No one would call me a Trump Hater: hate does not get you far, especially not in politics. Nor would anyone call me a member of the Trump Faithful: read my posts about Trump here at The Jeffersonian to see what I think of him as a leader. I’ll say this about him: we need his honesty. You say, “What!??!!? His honesty?? Most of what he says pins the needle on the liar-liar side of the fact-o-meter. He says whatever comes into his head!” As we would say now, his relationship with the truth is problematic.
That’s not the kind of honesty I mean, though. I mean the honesty that leads him to say, to a Republican audience during the presidential primary debate in South Carolina, that George W. Bush used WMD as a pretext to start a war in Iraq, and oh by the way, Bush should stop taking credit for keeping the nation so secure. Because why the f**k did 9/11 happen in the first place?
Trump did not use an expletive to provoke an audience overtly friendly to Jeb Bush, the former president’s brother. He might as well have.
I know, Trump did not use an expletive to provoke an audience overtly friendly to Jeb Bush, the former president’s brother. He might as well have. He almost said W. and his crew let the 9/11 attacks happen, an assessment that won boos from his listeners. No one in mainstream politics comes close to saying things Trump has said about 9/11 and its aftermath, or about U. S. leaders at the time. Mainstream politics has a standard line about 9/11 – you hear it over and over again. I don’t think I need to repeat it. The standard line includes the word terrorists.
Both pre- and post-Michael-Flynn-massacre, Trump has mounted a campaign against the FBI and the CIA. Most of the controversy is connected to charges that Russia interfered with the presidential election, and charges that Trump and his people have improper ties to Russia. A couple of preliminary points about Trump’s criticisms are in order. First, from what I’ve read about him, Flynn does not seem like such nice guy, but then Trump has surrounded himself with a lot of men and women who are not nice people. Flynn may be happier in retirement, but no one wants to be fired that way.
That raises a second point. If Trump wants to do battle with the FBI, perhaps he should have stood by his man longer. He may not have been able to hold onto Flynn for weeks or months, given the way Washington eats its wounded, but Trump’s criticisms of the FBI may have gone further if he were standing on the wall with his former national security advisor. As it is, he gave people an impression they can force him to do things he does not what to do – that is to say, push him around. You do not want people to push you around in Washington.
In any case, what Trump said about the FBI – and other intelligence agencies – has needed to be said for a long time.
In any case, what Trump said about the FBI – and other intelligence agencies – has needed to be said for a long time. Ever since FBI agent Mark Felt revealed himself as Woodward and Bernstein’s Deep Throat, people have wondered why the FBI was leaking stuff about Nixon to the Washington Post in the first place. It wasn’t because he wanted to be famous! You could say Felt felt a personal responsibility to his country, to protect it from the likes of Richard Nixon, but how likely does that seem to you now?
In the 1970s, we did not think of the FBI as an organization that would help to bring down a sitting president. The Church Committee hearings on domestic spying did not occur until the year after Nixon resigned in 1974. Forty-three years later, we recognize the FBI does what it likes with the information it gathers. If it thinks a president is dangerous because you don’t know what he’ll do next, or because you do know what he’ll do next, why not see what you can do about that? It’s all in secret anyway. Nixon had plumbers – spies – to stop leakers – also spies.
That used to be what we expected from Washington politics, but not anymore. People are way too cynical about the FBI to believe they’re the good guys, or even to give them benefit of the doubt. Now when some covert agency in the Justice Department leaks, say, a phone transcript to the press, people think, “Well of course the FBI tries to undermine people using national security information. These are the same people who protected Whitey Bulger. They’re the same people who shot Ibrahim Todashev after the Boston Marathon bombs. How do you think the FBI treats people it wants to keep around, and those it does not?”
The unusual, astonishing development now is to have the president himself point to the FBI’s activities so honestly.
The unusual, astonishing development now is to have the president himself point to the FBI’s activities so honestly. Even Jack Kennedy and his famously ruthless consigliere, Bobby, declined to take on Hoover, since they expected Hoover would make good his implicit threat to leak information about the president’s mistresses if they crossed him. Neither of these two politicians were cowards. Every president since Kennedy, including Nixon but not including Trump, follows their example. They understand deep in their hearts that if the FBI can orchestrate the Warren Commission report, with blessings from Justice, CIA, Congress, Supreme Court, White House, Defense, and most especially the president, it can do nearly anything, to anyone.
