOP Congress is not going to be able to ignore an escalating war within the Executive branch. Nor can they discount the possibility of characters like Flynn engaging in their own freelance retaliatory schemes.

And, you know, there’s also our system of constitutional government, that old thing, which gives Congress the responsibility for dealing with corruption and other lawbreaking by the Executive.

I have no particular love for Senator Roy Blunt, but I’m glad he has come out for a full investigation of the administration’s Russia ties [11]. I hope that the investigation focuses on exactly that: the nature, timing and appropriateness of any connections and communications. Because, again, the real problem isn’t Russia or the fact that Trump favors rapprochement; the problem is the real possibility of corruption and the plain fact of flagrant and dangerous incompetence.

And while they are at it, they can also start investigating the leaks. But it has to be both; if Congress focuses only on the leaks, and ignores or soft-pedals the administration’s behavior, they will contribute to the escalation of a growing constitutional crisis.


29 Comments (Open | Close)

29 Comments To "The Deep State Gets a Scalp"

#1 Comment By Mass Piker On February 14, 2017 @ 6:06 pm

” I’m glad he has come out for a full investigation of the administration’s Russia ties.”

I heartily agree. There should be a formal investigation and full airing of the ties between our government officials and Russia.

It should also be only the first of many such investigations. And they should not be limited to government officials. Lobbyists and others with access to government officials should be thoroughly (and repeatedly) vetted. Any relationships with foreign governments – foreign actors of any kind, really – that they disclose should be fully reported to the public. And stopped.

We’ve had really bad experience with foreign interests using access to our government officials, politicians, and political process. It’s gotten so bad that many Americans fear that our government has been hijacked, and that it no longer serves or even cares about Americans.

It’s time to air it. And to end it.

#2 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On February 14, 2017 @ 6:10 pm

chicken or the egg? it wasn’t a “hit” or a “coup” executed by intelligence analysts, or some anti-Trump bureaucrats a couple rungs down the food chain. it was “check and balances” in action. if Flynn doesn’t make the call (knowing communications with the Russian Embassy are recorded/monitored?), he still has a job. Flynn was a victim of his own arrogance (or that of the POTUS). to paraphrase, his boss sold him the rope used to hang him. I’m just waiting for the “lock him up! lock him up!” chants, as I believe violating the Logan Act, as well as lying to the FBI are felonies. Ever the “good soldier” I don’t expect Flynn to rat out his boss, but really, does anyone believe he “went rogue”?

#3 Comment By Rob On February 14, 2017 @ 6:17 pm

This is such a tough issue. On one hand, I agree with you that this kind of interference is dangerous to democratic institutions. On the other hand, how else can this country’a institutions be protected. Congress is not interested, even if one or two members are. And these officials will not be able to blow the whistle without the cloak of anonymity. We’ve all seen how whistle blowers are treated.

#4 Comment By John C On February 14, 2017 @ 6:20 pm

“since January 20, we’ve assumed that the Kremlin has ears inside the SITROOM

Says the NSA.

And we conservatives are still obsessing on liberals and Obama.

Even Mr linker’s article, much quoted above, attempts to blame ‘former Obama officials’.

All of this is in the past.

There are Russian spies in the White House. Is this really happening?

I pray, and fear,for the future of our country.

#5 Comment By SteveM On February 14, 2017 @ 6:26 pm

Re: “It’s that they are genuinely afraid that this administration is functionally a threat to national security because it contains highly placed individuals actively working for a foreign power…”

Foreign power!? That’s rich! A U.S. government who plays the lapdog to the Israelis and kowtows to the ruthless slave-holders and head choppers in the Middle East. And fronted by a sclerotic, completely coöpted MSM.

And have Millman or the others who take backhanded swipes at RT ever actually watched any of its programming? The American produced RT programs (4 or 5 hours a night) have brutally attacked Trump non-stop, before, during and after the election.

RT Moscow programs SophieCo and World’s Apart regularly have guests that represent conventional (i.e., Russia hating) American/European points of view. When is the last time that a major American media outlet interviewed a rational thoughtful Russian whose views are aligned with the Russian government, e.g. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova?

And RT has critically challenged the completely biased propaganda coming out of Syria by the Western MSM. There is a lot happening behind the Syrian jihadist curtain that the U.S. government and the toady MSM don’t want us to see. If RT does not pose the questions in the West, who will?

Is RT fundamentally biased? Certainly and sometimes crudely so. But that bias was the direct result of the clumsy, stupid coup that the U.S. fronted by Obama vulgarian stooge Victoria Nuland engineered in Ukraine.

