In the 1970s, the military officer corps and the top ranks of the CIA, DOJ, and FBI were, in the eyes of the Left, synonymous with Seven Days in May— and Manchurian Candidate–like conspiracies. Yet in 2016, these same institutions had been recalibrated by progressives as protectors of social justice against interlopers and bomb throwers like Donald Trump. Whether it was scary or needed to have a secretive, unelected cabal inside the White House subverting presidential agendas depended on who was president.
During the Robert Mueller investigations, progressives usually defended the FISA-court-ordered intercepts of private citizens’ communications, despite the machinations taken to deceive FISA-court justices. Indeed, liberal critics suggested that to question how the multitude of conflicts of interest at the Obama DOJ and FBI had warped their presentations of the Steele dossier to the courts was in itself an obstruction of justice or downright unpatriotic.
News of FBI informants planted into the 2016 Trump campaign raised no eyebrows. Nor did the unmasking and leaking of the names of U.S. citizens by members of the Obama National Security Council. Former CIA director John Brennan and ex-director of National Intelligence James Clapper soon become progressive pundits on cable news. While retaining their security clearances, they blasted Trump variously as a Russian mole, a foreign asset, treasonous, and a veritable traitor.
Both became liberal icons, despite their lucrative merry-go-rounds between Washington businesses and government service, and they sometimes lied under oath to Congress about all that and more.
While the deep state was far too vast to be stereotypically monolithic in the Obama and Trump years, it was a general rule that it had admired Obama, who grew it, and now loathed Trump, who promised to shrink it. Moreover, Trump did not, as most incoming and outgoing politicians do, praise in Pavlovian fashion the institutions of Washington. As we have seen, nothing to Trump was sacred. During and after the campaign, he blasted the CIA, the FBI, the IRS, and the Department of Justice as either incompetent or prejudicial.
When Trump cited the Veterans Administration, it was to side with its victims, not its administrators or venerable history. In Trump’s mind, the problem with federal agencies was not just that they overreached and were weaponized but that their folds of bureaucracy led to incompetency. Take almost any recent terrorist incidents — the Fort Hood shootings, the Boston Marathon bombing, the San Bernardino attacks, or the Orlando nightclub killings — and the perpetrators were in some fashion already known to either the FBI or local law enforcement or both, who nonetheless did not take preemptive action.
Trump was the first Republican candidate by design to campaign against the deep state as some sort of tumor that grew and devoured the flesh of the country. At campaign rallies, he deliberately bellowed out “radical Islamic terrorism!” to mock the bureaucracy’s use of euphemisms, and promised to bring back the free usage of the word “Christmas” as a Christian holiday, rather than a secular seasonal celebration during the end-of-the-year holidays.
On March 17, John Brennan, in objection to the firing of deputy director of the FBI Andrew McCabe (who shortly would be found by the nonpartisan inspector general to have lied on four occasions to federal investigators, and was soon reportedly in legal jeopardy from a grand-jury investigation), tweeted about the current president of the United States: “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. . . . America will triumph over you.”
In mid April, Brennan followed up with another attack on Trump: “Your kakistocracy [rule of the “worst people”] is collapsing after its lamentable journey. As the greatest Nation history has known, we have the opportunity to emerge from this nightmare stronger & more committed to ensuring a better life for all Americans, including those you have so tragically deceived.”
If such hysterics from the former head of the world’s premier spy agency and current MSNBC/NBC pundit seemed a near threat to a sitting president, then Samantha Power, former U.N. ambassador and a past ethics professor on the Harvard faculty, sort of confirmed that it really was: “Not a good idea to piss off John Brennan.”
Power herself was found to have requested transcripts of FISA-court-ordered surveillance of Trump associates in the 2016 campaign. Indeed, she had gone further and made over 260 requests to have the redacted names of American citizens in these files “unmasked,” many of which were mysteriously leaked to the press. Aside from the enigma of why a U.N. ambassador needed to know the whereabouts and the names of Republican officials in the midst of a campaign — and after the election — Power simply denied under oath to a House Intelligence Committee, without explanation, that the requests made under her name were really made by Samantha Power herself! Who had made them, or why, or if she had allowed others to make them, was never disclosed.
