Tim Weiner

The New York Review of Books - - Contents - Tim Weiner

The As­sault on In­tel­li­gence: Amer­i­can Na­tional Se­cu­rity in an Age of Lies by Michael V. Hay­den

A Higher Loy­alty: Truth, Lies, and Lead­er­ship by James Comey

Facts and Fears: Hard Truths from a Life in In­tel­li­gence by James R. Clap­per, with Trey Brown

The As­sault on In­tel­li­gence: Amer­i­can Na­tional Se­cu­rity in an Age of Lies by Michael V. Hay­den. Pen­guin, 292 pp., $28.00

A Higher Loy­alty:

Truth, Lies, and Lead­er­ship by James Comey.

Flat­iron, 290 pp., $29.99

Facts and Fears:

Hard Truths from a Life in In­tel­li­gence by James R. Clap­per, with Trey Brown. Vik­ing, 424 pp., $30.00

1.

To Donald Trump it seems as though the “Deep State” has arisen from the depths of the dis­mal swamp of Wash­ing­ton to tor­ment him. He sees a ca­bal of his po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies—fore­most the men who have led the Fed­eral Bureau of In­ves­ti­ga­tion, the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency, and the Cen­tral In­tel­li­gence Agency—as a cryp­toc­racy op­er­at­ing un­der the cover of the con­sti­tu­tion­ally es­tab­lished govern­ment, an im­mense con­spir­acy, a dark force seek­ing to de­stroy him. The pres­i­dent awak­ens to tweet thun­der­bolts against it be­fore Fox & Friends signs on at dawn. (To wit: May 23, 2018, 6:54 AM: “the Crim­i­nal Deep State. They go af­ter Phony Col­lu­sion with Rus­sia, a made up Scam . . . . ”)

Stand­ing next to Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, he was asked if he be­lieved the unan­i­mous con­clu­sion of his in­tel­li­gence ser­vices that Rus­sia tried to sway the 2016 elec­tion. Trump sided with the smirk­ing au­to­crat: “They said they think it’s Rus­sia. I have Pres­i­dent Putin; he just said it’s not Rus­sia. I will say this: I don’t see any rea­son why it would be.” Sen­a­tor John McCain called it “one of the most dis­grace­ful per­for­mances by an Amer­i­can pres­i­dent in mem­ory.”

Trump sees the FBI’s law­men as sub­ver­sive crooks and the CIA’s spooks as Nazi stormtroop­ers; he be­lieves that they have tapped his phones, placed spies in his midst, and sab­o­taged him since be­fore his in­au­gu­ra­tion; they are in ca­hoots with the press; and, more omi­nously, they are in thrall to Robert S. Mueller III, the FBI di­rec­tor from 2001 to 2013—and now, as the spe­cial coun­sel over­see­ing the crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tions of Trump and his co­horts, a man with the power to take apart his pres­i­dency.

The Deep State, to Trump, is a se­cret brother­hood of mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence of­fi­cers se­cretly ma­nip­u­lat­ing the body politic, and is still run by the lead­ers of the Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence or­ga­ni­za­tions un­der Pres­i­dent Obama, along with un­named sin­is­ter forces still re­silient within the Jus­tice Depart­ment. These are the same peo­ple who re­vealed a brazen covert op­er­a­tion by Vladimir Putin and his spy ser­vices to help elect Trump in 2016. To the pres­i­dent, they are not de­fend­ing the repub­lic but run­ning a slow-rolling coup d’état.