Trump does not care that much what the FBI does to him, or can do to him. He doesn’t know from one day to the next whether he even wants to be president. He sure worked hard enough to get the job, but people don’t stroke your ego that much after you win the office. It’s sort of like campaigning to be mayor of your town. Everyone says how great you’ll be in the role, but once you’re at your desk, they just want to make sure you have crews out there to fix the sewer line. Trump hasn’t smiled since he gave his victory speech shortly after midnight on November 9.
The sheen is off, friends. It’s not only off the presidency, it’s off the national security and domestic spying establishment as well. Chalk the latter development up to post-9/11 cynicism, where the feds’ hubris reached levels unimaginable even after Kennedy’s death. The difference we observe in the agencies’ behavior now mostly concerns matters of secrecy. They cannot operate in the background as they use to, nor do they care to operate in the background.
The national security state had reach in the 50s and 60s, without a doubt.
The national security state had reach in the 50s and 60s, without a doubt. Eisenhower would not have warned us about its reach if it amounted to a phantom power. Sixty years ago, however, it took a lot more care to keep its activities secret. It wasn’t so hard to keep things secret then: the country had fewer news outlets, fewer citizens distrustful of government’s good intentions, and altogether fewer suspicions. Then we had Kennedy, and Vietnam, and 9/11. No assumption of innocence exists now.
So the FBI is entirely brazen about its leaks now. It does not play in the dark corners of Washington politics anymore. It undertakes in broad daylight things that would have required layers and layers of protection only a short time ago. You might call it the Snowden-Manning effect. Snowden and Manning pulled the covers off secret activities and turned on the lights. They revealed what is really going on.
When a bright light shines on them, criminals can scatter or they can say, “What the hell. We don’t have to hide what we do anymore. Everyone knows now. Hiding our crimes and other dirty work was a lot of trouble anyway. So we’ll just do it in the open now.” It’s sort of like Russian intelligence poisoning Alexander Litvinenko with polonium in London. When you kill someone with an exotic, radioactive substance, you want people to know what you’ve done. You don’t care to keep the assassination a secret.
Trump’s attacks on the FBI, CIA, and U. S. intelligence in general are both welcome and overdue.
That’s how the FBI and our other intelligence agencies operate now. When the CIA assassinates an American citizen with a drone because he’s on a secret kill list, so what? The president approves the hit. They don’t care to operate in the shadows anymore. After all, if you want to run a police state, people have to know who the police are, even if you like to be called secret police. If you want to bring down a national security advisor, people ought to know who’s behind the action – nothing gained now if you keep that secret.
So Trump’s attacks on the FBI, CIA, and U. S. intelligence in general are both welcome and overdue. During Trump’s campaign, and during the transition from November to January, you would actually have this surreal sense from the mainstream press that Trump had overstepped, that these agencies deserve more respect, that we all should be grateful for our national security establishment because it works every day to protect us from the terrorists.
I mean wow, some people do still think Snowden and Manning are traitors, and some people think intelligence agencies wear white hats to protect us from bad guys, but do you expect to hear that from the mainstream press? Alright, given how the mainstream press ordinarily acts, I suppose we should not be surprised after all. Mainstream media are generally sympathetic to the national security state; they certainly do not care for President Trump.
In the past, this kind of infighting was “off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush,” to use Danny DeVito’s language in L.A. Confidential.
Thus they will be shocked, shocked again when they see Trump accuse the FBI and other intelligence agencies of conducting nefarious activities, including leaks that helped bring down one of his top advisors. Many mainstreamers still expect Trump to observe boundaries. In the whirlwind of Trump’s anti-democratic moves and rhetoric, however, we ought to be alert to the times he throws off a few truthful sparks.
Trump threw off some of those sparks in South Carolina, when he made his accusations about 9/11 and WMD. He does so now as he now as he expresses his unhappiness with the FBI. In the past, this kind of infighting was “off the record, on the QT, and very hush-hush,” to use Danny DeVito’s language in L.A. Confidential. With the Donald in office, nothing is hush-hush. That’s how the FBI, the voters, the media, and everyone except Michael Flynn want it.