In a new book, journalist Michael Wolff relates Trump administration staffers’ frustrations over the past year. President Donald Trump generated the most publicity by attempting to stop publication. However, there’s a much bigger picture: The “deep state” and “Russiagate.”
The term “deep state” has been cropping up in all forms of media lately. A popular interpretation is that it has something to do with covert government actions. Tracing its origins to the Ottoman Empire, “deep state” refers to security services and criminal groups outside the law. The 1981 assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II was made by a member of a far-right group tied to Counter-Guerilla, the Turkish branch of Operation Gladio.
Historian Greg Grandin suggests the deep-state is best seen combining both unaccountable public and private institutions, that is, all competing interests in the power structure. He compiles a list of people who’ve written about the issue. We can add Niccolo Machiavelli, who endorsed elite power (The Prince, 1513). And writers critical of the thin line between “democratic” formalities and outright dictatorship like Karl Marx (The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Napoleon, 1852) and Gianfranco Sanguinetti (The Real Report on the Last Chance to Save Democracy in Italy, 1975). The late Gore Vidal supported the notion that the U.S. Constitution is an ideal from which elites strayed, yet he helped us understand the “national security state” (Mike Lofgren’s 2016 book is in this tradition).
Aside from Swiss bank accounts and high-profile assassinations, little is really secret about the deep state. A good example is the controversy about Russian interference in the Election of 2016. While complex, here are the highlights of Russiagate:
In the summer of 2016, a hacker, or group of hackers, stole tens of thousands of documents from the Democratic National Committee’s server and gave them to Wikileaks, which released them to the public. The DNC claimed the material came from “the Russians.” At the same time, a joint CIA-FBI-NSA probe began under the auspices of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. A few weeks later, the FBI warned that election systems in Arizona and Illinois were infiltrated by foreign actors.
In October 2016, Wikileaks released thousands of emails drafted by Clinton campaign director John Podesta. In addition to behind-the-scenes workings of the campaign, the emails dealt with Hillary Clinton’s Wall Street speeches and the Clinton Foundation. Whereupon, a DNC law firm hired Fusion GPS to collect information on how the Kremlin tried to suborn Trump. Fusion GPS hired a former British spy to write a report. Based on hear-say, the Steele dossier was passed to U.S. intelligence agencies. The Obama administration expelled 35 Russian diplomats in December. President Vladimir Putin kicked 755 U.S. diplomats out of Russia several months later.
A year ago, the ODNI committee released an Intelligence Community Assessment summary. It argues Putin authorized cyber hacks of the election. Although it does “not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election” or “analyze US political processes or US public opinion,” the report sees a pattern of Russian media interference. Then there’s this statement:
Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.
The report was embraced by the bipartisan establishment and mainstream media as gospel truth.
On March 20 2017, then-FBI director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee. He said CrowdStrike and other cybersecurity firms hired by the DNC concluded “with high certainty” in the spring of 2016 that Russian cyber-spies hacked the DNC. Shortly after, the FBI started a “counter-intelligence” probe of Trump-Kremlin ties. Interestingly, Comey had already told the Senate Intelligence Committee that the DNC refused to give the Bureau direct access to its computer servers (so his later claim to the same committee that Trump wasn’t under FBI investigation was technically consistent).
The Donald fired Comey in early May. Within days, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller to run a probe of Russian election meddling. Comey was Mueller’s FBI successor.
The witch hunt picked up tempo in the summer of 2017, sweeping up leftwing dissidents. The Senate Intelligence Committee subpoenaed documents possessed by Jill Stein in connection to her Green Party presidential campaign. Pressure was brought to bear on Black Live Matter too. Trump was a pretext. The first articles of impeachment filed against him in the House in July were dismissed in December. A few days later, high-level Department of Justice official Peter Strzok was kicked off the Mueller probe for making anti-Trump comments. Evidence is emerging that the Clinton campaign had preferred Trump as the GOP candidate in the general election.
We’ve never had a president like Trump. Allowing for exceptions, one-percenters have tended to keep at arm’s length from the Oval Office. This real-life Gordon Gekko may be incompetent, but he’s not shy. Take his Russian business ties; he appeared in a music video with the son of Russian oligarch Aras Agalarov in 2013.
The Donald has been in our lives for years.
It’s not hard to see Trump as a member of the deep state if we agree with Grandin’s definition.
In a recent essay on the “religion of the Russian hack,” historian Jackson Lears writes it’s a manifestation of “the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington.” He wonders why the “intelligence community” should be revered when it’s no secret it opposes democracy and peace.
Russiagate also shows how deeply ingrained is the ideology of American Exceptionalism. Self-described liberal Van Jones can talk about Russia’s “active attack on our country.” Beloved of the mainstream media these days, investor Bill Browder vents outrage about Russia’s oligarchs. Yet his self-righteous words ring hollow, considering questions about his activities.
Russiagaters are often self-serving. After briefly running the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz lost the position in the summer of 2016, Donna Brazile published an “admission” in November that the Democratic primary was rigged by the Clinton campaign. In a book released at the same time, she argues there was also Russian hacking.
Little is heard from establishment circles about why the election was subverted: The DNC favored Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders and voter suppression guaranteed the favored outcome. The Wikileaks emails show DNC operatives plotting to subvert the Democratic primary. Related to this are emails written by Clinton when she was Secretary of State; they suggest she used her office to raise funds for the Clinton Foundation and shed light on the Obama administration’s negotiation of the Uranium One agreement with the Putin regime. According to the New York Times in 2015, the Justice Department knew about Bill Clinton’s 2010 overtures to Russian nuclear regulatory authorities. The FBI “investigation” that began in the summer of 2015 ended with Mrs. Clinton’s absolution over a year later.
The increasingly overt nature of the deep state is an indication that covert machinations are no longer dependable means of mastery over us. At the same time, the austerity regime, with its rejection of democracy, civil rights, and basic economic security, is becoming too much for us to bear. Yet the only response America’s elites have is organized hysteria at the risk of explosive contradictions, be they in the form of conspiracy theories like Russiagate, or fraudulent presidents like Donald J. Trump.
What does this have to do with working people in Arkansas? The answer may be found in Saline County.
To be continued