Trump may be para­noid, but he has real en­e­mies among the emer­iti of the in­tel­li­gence es­tab­lish­ment, and among them are the au­thors of three new books that col­lec­tively have sold up to a mil­lion copies: James Clap­per, the overseer of Amer­i­can es­pi­onage from 2010 to 2017 as Obama’s di­rec­tor of na­tional in­tel­li­gence, Michael Hay­den, who di­rected the NSA from 1999 to 2005 and the CIA from 2006 to 2009, and James Comey, whom Trump fired as the head of the FBI last year, and who may yet have his re­venge. In the weird world that is Wash­ing­ton to­day, these po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive na­tional se­cu­rity stal­warts—re­viled by lib­er­als, with rea­son, for their ac­tions in of­fice—have emerged as mem­bers of the op­po­si­tion to Trump and as the fo­cus of ex­treme ire from the right. By virtue of their high rank in the Deep State as Trump de­fines it, they are in his eyes among the most dan­ger­ous men in Amer­ica. They by turns call Trump a liar and a fan­ta­sist, a threat to Amer­i­can na­tional se­cu­rity, and a dan­ger to the Con­sti­tu­tion and the Bill of Rights.

“I don’t be­lieve our democ­racy can func­tion for long on lies,” writes Clap­per.

We have elected some­one as pres­i­dent of the United States whose first in­stincts are to twist and dis­tort truth to his ad­van­tage, to gen­er­ate fi­nan­cial ben­e­fit to him­self and his fam­ily, and, in do­ing so, to de­mean the val­ues this coun­try has tra­di­tion­ally stood for . . . . While he does this, he point­edly re­fuses to ac­knowl­edge the pro­found threat posed by Rus­sia, in­ex­pli­ca­bly trust­ing the de­nials by Putin about their med­dling in our po­lit­i­cal process over the con­sid­ered judg­ments by his own In­tel­li­gence Com­mu­nity.

This pas­sage, on the penul­ti­mate page of an oth­er­wise pedes­trian mem­oir, is as brac­ing as Clap­per’s cable news sound bites. Trump de­liv­ered his view of Clap­per in an 8:58 AM tweet on April 28: “He is a ly­ing ma­chine who now works for Fake News CNN.” This prompted a rapid re­sponse, also on Twit­ter, from John Bren­nan, CIA di­rec­tor from 2013 to 2017. Ad­dress­ing Trump, he wrote: “Your hypocrisy knows no bounds. Jim Clap­per is a man of in­tegrity, hon­esty, ethics, & moral­ity. You are not.” (Bren­nan con­tin­ues to troll Trump. “Your fear of ex­po­sure is pal­pa­ble,” he tweeted on June 23. “Your des­per­a­tion even more so.”) Not to be out­done, Michael Hay­den re­cently weighed in on Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies, post­ing a pic­ture of the Birke­nau death camp with the cap­tion: “Other gov­ern­ments have sep­a­rated moth­ers and chil­dren.” No prece­dent ex­ists for men who have held such high of­fice in the Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence es­tab­lish­ment to as­sail their com­man­der in chief in this fash­ion. Hay­den’s briskly writ­ten book The As­sault on In­tel­li­gence is al­most en­tirely about Trump. He is forth­right in stat­ing in his sub­ti­tle that we are liv­ing in “an age of lies” and warn­ing that our democ­racy may be in dan­ger. His writ­ing on Trump’s Amer­ica reads like Masha Gessen’s on Putin’s Rus­sia (though not as elo­quent). Hay­den was no fan of Obama and found no place in his ad­min­is­tra­tion, in part be­cause he car­ried out the ex­tra­con­sti­tu­tional pro­gram code-named STEL­LAR WIND, in which Pres­i­dent Bush or­dered the NSA to turn its elec­tronic-eaves­drop­ping pow­ers on Amer­i­cans af­ter Septem­ber 11.