This holier than thou schtick that the Left is drumming up against Trump and Russia when the U.S. has been guilty of similar shenanigans and outright criminality for decades is completely bogus.

This essay is Fake News writ large.

#6 Comment By Nelson On February 14, 2017 @ 6:33 pm

Flynn’s ouster was a soft coup (or political assassination) engineered by anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats. The results might be salutary, but this isn’t the way a liberal democracy is supposed to function.

And there is really only one way to avoid such a crisis: for Congress to step up and begin the necessary investigations of the Trump administration.

Agreed. One of this country’s main problems in recent history is congress abdicating its duties. This neglect leaves more power, and more potential misuse of power, in the hands of the executive. The only way we can get back to a sense of normal democracy is for Congress to take more responsibility for this country’s actions.

#7 Comment By Nelson On February 14, 2017 @ 6:33 pm

Flynn’s ouster was a soft coup (or political assassination) engineered by anonymous intelligence community bureaucrats. The results might be salutary, but this isn’t the way a liberal democracy is supposed to function.

And there is really only one way to avoid such a crisis: for Congress to step up and begin the necessary investigations of the Trump administration.

Agreed. One of this country’s main problems in recent history is congress abdicating its duties. This neglect leaves more power, and more potential misuse of power, in the hands of the executive. The only way we can get back to a sense of normal democracy is for Congress to take more responsibility for this country’s actions.

#8 Comment By David M On February 14, 2017 @ 6:50 pm

It’s bizarre to read this article and not see the name Comey featured prominently.

#9 Comment By mimeographer On February 14, 2017 @ 7:23 pm

“The only way we can get back to a sense of normal democracy is for Congress to take more responsibility for this country’s actions.”

yessir … the President’s in particular. Tell him make the NSA lay off spying on Americans and don’t let him start or perpetuate wars as the whim takes him, for starters.

(Congress can also clear up some of the ambiguities that the judiciary claims to discern in the laws. The judiciary is at least as out of control as the “imperial executive”. A law that simply and clearly halts immigration completely for ten or twenty years would have saved a lot of the ridiculous drama of the past few weeks and avoided the whole ridiculous “Muslim ban” crap.)

#10 Comment By Coastal Elite On February 14, 2017 @ 7:39 pm

“the health of American democracy”

The same American democracy that puts the less popular (in the literal sense of the word) candidate into office? Real rich one there.

#11 Comment By Jeremy 2 On February 14, 2017 @ 8:37 pm


Flynn himself plays lapdog to the Israelis and kowtows to the ruthless slave-owners and the head-choppers in the Middle East more than anyone, especially by supporting war/regime change in Iran. It’s a good thing he’s gone and the Trump administration is better for it (now if only Trump could stop sucking up to Bibi).

As for “the Left”, which part of the Left are you referring to? The “tankie” leftists still love Putin themselves.

#12 Comment By SteveM On February 14, 2017 @ 9:37 pm

Re: Jeremy 2:

Flynn is indeed a war-monger nut-job. The sad thing is that his apparent replacement is also another war-monger nut-job, retired Vice Admiral Robert Harward who is a greaser for delivering weapons systems from American Merchant of Death Lockheed Martin to the slave-holding, head-chopping Gulf States. The same anti-Iranian Gulf States that are pulverizing Yemen.

It’s good to be him…

Do any of these Bush/Obama era Pentagon Brass Meatballs have documented evidence that they actually reported back the huge Clusterf*ck that is the Middle Eastern quagmire that has cost the taxpayers TRILLIONS?

In other words, Harward is probably just another go-along to get-along militarist crony who never reported back what he actually saw. I.e., huge amounts of American Green being flushed down the toilet. And as always, what the heck? It ain’t his money…

Looks like more ready, fire, aim shenanigans from the Trump Neocon cabal once this latest Navy Boy “Warrior-Hero” comes aboard to oversee the perpetual American Global Cop stupidity.

#13 Comment By Jay Louis On February 14, 2017 @ 10:15 pm

Millman does not note that the intelligence agency only leaked the information after the FBI – i.e. Comey decided to sit on the information and not tell the White House. There is another investigation waiting to happen and resignation needed. What, Comey is so stupid that he didn’t see this as a national security threat and a serious legal issue or did he consider that it was more a political threat that needed to be covered over? I’m guessing that we will never find out how Pence really thinks about all this and how he is out of the loop already.

#14 Comment By MEexpert On February 14, 2017 @ 11:58 pm

Does any one see a regime change operation by the intelligence community? There are still quite a few Victoria Nulands in the government.

I think Trump needs to drain the DC swamp pretty quick before he is completely consumed by it.