Brennan had been initially appointed as President Obama’s top counterterrorism adviser, and then had taken over the CIA — during the abrupt and mysterious post–2012 election resignation of General David Petraeus. Over the next eight years of the Obama administration, Brennan was caught in a remarkable series of lies and perjuries, all without much lasting consequence. In 2009, Brennan falsely claimed that intelligence agencies had not missed clear indications that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called underwear bomber, would try to take down a U.S. airliner. Just days later, when his denials were ridiculed, Brennan flipped and blasted intelligence agencies for their laxity. In 2011, Brennan falsely alleged under oath to Congress that Obama’s drone program in the last year had not caused a single civilian death in Pakistan. In truth, scores had been killed. The same year, Brennan offered various versions of the American killing of Osama bin Laden. His misleading narratives required constant revisions.
In March 2014, Brennan denied accusations that he had illegally ordered CIA analysts to access the computers of U.S. Senate staffers to find out what exactly they knew about possible CIA roles in enhanced interrogations. When he was once again caught outright lying by a CIA inspector general, Brennan was forced to apologize to the members of the Senate Intelligence Committee. In May 2017, Brennan testified under oath to Congress that he had no knowledge during the 2016 campaign of the origins, nature, and paymasters of the Fusion GPS Christopher Steele dossier. Nor, Brennan claimed, was he aware that both the FBI and the Department of Justice had used the infamous file to obtain FISA-court-ordered surveillance before and after the election. All those statements were questionable assertions. Several sources had reported that Brennan was not only aware of the Steele document but had wanted the FBI to use the Steele document to pursue rumors about Trump. He reportedly briefed Senator Harry Reid (D., Nev.) on the dossier. Armed with those rumors, Reid then became insistent that they be leaked before the 2016 election. Remember that, by long-standing laws and presidential directives, Brennan was prohibited from using the CIA to monitor the activities of U.S. citizens.
I emphasize Brennan only because he was iconic of the deep-state careerists who had mobilized against Trump, especially in their expectation that he would never face charges such as lying to Congress or its investigators. Former national-security adviser Susan Rice, a fierce Trump critic, likely lied about the Benghazi tragedy, the Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl desertion in Afghanistan, and hostage swaps that followed the so-called Iran deal, the presence of weapons of mass destruction in Syria, and her role in the unmasking of names of surveilled Americans. She too never suffered career damage from her serial prevarication. Fired and would-be martyred FBI deputy director Andrew McCabe openly admitted to misstatements (“I was confused and distracted”). He had falsely assured investigators (“Some of my answers were not fully accurate”) that he had not been a source for background leaks about purported Trump–Russian collusion, all of them negative to Trump. The inspector general released a report condemning McCabe for his serial false statements. McCabe was leaking FBI business to deflect from charges that he had ignored conflict-of-interest charges arising from his own investigation of Hillary Clinton — after his wife, a candidate for the Virginia legislature, had been a recipient of hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign donations from Clinton-affiliated political action committees.
Former director of National Intelligence James Clapper lied under oath to the Senate Intelligence Committee when on March 12, 2013, he assured its members that the National Security Agency did not collect data on American citizens. Months later, Clapper claimed that he gave “the least untruthful” answer.
By late 2017 Clapper too was blasting Trump, claiming that the president of the United States was a veritable traitor and a Russian stooge without offering any proof: “I think this past weekend is illustrative of what a great case officer Vladimir Putin is. He knows how to handle an asset, and that’s what he’s doing with the president.”
Later, Clapper likely lied again when he testified under oath to the House Intelligence Committee, claiming that he had not leaked the contents of the Steele dossier to the media, although later he confessed that he had done just that to CNN’s Jake Tapper. Clapper later became a CNN analyst, criticizing those who had alleged that he had been serially untruthful.
Brennan, Clapper, Comey, McCabe, and Rice were never held to account for their distortions. The first three, long after being fired or retired, had still held security clearances. In television appearances, they often leveraged their knowledge of inside information to substantiate the validity of their attacks on Trump. Apparently, it was understood that once a professional bureaucrat or revolving-door appointee reached a senior level in the government, he was immune from the sort of perjury charges or ostracism that most all Americans would face.
Editor’s Note: This essay is adapted from Victor Davis Hanson’s new book, The Case for Trump.