Hay­den is none­the­less close to apoplec­tic about Trump’s au­thor­i­tar­ian ten­den­cies and his alarm­ing affini­ties with his Rus­sian coun­ter­part: “Putin could have been hum­ming along when Trump was claim­ing, ‘I alone can fix it’” at the 2016 Repub­li­can con­ven­tion. He laments, af­ter not­ing Trump’s re­lent­less at­tacks on the press: “If this is who we are or who we are be­com­ing, I have wasted 40 years of my life.” And he takes um­brage at the idea that he and his old co­horts are work­ing in se­cret to un­der­mine Trump: “There is no ‘deep state’ in the Amer­i­can Repub­lic. There is only ‘the state,’ or, as I char­ac­ter­ize it, ca­reer pro­fes­sion­als do­ing their best within the rule of law. Not that they al­ways play nice . . . . ”

No, they do not. Two weeks af­ter Trump took of­fice, The Wash­ing­ton Post and The New York Times pub­lished dev­as­tat­ing ac­counts of con­ver­sa­tions held be­fore his in­au­gu­ra­tion be­tween the man he had cho­sen as his na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, the re­tired lieu­tenant gen­eral Michael Flynn, and Rus­sia’s am­bas­sador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak. These were de­rived from court-au­tho­rized in­tel­li­gence in­ter­cepts from sur­veil­lance of the Rus­sian em­bassy in Wash­ing­ton. The sub­ject was re­mov­ing sanc­tions im­posed on Rus­sia by Pres­i­dent Obama. Since Trump was not yet sworn in, the dis­cus­sion was at best highly im­proper and at worst il­le­gal. Flynn de­nied ev­ery­thing. Caught in the de­cep­tion, he re­signed, later pleaded guilty to ly­ing to the FBI, and is now co­op­er­at­ing with Mueller, which makes him a dan­ger­ous threat to Trump and his in­ner cir­cle. Sim­i­larly sourced sto­ries showed that At­tor­ney Gen­eral Jeff Ses­sions and Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kush­ner had also held sub rosa chats with the Rus­sian am­bas­sador. The ques­tion of how the na­tional se­cu­rity in­ter­cepts made it into the news­pa­pers is in­trigu­ing. I have re­ported and writ­ten on Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence since the late 1980s, and I can say that this kind of stuff has rarely, if ever, leaked in near-real time un­til last year. The like­li­est source was some­one high up in the FBI, the Jus­tice Depart­ment, or the NSA—some­one whose name would be fa­mil­iar to Comey, Clap­per, or Hay­den—and that might put a lit­tle flesh on Trump’s straw man. This raises ques­tions. Might Trump be right? Is there re­ally an Amer­i­can Deep State? If so, is it out to get him? I strongly doubt it, for rea­sons I dis­cuss be­low. But I sat bolt up­right when I read that Jack Gold­smith, a Har­vard pro­fes­sor and a found­ing edi­tor of the in­valu­able na­tional se­cu­rity blog Law­fare, be­lieves that these were in­deed “deep state leaks against Trump.” Gold­smith was an as­sis­tant at­tor­ney gen­eral in Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s Of­fice of Le­gal Coun­sel, and he knows the pol­i­tics of se­crecy. He first blew the whis­tle on STEL­LAR WIND fif­teen years ago, prompt­ing Comey, then the act­ing at­tor­ney gen­eral, and Mueller, as FBI di­rec­tor, to con­front the pres­i­dent with the fact that he was break­ing the law. Gold­smith, in a re­cently pub­lished es­say, says these leaks against Trump could be in­ter­preted as a return to the days of J. Edgar Hoover, who used se­cret in­for­ma­tion as a weapon of po­lit­i­cal war­fare. Though “we have never faced a sit­u­a­tion in which the na­tional se­cu­rity ad­viser, and per­haps even the pres­i­dent of the United States, pre­sented a cred­i­ble coun­ter­in­tel­li­gence threat in­volv­ing one of our great­est ad­ver­saries,” he ar­gues, there are no good leaks of state se­crets, no higher truth served by unau­tho­rized dis­clo­sures. “Even if it turns out that Flynn and others close to Trump were in the bag for the Rus­sians,” he writes, “many peo­ple will for a long time view the anti-Trump leaks as po­lit­i­cal abuse of in­tel­li­gence to harm po­lit­i­cal en­e­mies.”*

