White House

The Swamp Fights Back

FBI Deputy Assistant Director Peter Strzok prior to testifying on Capitol Hill, July 12, 2018. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)
Never before in the history of the presidency had a commander-in-chief earned the antipathy of so many -- and lived to tell the tale.

Editor’s Note: The following excerpt is adapted from Victor Davis Hanson’s new book, The Case for Trump. It appears here with permission.

Trump was warned by friends, enemies, and neutrals that his fight against the deep state was suicidal. Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer, just a few days before Trump’s inauguration, cheerfully forecast (in a precursor to Samantha Power’s later admonition) what might happen to Trump once he attacked the intelligence services: “Let me tell you: You take on the intelligence community — they have six ways from Sunday at getting back at you.”

Former administrative-state careerists were not shy about warning Trump of what was ahead. The counterterrorism analyst Phil Mudd, who had worked in the CIA and the FBI under Robert Mueller, warned CNN host Jake Tapper in August 2017 that “the government is going to kill” President Donald Trump. Kill? And what was the reason the melodramatic Mudd adduced for his astounding prediction? “Because he doesn’t support them.” Mudd then elaborated: “Let me give you one bottom line as a former government official. The government is going to kill this guy. The government is going to kill this guy because he doesn’t support them.” Mudd further clarified his assassination metaphor: “What I’m saying is government — people talk about the deep state — when you disrespect government officials who’ve done 30 years, they’re going to say, ‘Really?’”

It was difficult to ascertain to what degree Mudd was serious or exaggerating the depth of deep-state loathing of Trump.

A writer for the London Review of Books, Adam Schatz, seemed even more direct. He reported a supposed conversation that he had with an American political scientist knowledgeable of the Washington permanent caste. He purportedly had assured Schatz that if Trump were elected, he would likely not survive his full term: “He will have to be removed from power by the deep state, or be assassinated.”

Another progressive, the former Cleveland mayor, presidential candidate, and congressman Dennis Kucinich (D., Ohio), confessed in 2017: “The intention is to take down our president. This is very dangerous to America. It’s a threat to our republic. It constitutes a clear and present danger to our way of life. So, we have to be asking, ‘What is the motive of these people?’ . . . This is a problem in our country. We’ve got to protect our nation here. People have to be aware of what’s going on, we need to protect America. This isn’t about Democrat or Republican. This is about getting what’s going on in the moment and understanding that our country itself is under attack from within.”

Even more dramatic were comments made during the Trump presidency by the ever ubiquitous and always more loquacious John Brennan about the vengeance of the deep state. Brennan insisted that the permanent bureaucracy had an “obligation . . . to refuse to carry out” any orders from President Trump that it deemed anti-democratic. In normal times, that boast would be interrupted as an insurrectionary call to all but remove a president or at least nullify his office. In Brennan’s mind, a career bureaucrat could arbitrarily decide a Trump presidential executive order was unconstitutional and then refuse to obey, or even block it. All of these threats were the more serious deep-state side to the popular bombast of actors and celebrities who routinely weighed in with more candid conspiracy talk, such as Alec Baldwin (“We need to overthrow the government of the United States under Donald Trump”) or Rosie O’Donnell (“I want to send the military to the White House to get him”).

The composition of Mueller’s special-counsel investigatory team was almost a caricature of the nature and composition of the deep state. It need not have been, given the polarization over the special-counsel appointment and the importance of avoiding even the hint of any conflicts of interest — another testament to the power of New York–Washington received wisdom and protocol.

The announcements of initial appointments made the Washington and New York media become giddy, as if they were assured that those of their own tribe would be unleashed on Trump. Wired, for instance, published this headline on June 14, 2017: “Robert Mueller Chooses His Investigatory Dream Team.” Vox, on August 22, was elated: “Meet the all-star legal team who may take down Trump.” The Daily Beast, two days later, saw the team in military terms: “Inside Robert Mueller’s Army.”