#15 Comment By cka2nd On February 15, 2017 @ 1:55 am

SteveM, speaking as a one-time card-carrying member of the Left (Trotskyist Conference), I’d say it’s the liberals, centrists, Democrats and a relatively small number of progressives who are obsessing over the Putin connection. In other words, Hilary Clinton’s supporters and only the softest of Bernie Sanders’ voters, namely folks who for the most part don’t even identify themselves with “the Left” in the first place.

Thank you, Jeremy 2, for making me look up the word “tankie.” One can decry the mess created by the US, EU and NATO in Ukraine and Syria, and express understanding for Russia’s actions in both areas, without expressing overall support, let alone love, for Putin. I admit that I don’t follow the old Stalinist circuit closely, but is there really any hint of a Stalini-like cult of personality around Putin on the Left? I’m genuinely curious, here.

#16 Comment By anon On February 15, 2017 @ 6:33 am

Would anyone have demanded an investigation of, say, high-level connections to Saudi Arabia? Would anyone have characterized Huma Abedin as “Saudi Arabia having ears inside the WH”, or Dennis Ross as “Israel having ears inside the WH”? It’s commentary malpractice to write a piece like this and not at least discuss the weird double standard applied to Russia vs other foreign powers.

#17 Comment By Fran Macadam On February 15, 2017 @ 7:04 am

So Noah Millman wants to bring down the elected Trump Presidency, and sides with the Deep State patriots? That’s what impression this leaves me with. A whole lot of people don’t have much love for voting and democracy anymore. And this mad Russophobia is MyCarthy Dementia 2.0.

Motives do matter when considering how to frame a story based on leaks. For instance, Snowden’s motives were highly important when evaluating his disclosures, which is both why the government and his advocates were so at pains to characterize them either good or bad. They and others have spent at least as much effort as publishing the contents, putting both them and the consequences in context.

The control of information is an exercise in power. It would be foolish not to consider what the leaker intends to accomplish by selectively leaking, whether or not the exercise is one of manipulation of public opinion rather than informing the public, and whether or not it is actually in service of the truth without that context.

A consequence of the full take of collect it all in regards to everyone’s communication is that such a trove about everyone’s lives makes a universal blackmail possible by Deep State actors, a kind of veto power over all lives and all politics.

I am cautious about this particular opinion, because it treads very close to political biases to have “gotten” Flynn whom he deeply disagreed with, leading him to err on the side of praising politicized secret intelligence state leakers who have zero interest, unlike Snowden, in public accountability.

#18 Comment By John On February 15, 2017 @ 7:18 am

With gerrymandering and dark money, thanks to Citizen’s United, and a continuing dilution of representation thanks to the fixed number of Congressional reps in a growing population, Congress is unable to/given up its role as a check to the power of the Executive branch. Civilian soldiers in the bureaucracy are now making choices, right or wrong, to salvage what’s left of the Republic.

#19 Comment By Lllurker On February 15, 2017 @ 8:06 am

Sadly we cannot trust senators and congressmen to place duty above partisanship, or more to the point, country above partisanship. So with possible traitors in the White House and congress controlled by the same party, the leakers only real option is to leak.

We need the leakers to keep at it, and the press to keep digging, so that together they can empower the public to do the right thing, as this will not get a proper investigation unless the public forces it. And even then the GOP is likely to try to hide as much of it as they can behind the curtain of “national security.”

As I understand it those who are doing the leaking are risking both careers and liberty to do so. I hope for the country’s sake they can get everything else they have out to the press before they can be shut down.

The aspects of this that fall outside the executive branch should be considered more of a “partisanship crisis” than a constitutional crisis. Maybe down the line the public can force a couple of follow up investigations: “What did Jason Chaffetz know and when did he know it.” Maybe Comey too.

#20 Comment By nolan On February 15, 2017 @ 9:16 am

“It’s not just that they are opposed to Trump’s policies, or that they have personal reasons to hate Flynn or Bannon or anybody else on the Trump team.”

How can author state this? Everyone knows Flynn made certain agencies in the intelligence community very angry over his overt critiques.

#21 Comment By Lllurker On February 15, 2017 @ 9:50 am

Rand Paul has said that Republicans should not investigate Republicans. (Quite the patriot …)

Only the aggressive investigative journalism combined with internal leaks can overcome this.

#22 Comment By Mike nimzo On February 15, 2017 @ 11:20 am

The republicans crying about a “deep state coup” against Trump are the same ones who refuse to acknowledge the direct aid Coney/the FBI gave the Trump campaign.

Spare me your whining about “democratically elected”.