I be­lieve that who­ever back­handed the in­for­ma­tion on the in­tel­li­gence in­ter­cepts to the Times and the Post was more sav­ior than sabo­teur; there are more vir­tu­ous leaks than vi­cious

*“Para­doxes of the Deep State,” in Can It Hap­pen Here?: Au­thor­i­tar­i­an­ism in Amer­ica, edited by Cass Sun­stein (HarperCollins, 2018).

ones. Gold­smith, a for­mi­da­ble voice in na­tional se­cu­rity af­fairs and a staunch con­ser­va­tive critic of Trump, thinks that the Deep State is real and that it did dirty work here. I think not. Yet the fear of a Deep State has a long his­tory.

2.

None “shall pre­sume hence­forth to med­dle with any­thing con­cern­ing our govern­ment or deep mat­ters of state,” King James I of Great Bri­tain once warned the Speaker of the House of Com­mons. “We see all gov­ern­ments are ob­scure and in­vis­i­ble,” one of the king’s sub­jects, the philoso­pher Fran­cis Ba­con, wrote in 1605. The power of the state was “a part of knowl­edge... deemed se­cret.” It flowed from the divine right of kings, and the peo­ple dared not ques­tion it.

The Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion sought to over­throw this no­tion. Though the Framers al­lowed for se­crecy in mil­i­tary and diplo­matic af­fairs, they never could have imag­ined an Amer­i­can em­pire that would eclipse the British, or an im­mense peace­time army, or the ar­ma­ments in­dus­try to sup­port it. Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower warned that the mil­i­tary-in­dus­trial com­plex threat­ened “the dis­as­trous rise of mis­placed power” whose “to­tal in­flu­ence—eco­nomic, po­lit­i­cal, even spir­i­tual—is felt in ev­ery city, ev­ery State house, ev­ery of­fice of the Fed­eral govern­ment.”

The nexus of po­lit­i­cal and eco­nomic power unchecked by democ­racy was a force that Pres­i­dent Theodore Roo­sevelt saw as the dy­namo of a deep state. In his Pro­gres­sive Party plat­form of 1912, he warned: “Be­hind the os­ten­si­ble govern­ment sits en­throned an in­vis­i­ble govern­ment ow­ing no al­le­giance and ac­knowl­edg­ing no re­spon­si­bil­ity to the peo­ple.” He was talk­ing about the plu­to­crats, the men whom he called the male­fac­tors of great wealth, who bought the votes of se­na­tors and con­gress­men. “The un­holy al­liance be­tween cor­rupt busi­ness and cor­rupt pol­i­tics,” as TR called it, lives and thrives to­day: this man­i­fes­ta­tion of a deep state is led by the Koch broth­ers, who have made the ca­reers of men like Sec­re­tary of State Mike Pompeo and the dis­graced and de­parted EPA chief Scott Pruitt, along with many of the most re­ac­tionary mem­bers of Congress.

Roo­sevelt cre­ated the FBI in 1908 with the in­tent of us­ing it to at­tack the in­vis­i­ble govern­ment of dark money. He died shortly be­fore the rise of Hoover, who took over the bureau in 1924 and ran it for forty-eight years. The cold war made Hoover the em­peror of se­crets. He ruled by fear. He op­er­ated out­side the law and be­yond the bound­aries of the Con­sti­tu­tion, wire­tap­ping, bug­ging, and bur­glar­iz­ing, un­fet­tered by war­rants. The CIA, cre­ated in 1947, and the NSA, cre­ated in 1952, worked in an un­easy al­liance with Hoover’s FBI—un­easy be­cause he spied on them too. Hoover took a seat on Pres­i­dent Eisen­hower’s Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil, along­side the sec­re­taries of state and de­fense. He shaped the govern­ment’s poli­cies on ev­ery­thing from na­tional se­cu­rity to civil rights.