The “army’s” soldiers possessed all the right résumés, with many of the requisite degrees from the right universities, the right revolving-door histories of government and private-sector employment, and the right ideology — not so much progressive as wedded to the idea that the administrative state was the true sober and judicious expression of the values of the United States. Otherwise, in almost every imaginable context, the special counsel’s team was compromised at its very beginning through its own incestuousness and anti-Trump bias.

Two of Mueller’s lead FBI investigators, Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, had a long-concealed amorous relationship characterized in their thousands of text messages by an overriding hatred of Donald Trump and a desire to ensure that he was not elected president or barring that, that he did not prove a successful president. In various text exchanges, they referenced an “insurance policy” to prevent a Trump presidency, as well as deliberate efforts to leak classified information to the press, also in the context of harming the 2016 Trump campaign.

Strzok interviewed Michael Flynn (January 24, 2017) to learn about possible Trump-Russian collusion, and earlier Clinton aides Huma Abedin and Cheryl Mills in connection with the Clinton email scandal. All three had apparently given misleading information; only the first Trump adviser so far has been charged for lying to the FBI.

Both Page and Strzok communicated with Deputy Director Andrew McCabe concerning the “insurance” idea that might suggest efforts to stop Donald Trump’s election, or thwart his presidency. When the inspector general released evidence of their prejudices and romantic involvement, the two were reassigned. But Robert Mueller apparently did not immediately announce why they were taken off his investigation. In deep-state style, their staggered departures were reported in the press as normal reassignments and not connected — as if to inform the public why they were leaving would somehow not be in the Mueller investigation’s interest.

In May 2018, Page finally resigned during the controversy over her venomous anti-Trump text message exchanges with Agent Strzok, and in anticipation of a supposedly devastating forthcoming inspector general’s report. In it, Strzok is quoted in a previously undisclosed August 2016 text reassuring Page that he would prevent Trump from becoming president: “No. No he’s not. We’ll stop it.” Remember, this quote came from an FBI investigator who would shortly be appointed by Mueller to investigate possible Trump-Russian collusion.

In similar fashion, only through the inspector general’s report of June 2018 did the public learn that another of Mueller’s FBI lead attorneys — who earlier had been assigned to the Clinton email investigation — after the election had bragged in a text to an FBI attorney of his opposition to Trump: “Viva le [sic] resistance.” Again, Mueller did not disclose whether he knew of any such prejudice when he hired the unnamed FBI attorney, much less why he had retained him until early 2018, or why the public once again was not apprised of the circumstances of this lawyer’s belated departure.

What was the upshot of the animus toward Trump I’ve catalogued in this series? In the first two years of his presidency, Trump has not resigned. He has not been impeached. He has not been indicted. He has not died or been declared non compos mentis. Trump did not govern as a liberal, as some of his Never Trump critics predicted. He had not been driven to seclusion by lurid exposés of his past womanizing a decade earlier as a Manhattan television celebrity. Predictions of all that and more were no more accurate than earlier prognostications that Trump would never be nominated and certainly never elected.

An administrative state, swamp, deep state, call it what you wish, was wrong about Trump’s nomination, his election, and his governance. It was right only in its warnings that he could be crude and profane, with a lurid past and an ethical necropolis of skeletons in his closet — a fact long ago factored and baked into his supporters’ votes.

At each stage, the erroneous predictions of the deep state prompted ever greater animus at a target that it could not quite understand, much less derail, and so far has not been able to destroy. By autumn 2018, the repetitive nightly predictions of cable-news pundits that the latest presidential controversy was a “bombshell,” or marked a “turning-point,” or offered proof that “the walls were closing in,” or ensured that “impeachment was looming on the horizon” had amounted to little more than monotonous and scripted groupthink.

Never before in the history of the presidency had a commander-in-chief earned the antipathy of the vast majority of the media, much of the career establishments of both political parties, the majority of the holders of the nation’s accumulated personal wealth, and the permanent federal bureaucracy.

And lived to tell the tale.

Victor Davis Hanson — NRO contributor Victor Davis Hanson is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution and the author, most recently, of The Case for Trump.

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