#23 Comment By Vladimir Putin! On February 15, 2017 @ 11:44 am

Under President Putin’s firm and steady hand, Comrade Donald Trump will receive the enlightened guidance and strong leadership he needs to Make Amerika Great Again!

#24 Comment By MDv On February 15, 2017 @ 3:36 pm

intel was already wary about the new administration’s ties to Russia, and in particular Flynn’s. They knew Flynn discussed sanctions in the call and that he and other administration reps publicly said otherwise, but they didn’t know whether the administration, perhaps Trump himself, knew about the subject of the call.

So they “warned” the administration that Flynn was at risk for blackmail, and told of the real subject of the call. They then waited to see what happened. If Flynn was fired or at least marginalized, then perhaps Flynn was acting on his own and fears of total Russian infiltration of the White House were overstated. In any case, they probably wouldn’t have leaked the information if some action had been taken.

Instead, after “learning” of the subject of the call, the administration did nothing about Flynn, and trotted him out to put Iran “on notice,” etc. At best the administration didn’t care that Flynn discussed the sanctions and lied to them about it. More likely, Flynn discussed the sanctions with the knowledge of, or at the direction of, the administration. And the administration then lied to not only the public about it, but to the intel agents themselves.

Is it really that alarming that the so called “deep state” is making efforts to bring (the now clear) Russian infiltration of the White House to light? Not to me it isn’t. One could spin it as intel agents working to “bring down” an elected president, but I don’t think they care about Trump in particular; they want the Kremlin out of the White House, not Trump.

#25 Comment By Joe the Plutocrat On February 15, 2017 @ 3:38 pm

@Jay Lewis. it’s entirely possible Pence instructed or suggested Flynn contact the Russians. not setting odds, but guess who gets to be POTUS if the current POTUS is impeached (and convicted) or resigns?

#26 Comment By simon94022 On February 15, 2017 @ 3:59 pm

I am glad Flynn is gone mainly because his views on Iran were nuts and dangerous. His apparent support for rapprochement with Russia is a point in his favor.

The real problem with the military-security-industrial complex targeting an executive branch figure who threatens our national interests is that it is NOT the Deep State’s job to determine what our national interests are.

In reality, it is very much in the national interest of the United States to have normal, correct state-to-state relations with both Russia and Iran, cooperating with each of them in the many areas where our interests converge, and not demonizing or destabilizing either of those regimes.

The Deep State is obsessed with demonizing both Iran and Russia, meanwhile propagating the fantastic lie that the militant Sunni Muslim regimes and militias around the Middle East are our “moderates” or even our “allies.” This insanity needs to stop, and the elected branches of government have every right and duty to stop it.

#27 Comment By Ken Zaretzke On February 15, 2017 @ 5:48 pm

Yesterday Bill Kristol tweeted that “if it comes to it, prefer the deep state to the Trump state.” This confirms everything Shadia Drury says about the East Coast Straussians. If you haven’t read her book–the first book-length critique of the ideas of Leo Strauss–do so now if you want to hit back against the deep state and its “deep” Straussianism.

#28 Comment By Lllurker On February 16, 2017 @ 7:33 am

So here is Senator Burr, who heads the Senate Intelligence committee, which currently has complete control of the investigation:

Burr said he’s doing just fine. “We’re into it and we will methodically continue,” he told reporters. But while other senators, both Republicans and Democrats, have called for Flynn to testify about his discussions with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak in December about economic sanctions, Burr also acknowledged that his panel has not decided whether to do so. “We don’t even know what to ask Mr. Flynn,” Burr said.

Quite a confidence builder no? Maybe at least ask the guy if he’s been on any nice Russian vacations lately?

IMO the most important issue for the country right now is to not allow partisans and senate power brokers to impede a full and public investigation. Normally you would want the opposition party in charge, but with the GOP running everything I guess there is nothing to be done about that.

Forcing the investigation, or at least parts of it, outside the intelligence committee ought to reduce their power to dictate where the investigation does and does not go. Also the more big egos involved and jockeying for camera time the better. Anything that makes it more difficult for McConnell and Company to keep things bottled up.

Hopefully we have at least one Senator who doesn’t fear the FBI and it’s Director. Based on history though that may be too much to ask …

#29 Comment By Tim D. On February 16, 2017 @ 9:08 am

No surprises here. Many in the GOP put party before country because of power and $$$. Trump can literally get away with anything as long as he is complacent in signing tax cuts and expanding the welfare state strictly for the GOP (at the expense of everyone else). It seems many GOP Congressmen have yet to learn they work for Trump, not the other way around.