When Pres­i­dent Kennedy took of­fice, Hoover had a sala­cious file on him—in­clud­ing a wire­tap tran­script of a 1942 tryst with a woman sus­pected of be­ing a Nazi spy—and he made sure JFK knew about it. The at­tor­ney gen­eral, Robert F. Kennedy, thought Hoover was a “dan­ger­ous” man who ran “a very dan­ger­ous or­ga­ni­za­tion”—a dan­ger he be­lieved could be con­trolled. But Hoover wasn’t tak­ing any or­ders from Bobby Kennedy, or the United States Congress, or the Supreme Court. The at­tor­ney gen­eral bowed to Hoover’s will in deep mat­ters of state, in­clud­ing the around-the-clock wire­tap­ping and bug­ging of Martin Luther King.

In the 1960s and the early 1970s, Pres­i­dents John­son and Nixon or­dered the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA to dis­rupt or dis­man­tle the an­ti­war move­ment. As the war in Viet­nam turned worse and worse, they pressed the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies harder and harder to find the (nonex­is­tent) se­cret sources of sup­port that Moscow and Bei­jing sup­plied to the Amer­i­can left. LBJ tried his hard­est to cre­ate a se­cret po­lice. On his or­ders, lib­eral­minded men like At­tor­ney Gen­eral Ram­sey Clark and his deputy War­ren Christo­pher, later Bill Clin­ton’s sec­re­tary of state, com­manded the

FBI, the NSA, and the army to spy on at least 100,000 Amer­i­can cit­i­zens; the CIA co­or­di­nated with the NSA to place thou­sands more on an elec­tronic-eaves­drop­ping watch­list. (At that time, Clap­per was an

Air Force cap­tain work­ing sig­nals in­tel­li­gence at the NSA.)

Pres­i­dent

Nixon sought to re­dou­ble the il­le­gal sur­veil­lance ef­fort mounted by his pre­de­ces­sor, or­der­ing Hoover to wire­tap mem­bers of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Coun­cil staff and the Wash­ing­ton press corps. Un­der Nixon, the NSA’s watch­list grew to in­clude United States se­na­tors: Frank Church, an Idaho Demo­crat, who would later lead the first con­gres­sional in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence, and Howard Baker, a Ten­nessee Repub­li­can, who would ask the fa­mous ques­tion: “What did the pres­i­dent know, and when did he know it?” That query came a year af­ter Nixon’s bum­bling bur­glary squad, led by washed-up FBI and CIA men, got caught break­ing into the Demo­cratic Na­tional Com­mit­tee head­quar­ters at the Water­gate Ho­tel on June 17, 1972. Nei­ther the FBI nor the CIA could pro­tect the pres­i­dent then. Hoover was six weeks in the grave. And the CIA wouldn’t take the fall for the break-in. Nixon was doomed.

I was seven­teen years old in the hal­cyon sum­mer of 1973, trans­fixed by the tele­vised Se­nate hear­ings on Water­gate that be­gan to de­stroy the Nixon ad­min­is­tra­tion. The se­na­tors, work­ing with cru­cial in­for­ma­tion ob­tained by the Wash­ing­ton field of­fice of the FBI, be­gan to put to­gether a pic­ture of a pres­i­dent who had bro­ken the law and bent the Con­sti­tu­tion to its break­ing point. When the spe­cial pros­e­cu­tor charged the lead­ing de­fen­dants the fol­low­ing year, Nixon was named as an unin­dicted co-con­spir­a­tor. The de­noue­ment came in Au­gust 1974, af­ter eight es­sen­tial White House tapes were re­leased upon an 8–0 rul­ing by the Supreme Court. They re­vealed that Nixon had sought to ob­struct the FBI’s in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the Water­gate break-in six days af­ter it hap­pened.

Af­ter Water­gate, Sen­a­tor Church’s in­quiry re­vealed a long se­ries of abuses by the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA. He fa­mously pro­claimed that the CIA— and by im­pli­ca­tion all of Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence—had been “a rogue ele­phant” ram­pag­ing out of con­trol. This missed the most salient and dis­turb­ing point in a till-then hid­den his­tory. It took years to be­gin to un­der­stand a hard fact: with very few ex­cep­tions, the lords of na­tional se­cu­rity were car­ry­ing out or­ders from the White House. Pres­i­dent Franklin D. Roo­sevelt had se­cretly au­tho­rized Hoover to carry out war­rant­less sur­veil­lance in de­fi­ance of a clear rul­ing by the Supreme Court back in 1940, and Hoover kept that one-page or­der in his desk un­til the day he died. Pres­i­dents from Eisen­hower to Nixon spurred the FBI, the CIA, and the NSA to spy on Amer­i­cans and sub­vert po­lit­i­cal op­po­nents.

It was pres­i­dents, not the in­tel­li­gence agen­cies, who had gone rogue. The slow de­clas­si­fi­ca­tion of cold war doc­u­ments has shown con­clu­sively that se­cret govern­ment in the United States was not con­trolled by J. Edgar Hoover, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, or the clan­des­tine ser­vice of the CIA. Its head­quar­ters was 1600 Penn­syl­va­nia Av­enue. A true deep state must have the power to be a pup­pet mas­ter of demo­crat­i­cally elected of­fi­cials—in par­tic­u­lar, the pres­i­dent. By this def­i­ni­tion, even at the depths of the cold war, the Amer­i­can deep state was a chimera born of se­crecy and fear. And yet the fear per­sists. A cor­ro­sive mis­trust of the of­fi­cial ver­sion of cat­a­clysmic events has made con­spir­acy the­o­ries into main­stream be­liefs. Most Amer­i­cans—the num­ber went as high as 81 per­cent in 2001, ac­cord­ing to a Gallup Poll—have thought the Kennedy as­sas­si­na­tion was the re­sult of a con­spir­acy and not a mil­lion-to-one shot by a de­ranged Ma­rine marks­man with a mailorder ri­fle. A clear ma­jor­ity of those polled by The New York Times in the five years af­ter the Septem­ber 11 at­tacks said that the govern­ment was ei­ther ly­ing or “hid­ing some­thing” about what hap­pened. The be­lief in a deep state is equally widespread to­day, al­beit with a Trumpian twist. It is not a shad­owy sub­stra­tum, it is the ad­min­is­tra­tive state it­self; there is no Jus­tice Depart­ment, only “Deep State Jus­tice,” as Trump would have it. This may be a nec­es­sary con­struct of the post-truth pol­i­tics that have given us a coun­ter­fac­tual con­spir­acy-the­o­rist-in-chief.

3.

James Comey first en­coun­tered Donald Trump in the gilded palace of Trump Tower on Jan­uary 6, 2017. He (along with Clap­per and Bren­nan) were to de­liver their unan­i­mous as­sess­ment of the Rus­sian ef­fort to in­ter­fere in the 2016 elec­tion: Putin and his agents had suc­ceeded in un­der­min­ing pub­lic faith in the process, de­fam­ing Hil­lary Clin­ton, and boost­ing their cho­sen can­di­date. The goal was to dis­rupt Amer­i­can democ­racy—and what could have been more dis­rup­tive than elect­ing Donald Trump?

Ev­ery­thing about Trump’s pres­i­dency turns on this mo­ment: the de­ci­sive de­ter­mi­na­tion that a hy­dra-headed covert op­er­a­tion in­volv­ing es­pi­onage, sab­o­tage, and an In­ter­net-driven cam­paign of in­for­ma­tion war­fare, com­manded by the vet­eran KGB of­fi­cer Putin, had helped put him in power. The FBI, us­ing in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by the CIA and the NSA, was now duty-bound to in­ves­ti­gate whether mem­bers of Trump’s team—and con­ceiv­ably Trump him­self—had aided and abet­ted the Rus­sian ef­fort. This gave the con­spir­acy-minded pres­i­den­t­elect cause to fear the lead­ers of Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence, and es­pe­cially Comey. It gave them greater rea­son to fear his pres­i­dency.

The FBI di­rec­tor had drawn a short straw that day. He alone was to brief Trump on the “Steele dossier,” com­piled by a vet­eran British spy well known to the FBI, which in­cluded the al­le­ga­tion that the pres­i­dent-elect had en­gaged in un­usual sex­ual prac­tices with pros­ti­tutes in Moscow, and that Rus­sian spies had com­pro­mis­ing ev­i­dence of this. Comey writes in A Higher Loy­alty that he thought Trump might “as­sume I was dan­gling the pros­ti­tute thing over him to jam him, to gain lever­age. He might well as­sume that I was pulling a J. Edgar Hoover, be­cause that’s what Hoover would do in my shoes.”

Comey was al­ready the most po­lit­i­cally in­flu­en­tial FBI di­rec­tor since Hoover. The ar­gu­ment over whether he merely dam­aged Hil­lary Clin­ton’s chances in 2016 or de­stroyed them will con­tinue un­til the end of time. He now has the power to help seal a crim­i­nal case or an ar­ti­cle of im­peach­ment against Trump by tes­ti­fy­ing to the facts in his book: that he was fired, as Trump said in an NBC News in­ter­view, over the “Rus­sia thing.”

Comey is a “LIAR,” Trump has tweeted. It is pos­si­ble to read Comey’s book and come away think­ing he be­lieves in him­self above all. He has a soar­ing self-re­gard, and he can be pi­ous, even pompous. But it is hard to think he’s not telling the truth about his en­coun­ters with Trump. When he sits down with the pres­i­dent, he tells us, he has flash­backs of his days as a mob pros­e­cu­tor: “I thought of New York Mafia so­cial clubs . . . . The loy­alty oaths. The us-ver­sus-them world­view. The ly­ing about all things, great and small, in ser­vice to some code of loy­alty that put the or­ga­ni­za­tion above moral­ity and above the truth.” These sen­tences ring true, and Comey is in a unique po­si­tion to write them.

The con­fronta­tions memo­ri­al­ized here, es­pe­cially when Trump says he wants the FBI to drop its crim­i­nal in­ves­ti­ga­tion of the dis­graced Mike Flynn and “lift the cloud” of the in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Rus­sian med­dling in the 2016 elec­tion—and then fires Comey for re­fus­ing to put the fix in—are as grip­ping as any chap­ter of pres­i­den­tial his­tory has ever been. It’s bet­ter than Water­gate’s smok­ing gun tape: the pres­i­dent of the

United States was try­ing to sub­orn the FBI di­rec­tor in an ob­struc­tion of jus­tice. Comey tes­ti­fied about much of this last year, but the added at­mo­spher­ics in the book are pow­er­ful. The im­age of the pres­i­dent as mob boss is in­deli­ble. The stench of crim­i­nal­ity hangs in the air of the West Wing like cordite. If we see an­other sea­son when high crimes are charged against a pres­i­dent, the like­li­est count will again be ob­struc­tion of jus­tice, again re­gard­ing a break-in at Demo­cratic head­quar­ters, again with the FBI work­ing—this time with Mueller as chief in­ves­ti­ga­tor and Comey as his star wit­ness—to bring the pres­i­dent to jus­tice. The power of se­cret in­for­ma­tion gath­ered by Amer­i­can in­tel­li­gence and made pub­lic in Congress or a court of law may be his down­fall. We may then see proof that what af­flicts us is not a deep state but a shal­low and cor­rupted govern­ment. —July 18, 2018

Robert Mueller, James Clap­per, John Bren­nan, Michael Flynn, and Philip Gold­berg at a Se­nate In­tel­li­gence Com­mit­tee hear­ing, Wash­ing­ton, D.C., March 2013

James Comey

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